art, communications, non-profit

5 Tips for Indie Arts Resource Development

Honey by Dino Giordano. Licensed CC by 2.0.
Honey by Dino Giordano. Licensed CC by 2.0.

Shunpike kicked off a great training program last night. They found that the traditional workshop model wasn’t working for their members, so they created a series called Hive Mind. The format is short lectures, panel, and group discussion. Half the program time is dedicated to the discussion, and it’s here where the program shines. The panelists come off the stage, and sit with the audience. Facilitators encourage anyone in the room to answer questions or share resources, regardless of status as a “speaker.” I like this peer learning format, and my fellow audience members seemed to groove on it, too. The series is divided into four parts, you can read more about upcoming sessions over at Shunpike’s website (they’ll also post video archives of the lectures and panel).

Last night’s session, “Honey,” was about attracting resources. We heard from a mix of independent artists and arts organizations. My overarching take-away from the evening is the importance of building and maintaining relationships with supporters. Below are my thoughts, and links to related resources that I’ve used and recommend.

Nat Evans shared lessons from his successful crowdfunding campaign. Nat stressed that before you start a crowdfunding campaign, you need an established social media presence. Growing that presence is a regular part of your work. “Social media is like a digipet: if you don’t feed it, it dies.” For his campaign, Nat used social media to continually engage supporters. And also a lot of cat memes. His wry, meta advice, “If you engage the internet with the internet, you’ll be successful on the internet.”

Resource: Although social media usage is constantly evolving, I’ve found this guide on peak posting times to be very helpful in executing social campaigns.

Kenji Stoll of Fab-5 talked about his organization’s efforts to develop earned income through mural projects. Fab-5 has a space in Tacoma (“Fabitat”), and is especially committed to being a good neighbor. Relationships with others in the neighborhood help bring new volunteers, youth and contracts. It’s worth noting that this organization is entirely volunteer-run. I didn’t have a chance to ask Kenji if this is intentional, or if they have plans to develop staffing in the future. From a fundraising perspective, I caution all-volunteer organizations to establish and maintain good records so that future leaders can pick up where you left off with donors.

Resource: There are a number customer relationship management (CRM) software solutions that enable easy recording of donations and volunteers. Tech Soup offers a great round-up, and some discounts to qualified non-profits.

Terrell Dorsey of Unleash the Brilliance underscored the importance of letting go of fear in making asks, and in being persistent. Terrell secured a significant corporate sponsorship, but only after working through a year-long process of getting to the right person to make the ask. Go, Terrell! Terrell innately knows the value of a telling a good story, which is no doubt a critical part of his success.

Resource: The Storytelling Non-Profit is an excellent blog and training resource for developing your non-profit’s messages to supporters.

Vanessa DeWolf of Studio Current also talked about the value of neighborhoods and relationships in building support. “Everyone is charmable,” she said, and she encouraged asking for support first from the people you see every day, and those who use your services.

Resource: Tripoint Fundraising offers a free resource for creating a short-term fundraising plan. This guide breaks down the process into very simple steps, starting with your closest supporters first.

The event was a great chance to talk with other artists and non-profit leaders. I’m a volunteer advisor in Shunpike’s Arts Business Clinic, and these resources and conversations are helpful to the people we talk with in the clinic. I’m looking forward to the rest of this series!

Bonus Resource: Shunpike! Shunpike offers incredible support to individual artists and arts organizations.
non-profit, poetry slam, portfolio, writing sample

Lessons in Building Community by a Working Board

The Seattle Poetry Slam LIVE! CD was one of my favorite projects ever. Even though the technology to create, sell, and distribute audio has evolved exponentially, the project provided timeless lessons for building support, showcasing a creative community, and board leadership.

The Seattle Poetry Slam LIVE! CD, 2000. Cover by Susan Anderson
The Seattle Poetry Slam LIVE! CD, 2000. Cover by Susan Anderson

Word of Mouth

I don’t remember who initially had the idea for the CD, but it people started talking about it. At the time, The Seattle Poetry Slam was organized with a cooperative board operating on consensus. We were all volunteers, aka “a working board.” We all agreed to move the idea forward, and starting working on the next steps.

Project Scope and Pricing

To get an idea of what support and resources we’d need, we needed to plan the project and get cost estimates. One of our board members had a background in music, so he was a natural to help us network for recording, printing, and CD design.

Formalizing Support

With our project plan and budget in place, we applied for a small project grant from the county arts commission. Again, one of our board members had experience in grantwriting, and she took the lead on our proposal.

The arts commission awarded us support. That commitment provided us the credibility needed to secure contracts with vendors, and solicit additional funding.

Contracting with Vendors

In this step, we relied on the references our board members received from their personal networks. A board member contacted vendors, and brought back price quotes. We carefully compared services offered, cost, timing, and references. We made sure all agreements were in writing – it’s a common sense business practice, but one that can be easily overlooked when working on a small-scale project.


At the time of this project, the local poetry slam was already in its ninth or tenth year of weekly open mikes and poetry slams. We opened a call for submissions


We prepared releases for licensing the performances. One of our board members had a friend who was an attorney. If you’re not connected to someone, the New York lawyers for the arts program keeps a comprehensive list of volunteer lawyer programs and other resources across the country.


Several board members took responsibility for bringing copies to local retailers, which included tracking sales and inventory.

Now v. Then

It’s funny now to think of how much of this project would be done differently today. Some aspects that might be different now:

  • Format – we could eliminate the expense of CD pressing by delivering digital downloads
  • Curation – without the limitation of 70 minutes (the maximum time for an audio CD), we might be able to include more writers
  • Fundraising – crowdfunding would likely be a large part of our strategy
  • Recording – today, everything about the recording could probably be done and mastered an someone’s smartphone
  • Distribution – selling digital directly to the consumer would let us build on the relationship, as opposed to never knowing who purchased from a record store

However, despite the changes in technology, many of the underlying principles will always apply to successful projects:

  • Creating a project plan and budget
  • Determining interest and feasibility
  • Due diligence on vendors
  • Written contracts, releases, and licensing agreements

Final Thoughts: Mentorship and Board Leadership

Reflecting on this project now, I know a big part of our success was owing to the leadership of our more experienced board members. They acted as mentors, they reached out to their networks for recommendations and for fundraising, and they led us through the decision-making with the principle of community-building always in mind.

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image of text spray painted in an alley, it says "everything for everyone, nothing for ourselves"
activism, I got something to say about that!, non-profit

What cost, humanity?

A few weeks ago, two different articles circulated among different interest groups in my social media. The first, in nonprofit management circles, was Dan Palotta’s TED Talk “The Way We Think About Charity Is Dead Wrong.” The second, in legal aid circles, a piece in the New York Times about the sad state of our nation’s poor when facing civil legal problems, “Right to Lawyer Can Be Empty Promise for Poor.” As a career-long nonprofit professional, and the last ten years of which spent in legal aid policy, these two items begged to be considered together.

Palotta’s talk threw me for a loop. Continue reading “What cost, humanity?”

art, non-profit, poetry slam

To Slam, With Love.

Last night I dropped by the Seattle Poetry Slam. It’s been more than ten years since I’ve had any formal affiliation with this show, and I don’t get to it nearly as often as I’d like. But, last night one woman reminded me of the brilliant gift that poetry open mikes offer us. Continue reading “To Slam, With Love.”

image of word cloud
communications, non-profit, portfolio

Branding On A Dime: One Example.

Anyone working with non-profits is all too familiar with budget constraints. Heck, even in better economic times, the non-profits I worked with ran lean. I’ve come to accept this reality as one of the traits working in the non-profit industry, and want to share a very fun challenge from a recent project I managed. Details and with links to the free resources after the jump! Continue reading “Branding On A Dime: One Example.”