Philanthropy Future/Present

By John Killacky


Ten years from now: these things I know. New program officers will think they are smarter and funnier than their predecessors. Foundations will have undergone (at least once) strategic planning and establish new priorities and initiatives regardless of what the field of dance actually needs.

Nomenclature will evolve. Theories of change are already morphing into strategies of change; linear logic models will be overlaid with Venn diagrams. Hopefully, the nonprofit arts ecosystem will be analyzed more holistically, inspired by the vitalistic, cyclical, and interdependent approach of balance drawn from Chinese medicine developed by Holly Sidford and Warren Bellows. Mercifully, within this framework, philanthropic interventions will be more responsive.

Less emphasis should be put on endowment building and long-term sustainability issues. Instead cash reserves should be utilized as artistic and organizational investment strategies; and return on investments not analyzed seasonally. Dance deserves a longer runway. I prefer philanthropy focus on an arts organization’s dynamism and the development of its present day creative, intellectual, and social capital. The nonprofit arts world is so severely undercapitalized; we have become risk averse. Paradoxically, the for-profit world is much more risk tolerant.

But, instead of forecasting a future I hope for, I think it more constructive to discuss current trends transforming how dance is supported, accessed, engaged with, and popularized. Suggestions of how the field might benefit will be offered through a Bay Area perspective.

Race and ethnicity

According to the US Census, more than 57% of Californians are people of color. Latinos account for almost one-third of the state’s population, Asians and Pacific Islanders 13%, African Americans 7%, and American Indians 1%. California has more self-identified multiracial individuals (767,000) than any other state. There are an estimated 10 million immigrants today, 28% of the state’s population.

As California goes, so does the nation. As our country continues to diversify, fairness and parity issues will demand foundations consider future grantmaking more through a racial equity lens. A 2006 survey by the multi-ethnic public policy research and advocacy institute, The Greenlining Institute, sparked considerable discussion in California, including legislators investigating whether foundations should be more transparent about their giving in terms of race and ethnicity.

Greenlining surveyed 13,566 grants made in 2004 by 24 foundations and found wide discrepancies as to their investments in people of color-led organizations.

California’s community foundations awarded a greater percentage of grants (18.8%) and dollars (25.7%) to these organizations than both California-based independent foundations (11.4% of grants and 4.0% of dollars) and national independent foundations (7.7% of grants and 14.7% of dollars).

Greenlining’s analytic framework only tracked people of color-led organizations and did not include grants to organizations serving these communities not led by people of color. Nevertheless, the systemic bias and inequality revealed is sobering. In a state where there is no majority culture, these numbers call for redress.

Dance USA published an assessment of dance in the Bay Area in 2002 and found ethnically specific companies under-recognized and under-valued. These same issues remain today. Julie Mushet, producer of San Francisco’s Ethnic Dance Festival, estimates 450 culturally specific companies in her database; 100 recently auditioned for her festival. Despite these numbers, the majority of philanthropic dollars go to the modern and ballet companies in the region. All are doing great work, but disparities in support are more than disquieting.

Because many of these companies do not have adequate infrastructure to apply for grants, The San Francisco Foundation awards money directly to the Ethnic Dance Festival to have its annual audition jury regrant three $5,000 commissions directly to artists. Mythili Kumar, Zenon Baron, and Rudi Soriano are recent awardees.

As well, the Foundation awards arts mini-grants through programs focused on neighborhood leadership development and Faiths-based organizations working in underserved communities. These grants have simplified applications and a quicker turn around to be more responsive to grassroots organizations. Chi Gong with Shaolin Buddhist monks, Ballet Folklorico Sinaloense, and the Mayeb Jarana Mayan Dance Troupe received support for classes and performances.


Giving USA’s annual survey detailed $295 billion contributed to nonprofit organizations in FY ‘06, with arts getting a paltry 4.2%. Overall, 75.6% came from individuals, with an additional 7.8% from bequests (a.k.a. dead individuals). Foundations accounted for 12.4% of philanthropy and corporations for 4.3%. These trends have remained consistent year after year.

Americans for the Arts tells us individual support accounts for 35.5% of arts groups’ revenue nationally. Dance USA’s member companies receive 21.8% of their income from individuals. In San Francisco, arts groups (not just dance) report individuals account for about 11.2% of their income. If there is any potential for growth, it is in expanding individual donor bases.

With the intergenerational transfer of wealth estimated to be $41 trillion over the next 40 years, the dance field should prioritize friendraising in the years ahead. And rather than longing for coveted millionaires to descend and bestow their largess, dance companies should first turn to their audiences and operationalize the ‘church’ ask.

Hoping to develop individual supporters for small to mid-sized arts organizations, The San Francisco and East Bay Community Foundations gave $5,000-$10,000 matching grants to 37 organizations to commission new works last year. These grants had to be matched 1:1 with support from individuals. All 37 organizations were successful in meeting the match; 801 donors contributed $189,178 for an average gift of $236.18.

Choreographers as diverse as Lily Cai, Chitresh Das, Sonia Delwaide, Joe Goode, Margaret Jenkins, Nikolai Kabaniaev, Edwardo Madril, Patrick Makuakane, Robert Moses, Sara Shelton Mann, and Reginald Ray-Savage were commissioned. Most grantee organizations had never fundraised for artistic commissions before, and had no idea supporters would respond so favorably. More importantly, the success of the matching commissions helped build a donor base they can cultivate for future artistic projects.

Discussing another in-house resource, Patrick Rooney, Director of Research at Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy, in an online discussion last January for The Chronicle of Philanthropy wrote, “There is lots of evidence that volunteers are more likely to be donors than others and that volunteers who are also donors tend to give larger gifts—on average.” This is another compelling reason to look first at who is already committed to your company’s work, rather than trying to convince unfamiliar people of the importance of dance in their philanthropic giving.


Rooney also discussed the growing importance of fundraising via the web and email. In a study for American Express, he found only 10% of donors currently give online, but significantly, 20% said they gave because the charity promoted the online giving with a link or easily found online giving option.

Building out and maximizing cyber-components is challenging, given the generational chasms between the Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and the Millennials. Us boomers who now run everything, were once teeny bopper kings/queens upending all the rules, but are now at a loss as how to effectively (and efficiently) communicate in our noisy/cluttered environment.

Independent filmmakers no longer think about just making a film—there’s online and cell phone components, a blog, standards aligned curriculum material, and outreach, marketing, and distribution strategies in place even before filming has commenced. Dancemakers can learn from media colleagues, making sure choreography is conceived for multiple platforms, the stage behind the fourth wall only being one of them.

In the participatory culture we now live in, people are increasingly not “bowling alone” online, but sending i-reports from their cell phones to CNN, sharing intimate details of their lives in the blogosphere, and aligning themselves in social networks such as Facebook, Friendster, LinkedIn, Blackplanet, and MySpace. These sites are not going away. San Francisco’s Business Times reported that venture capitalists poured $405 million into social networking sites last year. And why not, when Facebook is now valued at $15 billion and MySpace has more than 1.3 billion page views each day?

MC Hammer invested in DanceJam, being developed for young people to share videos of their moves, make friends, and compete with fellow hip-hoppers. The indomitable Merce Cunningham will be putting out weekly online video programs “Mondays with Merce” on this fall.

Pixelanthropy is also taking root in the virtual community of Second Life’s Commonwealth Island filled to capacity with 32 charities. Every Friday, charity-minded fantastical avatars gather to trade war stories and share fundraising strategies. Facebook has a “Causes” section where fans promote charities and YouTube has a Nonprofit Page where your company could be featured alongside the Clinton Foundation.

The dance community needs to dive/jeté/roll into cyberspace if it is to further deepen relationships and expand and diversify audiences. PBS’s Frontline series did a program, “Growing Up Online,” which estimated that more than 90% of teenagers use the Internet. The Pew Internet and American Life project revealed young people are now using the Internet as their first source of information 80% of the time. If we are to bring these cybernauts into the dance world as participants, audiences, and eventually donors, we must inhabit spaces they gather and converse.

Imagine if young professionals were linked into your company’s social network. Not only could all the trendies see who was attending opening night (so they too could be there), at intermission they could text-message twitters on their cell phones, alerting all their friends simultaneously how fabulous the new dance is and how sexy the dancers are!

In this inter-linked scenario, the rest of us would go home and immediately get online to share written/audio/video reactions to the performance, all posted on your company’s web site. Remember the virtual sphere is not the sole domain of the young. The New York Times, in an article about Eons, BoomJ, TeeBeeDee and other cyber-community sites for Boomers, reports there are 49 million people over 50 on the Internet.

All of this Web 2.0 technology is available today, at little or no cost except time constraints and staffing. However, this calls for a paradigm shift in the thinking of many artistic directors who leave outreach, education, and audience development strategies to others. Without artists centrally involved, dance will be particularly challenged to find meaningful ways to more deeply engage audiences and expand cultural participation. Recent studies by Lynne Conner and the Heinz Endowments and Alan S. Brown of Wolf/Brown have shown that enrichment programs that authentically invite audiences to co-author meaning before and after an arts experience are key motivators for not only deepening engagement, but also for increasing contributions.

Got Milk

In today’s polyglot gonzo aesthetics, there is no longer any bifurcation between high/low, alternative/mainstream, and fringe/pop culture. Avant-garde is a nostalgic retro term, post modern just another form of modernism, and all frontiers are porous. When two-thirds of Bay Area artists earn less than $7,000 each year from their art practice, it is ironic to hear dancers draw a distinction between amateur and professional. Excellence matters, but excellence is in the eyes of the beholder. Everyone can be an artist and make the most of our Warholian fifteen minutes. I worry the dance field is holding on to outmoded formalist distinctions when audiences no longer do so.

Ever since the early ‘90s when “GOT MILK” ads appeared, dance wondered how it could similarly capture public imagination; the reality now, is that it has. Adaptations of Broadway musicals such as Chicago, Dreamgirls, and Hairspray are blockbuster films. Dancing With The Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, Dance Wars, and Dance Crew are golden on commercial television. Little boys and girls may not be getting arts education in school, but are dreaming of growing up to be dancers because of mainstream culture.

The nonprofit dance world is disconnected from these phenomena, not benefiting from the current fascination with things terpsichorean. Here’s one barometer: comic Judson Laipply’s six-minute “The Evolution of Dance” has been seen by over 73 million people on YouTube as compared to less than 10,000 people who have seen work by Trisha Brown, Paul Taylor, and Twyla Tharp. Cunningham doubles viewership into 20,000+, Ailey’s Revelations has been seen by over 73,000, and Baryshnikov’s balletic excerpts hover around 100,000 views.

Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law Professor and founder of Creative Commons, cautions, “don’t eternalize the present” as we imagine a future. You can dismiss the comic version of the history of dance on YouTube, but the example demonstrates one of many strategies toward a more expansive future. I want the beautiful transformative work of all members of Dance USA to be seen and supported by millions.

This article appeared in the June 2008 issue of In Dance.

John R. Killacky is the Program Officer for Arts and Culture at The San Francisco Foundation.