Those who have used NYFA classifieds may wonder what other services New York Foundation for the Arts provides. Undoubtedly the program we’ve used the most is their fiscal sponsorship initiative, and it’s made our organization stronger. Fiscal sponsorship can be a slightly complicated concept, but basically, NYFA acts like a bank for people without non-profit status. It can collect grants you wouldn’t be eligible for without a 501(c)(3). They also lend their non-profit status to fundraising campaigns, giving individuals the ability to offer tax deductible donations.
Wondering how we might get more out of their services, we caught up with NYFA Program Officer Eleanor Whitney, and asked what we could do to better use their services. We’d already asked her for feedback on the grant proposals we submitted, but through our conversation we learned about NYFA Source, a database with over 2,000 listings of services and resources for artists. We also gleaned a few ideas on how we could be a better client.
AFC: What do people think you do that you don’t actually do?
Eleanor Whitney: People don’t know what I do. I think they think I am either giving them money or finding them money. Unfortunately, I do neither. But I am helping them plan to get money and find it themselves.
AFC: What is the most important thing that you find artists don’t know about fundraising that they should know?
EW: There is an idea that there is this magical source of money out there that they don’t already know about, and if they could just talk to the right people they could access it. The truth is, fundraising comes from your closest circle, first and foremost. Your close circle is going to be the best source of support not only monetarily, but in spreading the word about your project, helping you move forward when you feel stuck, giving you more ideas, talking it up to people, and introducing you to new contacts.
I think the important part of [fundraising] is to really shift the thinking from “there is a magical pot of money out here that I somehow need to reach out there,” to saying “the resources are close by, and it’s just about learning a way to channel them.” It’s not rocket science, but it does take a lot of legwork and a lot of strategy over a long length of time.
A lot of people neglect individual donors. The offer of a tax deduction to individual donors is really powerful. They are connected to you and your project, and when you can offer tax deduction, they know it’s going to that charitable project. It’s not me asking you for money to pay my rent.
AFC: The tax deduction has certainly helped some of our campaigns, if for no other reason than it makes people aware that we’re not in this to rake in as much dough as humanly possible.
Anyway, I know a lot of artists who have given up a lot of financial stability to make art, and sometimes that means asking for rent. Is that really a problem? What are the instances when you feel like it’s okay to ask for money to pay your bills?
EW: I want to see artists be financially secure and successful. I know that’s not the reality. (That’s not the reality for art administrators either.) It’s much harder to find that kind of funding. If artists can find creative ways to have people involved in supporting their life, that’s great. I know a lot of people are very uncomfortable doing that.
I really encourage artists to pay themselves a fee for their work. There are also things like the NYFA Fellowship or unrestricted grants that go directly to the artist that can be used to take care of their life’s needs. But those are becoming fewer and farther between.
AFC: Are there benefits that people who are fiscally sponsored at NYFA don’t know about or don’t take advantage of?
EW: I wish people would reach out [to us] more. When you are fiscally sponsored, you have access to people here at the organization to talk you through your fundraising strategy, grant writing, and help you identify the resources you need.
With grant writing, for instance, understanding the guidelines and giving them what they want is really important, so I help with that a lot. There is no secret to it, it’s just following directions and presenting your project in the most clear manner possible, and demonstrating how your project supports the missions of that funder.
AFC: You’ve mentioned before there are future resources that NYFA is developing. What are they, and how do they supplement the resources NYFA already offers?
EW: Like many other service organizations and non-profits, we are looking for ways to streamline what we offer to make it more accessible online. We’re making a lot of quick developments to Artspire, the new national version of NYFA.
What we found was that people [outside New York] don’t feel confident that they can use NYFA resources if they don’t live in the state or city, and that’s not the case. So we are trying take that guesswork out of it so people can more easily find what they need.
AFC: Given that New York is in the name of the organization, I can see why that might be a point of confusion.
EW: Exactly. The name NYFA is not going away; we are just working to make what we offer better and more accessible.