Giving spree: A look at crowd-funding and microgrants

Crowd-funding and microgrants are giving new hope to cash-strapped artists and organizations.

click to enlarge Creative Care artist-in-residence Paula Kramer leads a dance class with patients at All Children's Hospital. - Tom Kramer
Tom Kramer
Creative Care artist-in-residence Paula Kramer leads a dance class with patients at All Children's Hospital.

To anyone who has ever worked for, volunteered for or just loved a nonprofit, Creative Clay’s predicament will sound familiar. Three years ago the organization established an offshoot of its art programs for adults with mental, physical and emotional disabilities, expanding into making art with patients at All Children’s Hospital. Called “Creative Care,” the program was funded with a $400,000 grant from the Allegany Franciscan Ministries.

Last year, that key benefactor declined to renew support. In the meantime, Creative Clay was awarded $40,000 for the program by the NEA, a boon that comes with strings attached — the requirement of raising a matching $40K from donors before November. Then the nonprofit learned that its main corporate supporter for Folkfest — an annual folk and outsider art fair held in October — was bowing out. So far, that $25,000 gap has been mitigated only by a $5,000 contribution from Safety Harbor's Advanced Investment Partners.

Kim Dohrman, Creative Clay’s executive director, says the ups and downs go with the territory, but with grants and major sponsorships harder than ever to come by, she’s also looking for new ways to ask.

“This is absolutely the hardest part of my job,” Dohrman says. “You think you’ve got it in the bag, but you can never stop asking for support because you never know when something is going to be pulled away.”

To find money, she’s increasingly looking online. Earlier this month, Dohrman joined a dozen other representatives from local arts groups and institutions including St. Pete’s Museum of Fine Arts, Dunedin Fine Art Center, Revolutions Dance and EMIT music series for a four-hour workshop devoted to the art of Internet-based crowd-funding. Held at the MFA, the workshop was organized — somewhat ironically — by Creative Pinellas, the six-month-old promotional program created to replace Pinellas County Cultural Affairs, a grant-making arts council.

Without money of its own give, Creative Pinellas aims to help arts organizations help themselves — in this case by harnessing applications like Facebook and Kickstarter to solicit small donations from many individuals.

To dispense advice, the agency brought in Nathaniel James, a 33-year-old Seattle-based crowd-funding consultant whose credentials include founding Awesome Seattle and raising $10,000 online to fund his summer tour, called “Adventures in New Giving,” to U.S. cities including St. Pete. (Awesome Seattle has already spawned spin-offs in Tampa and St. Pete; in Tampa, the group gives away a $1,000 grant quarterly, supported by trustees who chip in $100 each.) James ran the workshop as a conversation between participants, some of whom had already tried fundraising online and some who, like Dohrman, were just getting started.

To his credit, James didn’t promise that the Internet would solve any of the attending organizations’ problems.

“One thing that can be deceptive — when people hear ‘crowd-funding’, they think there’s a giant spigot — the crowd,” he told attendees. In reality, success in online fundraising depends on many of the same variables as traditional fundraising: building a strong social network (online as much as in-person); crafting a compelling narrative about what your organization does and why people should want it to thrive; and acknowledging and rewarding donors. Additionally, James said, using blog posts, Twitter and Facebook to promote your campaign and giving donors a limited amount of time to contribute to specific projects can help.

“If you’ve got a great network and they’ve just been lazy, deadlines are enormously motivating,” he said during the workshop.

As a result of the event, Dohrman began using Facebook last week to promote Creative Clay’s page on Razoo, an online fundraising platform specifically for non-profits. Within a few hours of an initial post, people who “like” Creative Clay on Facebook had contributed $250. One advantage of Razoo (over other platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo) is that it offers users the ability to embed a “donate” app on their Facebook profile; in turn, fans of Creative Clay can share the organization’s app on their profiles and invite friends to give.

At the workshop’s end, participants pledged to continue experimenting and sharing knowledge about raising money online in Tampa Bay.

“Within 10 miles of here, there’s enough money to fund all of our organizations,” said Creative Pinellas director T. Hampton Dohrman (no relation to Kim).

Projects by Tampa Bay artists currently seeking funding online:

Deon Blackwell aims to raise $1,000 on to help create an art exhibition space called Open Source in Tampa. A graduate of USF’s MFA program, Blackwell says he’s seen too many of his classmates abandon the region due to a lack of exhibition opportunities for emerging artists. Events at the multidisciplinary space would have a different theme each month. So far, Blackwell has raised $90 through Gofundme, which does not impose deadlines on campaigns, but he has just begun to promote the project on Facebook. Contributors at the $50 level will receive one of his ceramic sculptures.

Writer Paul Guzzo and painter Elio Lopez have teamed up to propose a series of murals depicting Ybor City history that they hope to place in storefronts and offices throughout the historic district in time for the RNC. The eight murals would tell stories about specific individuals from former mayor Dick Greco’s father (a hardware store owner whose lucky nail keg attracted aspiring political candidates) to Lopez’s mother (who grew up watching her father play music in Ybor’s social clubs). As of last week, their campaign on was awaiting its first contribution; Aug. 11 is the deadline to give.

Hunter Payne launched his second Kickstarter campaign earlier this month. Last year, the 21-year-old St. Pete artist raised $1,000 through the site to fund an underwater drawing junket to the Florida Keys. (The windfall covered his expenses: grease pencils, laminated paper, boat rental and a GoPro video camera to document the trip.) His current campaign, which runs through July 7, has already raised $500 more than its $1,000 goal. It will fund a self-published book of drawings, with donors receiving either a standard or extended version of the book and other rewards — handwritten notes, posters, drawings — depending on how much they give.