Laura Belcher

Does it ever feel like you are constantly having to start from scratch? New marketing campaigns—new collateral materials—new social media strategies—new community engagement ideas—the list could go on and on…How do we get off the hamster wheel?

One way to reduce the repetitive efforts is by sharing and scaling ideas that can translate to multiple constituencies and communities.

One of the realities of the arts field is that we are extremely fragmented across the country. It is not hard to picture the director of development in Milwaukee having the same conversation with their board about diversifying revenue as the director of development in Kansas City or San Jose or Tampa.

power2give.org is one example of an successful means to reduce duplication of efforts. Launched in Charlotte by the Arts & Science Council (ASC) in August 2011, power2give.org is a nonprofit cultural sector crowdfunding site now operating in nine other communities.

Picture a network of like-minded arts administrators from multiple communities sharing ideas, materials, proposals and challenges to the benefit of each participating organization. Also envision national arts funders being able to leverage investments across a common platform to increase scope and breadth of reach. These were the goals of scaling an idea (power2give.org) from pilot to sustainable operations.

In the new economy that we are working in, it is important for every organization to leverage all the resources available to it to increase audience involvement, to increase donor engagement and community relevance. This is important work and is what ensures the relevance of arts organizations whether they are united arts funds, local arts agencies, or cultural programming institutions.

Our organizational futures are reliant on embracing new ideas. One option for each of us individually is to be the originator of all ideas for our organizations while the better option is to look to the field for good ideas that are replicable. Are all innovations ideal to be replicated? No, there are plenty of extremely successful activities that are unique and relevant to a specific community and would not transfer successfully to another community. That said, there a plethora of initiatives that are transferable. The key to scaling an idea is to embrace the pieces that are transferable, allow flexibility in their adoption so that they reflect your community.

Six years ago, I learned that not every platform can be scaled. ASC needed a new electronic pledge card system to facilitate workplace campaign fundraising. I worked with the team for months to define the business requirements, test the functionality, and ultimately launch a state of the art eCampaign system. It was widely embraced by the workplaces in Charlotte and deemed a major success.

Sensing the opportunity for broader adoption I demoed the system to several other arts councils to evaluate their interest. Their reviews were very affirming and they expressed interest in the platform.

The challenge was that we created a tool that was so specific for Charlotte that the cost of developing a platform that could be scaled and shared with other communities would have cost more than the cost of each of the other arts councils creating their own platform, which ultimately, each of them did. I have also seen in the past seven years many examples of scaling that are successful—at ASC we have adopted Cleveland’s Artist as Entrepreneur Institute and the Silicon Valley Artsopolis platform.

Taking lessons learned, when developing the power2give.org platform, I worked with the team to develop an extensive back-end functionality that allows each community that adopts the platform to customize certain aspects of the platform to make it relevant for its community.

We now have a network of 10 communities using the power2give platform which allow for the aggregation of donor data, trend evaluation, identification of best practices, and the sharing on lessons learned.

When does it make sense to scale an operation?

I believe that it is not only valuable, but necessary, to look at how to scale a successful operation when it is transferable to another community. It is one of the things that will enhance our sector’s ability to thrive in the coming years. I do not believe that it is easy or even viable in all situations, but I believe we need a greater spirit of collaboration and idea sharing.

What do you think?

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ARTSblog holds week-long Blog Salons, a series of posts by guest bloggers, that focus on an overarching theme within a core area of Americans for the Arts' work. Here are links to the most recent Salons:

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Art in Rural Communities

Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.