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Blinding Flash of the Obvious: Insight on the BCA National Survey

Posted by Jordan Lohf
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Two weeks ago, standing in front of a group of arts and business leaders gathered for the release of the 2013 BCA National Survey of Business Support for the Arts, Mark Shugoll, CEO of Shugoll Research, reported that business support for the arts has increased by 18% since 2009. The event took place at, and in partnership with, the Municipal Art Society of New York, as well as the Arts and Business Council of New York.

 

The largest survey of its kind, the BCA National Survey of Business Support for the Arts has been conducted triennially since 1968 to examine the motivations and goals of small, mid-sized, and large businesses for engaging with the arts.  It is the only known study to include small businesses, which, according to Shugoll, and the results of the survey, is a key distinction.  In fact, it was found that 47% of the total business contributions to the arts in 2012 came from small businesses, followed by 35% and 18% from mid-sized and large companies, respectively.  This finding alone should change the way many arts organizations approach corporate philanthropy and will hopefully encourage more businesses to consider supporting the arts, especially since 54% of arts contributors said they’re motivated to give by the arts’ ability to improve the quality of life in the community and 49% said because the arts help create a vibrant community and society.  

 

Although this is good news for arts and business partnerships, the survey also points out areas requiring improvement.  First and foremost, 66% of the noncontributing businesses in the survey reported having never been asked to contribute.  While we hope more businesses become proactive in seeking out arts partnerships (examples of replicable, mutually beneficial initiatives can be found at the pARTnership Movement), the fact remains that arts organizations also need to learn how to build relationships with the business community.  The importance of interpersonal relationships was particularly highlighted in the study when noncontributors pointed to friends and family (35%) and business colleagues (32%) as the top two most influential sources for deciding to support the arts.

 

Shugoll also spoke to the opportunities of noncash giving. Telling the business community members present it’s all about resources and expertise. “Don’t forget the importance of pro-bono giving.  Think about in-trade sponsorships for an arts organization that allows you to be listed on their website as the official hotel of an arts organization. That can be hugely beneficial to the business and beneficial to the arts organization.

 

“For example,” said Shugoll, “I could write a check for a few hundred dollars to a theatre that comes to my office, but we all know it would only go so far. Instead, I could provide complimentary research that could be used to help build audiences, increase donations, and potentially help sustain the organization.”

 

Another area of improvement comes from the reasons businesses are not contributing to the arts. The BCA survey found that the second most common response for not contributing to the arts, coming after limited cash and non-cash resources, was that businesses prefer to focus on other areas such as education and social services. So although arts supporters may be aware of the impact the arts have had on these areas for years, it’s now clear that that doesn’t apply for everyone.   

 

Shugoll agrees, “We’re not making a good enough case.  We have to tell them, ‘We do this.’  We have to show them how it works.”

 

Speaker Alessandra DiGusto, chief administrative officer of Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation and new member of the Americans for the Arts board of directors, gave perspective on how aligning the arts with other causes and goals helps others to see the value in what the arts can accomplish.

 

“We’ve come to see art as a way to build social and human capital, engaging all aspects of the bank through multifaceted collaborations with other areas of the foundation,” said DiGusto. Thus far, Deutsche has used art in cross sector partnerships with community development, technology, education, social finance, and employee engagement.

 

Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of American for the Arts, told a story quite fitting for the occasion:

 

“I visit towns and cities around the country where they lead me to neighborhoods that have been revitalized by the opening of a local theatre, or an airport that has been animated by public art, at which time I have to provide what I call the ‘blinding flash of the obvious.’ It’s not community development, I tell them, it’s art. It’s not innovative airport construction, it’s art.”

 

Following Lynch’s lead, we need to start providing these so called ‘blinding flashes of the obvious’ to remind people the many ways the arts change lives, education, communities, workplaces, and the bottom line, the survey can be a great starting point to do just that.

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