Margot Knight, Executive Director of Djerassi Resident Artists Program gives arts organizations advice on how to build relationships with businesses.
Those of us in the mission-driven arts resource business (this means YOU), all have stories about the moment you connected to a donor from the business community. An authentic, real MOMENT when what you and your organization do connected either professionally or personally with the businessman or woman on the other side of the desk, cocktail, or dinner table.
Sometimes it happens right away. Sometimes a relationship takes months, even years, to develop.
And sometimes, that moment of truth reveals a dead-end future, or more painfully, spells the end to an existing relationship. Here are some of my best advice based on my own experiences—I hope they’re helpful:
1. Always bear in mind that money is the means to an end, not an end to itself. This premise has ripples—it means you won’t compromise your mission for money. It means you won’t get ahead of yourself in a conversation and talk about money before you talk about mission. And it means you MUST understand what your potential business partner values. For him or her, money is the means to an end as well.
2. You have to do your homework. Just like you, the person sitting across from you woke up with a notion of what a successful day looked like for them. Before you walk into any business, large or small, do a little research. What does the business do? How and where do they do it? How are they doing? What are the external pressures bearing on THEM? Most businesses have vision and mission statements of their own. Look them up. The old adage of “seek to understand before being understood,” comes to mind.
3. The knowledge you’ve gathered is not for you to “show-off” what you know. We all know there is nuance that is never revealed until we have a face-to-face. Use that knowledge to ask questions. Walk into the room thinking, “There’s more I don’t know about this company than I do.” “I think I saw you have a partnership with XYZ arts organization—is that typical of the kind of community partnerships you’re interested in?” “Did I see your sister is a singer? How did she get her start”? You are there to share, not to sell.
4. Go where businesspeople go. Join the chamber of commerce, the economic development group, and the tourism bureau. It’s a pay-to-play, opt-in world so budget accordingly. Perhaps one of your current business supporters will sponsor your membership or conference attendance. Don’t be a Johnny-one-note, always talking about the arts. Learn about business regulations, tax issues, economic issues, etc. Sad to say too many people in business have the hallucination that the arts are irrelevant and artists and arts administrators are willfully ignorant of the “real” world. Burst that bubble and change that hallucination by engaging them in conversations that matter to them.
Read the other six reasons on ARTSblog.
*Photo courtesy of Aidan Jones.