Like many arts professionals, I’m watching the funding community’s pro-engagement push with great interest. I agree that community engagement is where we’re heading and that funders should be stimulating more engagement-oriented activity on the part of arts organizations, but I’m having trouble seeing how all those development departments will handle the added workload.
At first glance, it makes perfect sense that engagement will fall under the development umbrella. Development professionals are unusually adept at initiating, nurturing and sustaining relationships with community members so the fit is ideal: Engagement is merely an extension of the work that development departments already do. And since engagement doesn’t generate earned revenue, it makes sense that the people who will be seeking funding for engagement activities are the ones who execute those activities. The closer the relationship between the engagers and the funders who pay for their work, the more efficient their endeavors will be. But ultimately, engagement is about building networks of future donor/supporters so it makes sense to have the development staff out in the community creating the relationships that will generate long-term monetary returns. The development/engagement symbiosis is unmistakable and their pairing is as natural and appropriate as wine and cheese.
But at the same time, engagement takes a lot of work. Programming and promoting engagement activities takes time and resources, and sustaining meaningful relationships with community members requires huge personal investments on the part of the development staffers who will be asked to undertake the work. It will be interesting to see how development managers will keep the sustaining revenue flowing in while attempting to forge more meaningful, dynamic, person-to-person relationships between their organizations the the communities they exist to serve. Asking development to be the link between the community and the organization may be obvious, but will they be able to do it without adding more staff or having to raise a lot more money?
I’ve heard no discussions to date about how these new engagement endeavors will impact development departments, and frankly I’m surprised that more development directors haven’t spoken up about the increased burden (maybe they’re worried about offending their foundation contacts?). Development executives are under a lot of pressure these days and adding an entirely new layer of administrative responsibility seems like a lot to ask. It would be a shame if these new expectations pushed already stressed development pros to the limit and caused them to seek private sector gigs with more realistic job descriptions. The cultural sector can ill-afford to alienate professionals who are responsible for bringing so much revenue into their organizations.
I’m aware that the days of creaky old tent pole organizations that offer passive arts products are numbered, and that more nimble, hands-on, interactive arts organizations are where the foundation money will be going, but I believe that a lot of stable, mid-sized, traditional arts organizations still have a lot to offer and, with the right level of support, could find ways to remain viable, productive and valuable to their communities for many years to come.
So I’m curious to know how development departments in those organizations are preparing for their new engagement responsibilities and whether any fundraising pros out there are nervous about what’s coming down the pike. My perspective is that of a marketer and, while I can’t speak for all marketers, I’m confident that development professionals will have the support of their marketing colleagues. Our plates may be full with earned revenue-oriented work, but we’re happy to support you in your new engagement responsibilities whenever we can.