Is Milwaukee Ready NOW for Mobile Giving?

Strong nonprofit arts ecosystems add value to Milwaukee. We thought that an umbrella fundraising mechanism for small and mid-sized nonprofit arts organizations would strengthen the organizations themselves, build a web of integrated creativity, and support more individual artists. Local nonprofit arts and cultural organizations allow and encourage artists to discover and nurture complementary talents that spark innovation, launch careers, and build community. They push our community in ways we wouldn’t expect – using race, socio-economic, and gender issues to spur conversations. We must nurture subsequent generations of Milwaukee artists by supporting smaller or experimental organizations.

In 2013, to support small and mid-sized arts groups, the partners of the Nonprofit Management Fund created an inaugural event that had the potential to be a new, ongoing revenue stream for local arts organizations — art$upport  a community-wide  pop-up art event. A pop-up performance is a spontaneous, artistic activity — singing, dancing, reading, drawing, painting, image projection —lasting 3-5 minutes in a restaurant, public space, a lobby or almost anywhere.

What happened?

 38 organizations -131 performances - 60 public and private venues 

36 hours from Thursday through Saturday, 25-27 July 2013

8,000 promotional cards distributed to potential supporters


Three fundraising strategies were involved: 1) matching funds raised in advance; 2) online contributions solicited, and 3) a $10 text solicitation could be made via mobile phone.  The Nonprofit Management Fund allocated funds to cover all expenses. In addition, Chris Abele, Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Daniel M. Soref Charitable Trust, Spirit of Milwaukee, Faye McBeath Foundation, and the Helen Bader Foundation made grants totaling $61,500 for distribution in August 2013 to participants.

Online contributions and text donations were not very successful, raising only about $2,000, which was re-granted in December 2013. Despite the small figure of $1,675 per group, the comments were passionate.

“The 2013 art$upport event provided a tremendous opportunity to highlight the amazing talent and art resources that benefit the greater Milwaukee community.”

“We all really enjoyed the event and are grateful to have been a part of it.”

“First of all, thank you both for all your efforts in making this possible. This really was a significant undertaking, and it was also a tremendous opportunity for arts groups like us. We are very grateful to you for including us.”

This month, our United Performing Arts Fund is soliciting contributions principally to support 15 large arts groups. Perhaps another 15-20 mid-sized organizations will also receive a smaller grant.  What about the more than 100 other small artistic endeavors that showcase remarkable talent and spark our creative thinking? Don’t they deserve support too?

The Fund chose a method of solicitation—texting through a phone—that had not been used widely in Milwaukee, except for disaster relief, so that we weren’t competing for the same dollars as other campaigns, and cultivating new,  perhaps younger, donors to the arts. Small phone contributions also seemed to be in scale with the size of the 38 eventual recipients. While texting may one day be a viable funding strategy, our brief experience with mobile giving does not bode well for another attempt—yet.

7 comments | Add a New Comment
1. Terrie Temkin | April 24, 2014 at 05:48 PM EDT

Pop up art events - what a great idea! One more reason that the Nonprofit Management Fund has been so valuable. Too bad the mobile donations didn't support them to a greater degree. Still, at an average of $10, that's 200 contributions from people who were not expecting to run into art when they went out that night, yet cared enough to text a monetary thanks.

Love the pictures - especially the great display of You and Your Nonprofit Board!

2. Terry Murphy | April 25, 2014 at 07:03 AM EDT

I am surprised that the level of mobile giving was low, but like any new idea, it requires sustained marketing to raise awareness of the issue and multiple opportunities to give. I wonder if marketing art$support to build excitement and awareness rather than relying primarily on the surprise element would have increased mobile giving. Hopefully, there will be many more attempts on behalf of small arts/culture organizations. Thanks for making it happen last year!

3. Jean Butzen | April 25, 2014 at 07:08 AM EDT

Doesn't it seem like you have to keep doing the new thing in order for it to catch on? I would encourage you to keep trying the texting fundraising, figuring that it will catch and and when it does, you can ride that wave.

4. Brenda Campbell | April 25, 2014 at 07:24 AM EDT

We saw similar results with a Groupon campaign, but it was a wonderful awareness campaign and provided an easy way for stakeholders to engage friends and family. Plus, it cost nothing to do and a minimal amount of time to develop.

5. Scott Gelzer | April 25, 2014 at 08:35 AM EDT

First, thanks to you Pat and Tia Torhorst who were the drivers of the strategy. As an event volunteer who has seen many campaigns and activities this one had serious passion. The arts groups were amazing - a city street swordfight was not rained moved to the rotunda of City Hall!

Perhaps this can continue based on lessons learned?

6. Renee Pasciak | April 25, 2014 at 08:45 AM EDT

As younger individuals look to become donors, texting will be a more common way to donate. I would much rather do it that way than be sent an envelope in the mail to fill out and send back. It will just take time. The stereotypical arts donor is older too, which may have had something to do with the lackluster response.

7. Patricia Moore | April 27, 2014 at 10:51 AM EDT

This event is one that should happen yearly to build and sustain momentum. It's a happening! It's a bit scary I could imagine for funders because you don't really know what will 'happening'. Challenging to measure outcomes ... Contributions yes, but exposure to build appreciation and audience seem key to me. As the blog notes, the role of arts in the public discourse is vital in civic society. How does one measure the impact of exposure to creative perspectives? Entrepreneurial small arts organizations tend to push the envelope outside the box and clearly represent key participants.

I could see a particular day chosen yearly. A website to stimulate curiosity... Be on the lookout in your neighborhood. Maybe some treasure hunt aspect or other type of incentive. NHDD--National Healthcare Decisions Day--is an annual, nation-wide event that educates and promotes the concept of advance care planning. Might be a model for comparison.

If Milwaukee could wrap its arms around this one it could become a truly signature event that boosts the City's creative identity. I loved it when I first heard about it and continue to love the immense potential. Kudos on a fine experiment. As with any science, the true learning comes from replication.

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