Patrick O'Herron

Patrick O’Herron

At the pARTnership Movement, we think it’s fantastic that you are considering the benefits of an arts and business partnership, and that you’re sharing the values we have ignited through the 8 reasons businesses partner with the arts. But we understand that the road is long and winding, and there are pitfalls along the way. That’s why we have composed this list of the 5 things you might not be doing when considering such a partnership, and examples of how to best start.

1. Are you even asking?

According to the BCA National Survey of Business Support for the Arts, of the 600-plus small, midsize and large businesses surveyed, 66% of businesses that don’t give to the arts stated that they were not even asked to contribute to the arts—that is two-thirds! It is our responsibility to deliver the message to businesses that the arts can help build their competitive advantage, so write those letters, set up those meetings, attend chamber of commerce meetings and make those connections—start building relationships now.

psipostpatrick12. Are you considering small and midsize businesses?

Your first instinct as an arts organization may be to run to the nearest bank or local industry giant to seek support for your programming, but according to the BCA Survey, small and midsize businesses contribute 82% of the total contributions to the arts. Exemplary examples of small and midsize business partnerships include Caramel Boutique, a DC-based clothing store that is redefining the U Street corridor as an arts destination by hosting free art shows for local artists on a monthly basis, and the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee, which turns its guests’ stay into a work of art through its Artist-in-Residence program. Download our tool-kit, “Creating pARTnerships with Small and Midsize Businesses,” as a useful resource.

3.  Are you considering the value of in-kind contributions?

Not all businesses can give cash gifts. However, all is not lost. Consider asking for gifts in-kind, whereby the business gives goods and services directly, instead of money to buy needed goods and services. Perhaps a business can print color playbills for your theatre. Perhaps a local winery can provide donated beverages for your annual gala. Perhaps a law firm can offer pro bono consulting services as you create your organization’s new strategic plan. These are all of tremendous value to any arts organization, and are rewarding opportunities that enhance the interpersonal and business skills of employees, and build brand recognition for businesses.

4. Are you showing businesses what you can do for them?patrickpic2

We are all familiar with John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address in which he stated, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” The same principle applies when seeking an arts and business partnership. Foregone is the era where businesses would give philanthropically just for the sake of giving. Today, businesses are seeking a mutually beneficial partnership with those organizations they support. Perhaps your orchestra can offer a free summer concert series for employees and the community on the company’s business campus. Perhaps your museum can provide artworks to adorn the company’s lobby and meeting spaces. Perhaps your arts festival can provide volunteer opportunities for business professionals. Whatever it is that you do artistically, make sure to showcase the benefits you can provide to the business when building a partnership.

5. Are you fulfilling the company’s philanthropic interests?

Little more than a search on the “social responsibility” or “citizenship” tab on a company’s website will give you insight into the company’s philanthropic values. Some company’s missions just do not align with the arts, and that’s okay! It’s probably not a good use of your time or theirs to pursue a partnership with a business that is unlikely to support your arts programming.

  • Consider “arts and…” That said, there is a caveat to be considered. Perhaps a business doesn’t outwardly support the arts, but could it be willing to support the school-day performances at your local theatre as part of its education initiatives? Could it support the work your organization is doing with military veterans as part of its health and wellness initiatives? Arts and healing, arts and military, arts and education—these “arts and…” topics are all very relevant in the 21st century. Consider how the arts can be a catalyst to help a business achieve its philanthropic mission.

Partnerships between the arts and business drive economic development, strengthen the ability of businesses to recruit talented individuals into the workforce, and stimulate creativity and innovation throughout the community. It is essential for arts organizations to seek out the right businesses and ask the right questions in order to achieve partnerships that are beneficial for all.

For more useful resources, check out our tool-kits at the pARTnership Movement to help you build successful arts and business partnerships in your area.

(This post is one in a weekly series highlighting the pARTnership Movement, Americans for the Arts’ campaign to reach business leaders with the message that partnering with the arts can build their competitive advantage.)

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The pARTnership Movement


The pARTnership Movement is a new initiative from Americans for the Arts that provides businesses and arts organizations with the resources they need to make meaningful collaborations; partnerships that not only support a healthy, creative and artistic community, but that also give businesses a competitive advantage.
For more information please visit www.partnershipmovement.org.

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