A Money Idea

As recently reported in the Detroit Free Press, the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan launched a matching grant initiative that raised $3.75 million for arts organizations, though it was beset with some serious technological snafus.

The Foundation committed to give 50 cents for every dollar donated to any of 75 arts organizations, up to a maximum of $1.0 million total. Gifts eligible for the match could range from $25 to $10,000 and had to be made through an online system. Among the 75 eligible groups were major institutions (such as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra) as well as smaller, grassroots organizations. Each organization was limited to a maximum of $200,000 from the Community Foundation pot (or a total of $600,000 when combined with the donor gifts).

The selected arts groups promoted the matching grant to their patrons and donors in advance, with encouragement by the Foundation to use new social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and e-mail blasts. Apparently they all did so with gusto.

As the story reports, the grant program easily met its goal of generating $3 million in contributions ($2 million from donors, plus the $1 million match), but not without hitting some major snags:
What happens when 10,000 people all at once try to donate to the arts through a single Web portal? Gridlock, furious patrons, embarrassed officials and a classic good news-bad news story that saw $3.75 million raised for local cultural groups but also left a trail of anger and frustration throughout the arts community.”

The community response was so great that the online system quickly bogged down. Not only did donors run into logjams and long delays, but the credit cards of some were mistakenly charged more than once. The matching funds ran out by 3:30 p.m. after the online system opened that morning at 10:00. The Community Foundation felt so bad about the technological glitches that it added another $250,000 to the pool at 6:00 p.m. That additional match was gone within three hours.

The article doesn't mention how the 75 organizations were selected. Did they have to apply to be on the list? Was there some other due diligence performed? For every group selected, did five others feel screwed for having been passed over? Should I have made an effort to find answers to these questions? I'll answer just one of those questions: Yeah, if I was actually an investigative journalists, so get off my back.

Could Portland pull off something like this? The Oregon Community Foundation has over $700 million in assets (according to its 2008 annual report), compared to the Community Foundation of SE Michigan’s $539 million. Hmm, what do you think?

Speaking of using social media for arts marketing and fundraising, I wonder how Portland Center Stage did with its one-day sale of any 2009-2010 season ticket for $25. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you missed out because today was the day.


Unknown said...

Well the PCS one day sale did quite well! Around $40k in ticket sales for the public day. Plus we did a pre-sale for subscribers that brought in around $13k.

We're considering it an overwhelming success. And no system crashes this time!

MightyToyCannon said...

Congratulations to PCS on a successful e-sale, and the lack of system crashes.