The Civic Engagement Strategy

Kenton Haleem, Executive Director of Burbank Arts for All: An Education Foundation



Kenton Haleem, Executive Director of Burbank Arts for All: An Education Foundation, blogs on how civic engagement and community relationships are integral to running a successful foundation.




A traditional coin toss involves calling heads or tails. As the leader of a small nonprofit arts foundation, I earnestly want to shout, “Heads and tails!” A coin is the symbol of wealth and prosperity, but for me it also represents the concept of funding. Just as each side of a coin is unique, so too are the funding demands placed on small foundations. They are expected to provide grants for local programming, while additionally building their endowment for long-term stability.

In order to fulfill this dual role of funder and peddler, small nonprofit foundations need to extend their reach through civic engagement. Knowing your community is an essential part of raising your organization’s fundability status while determining where your grant allocations should be focused. Here are several key engagement tactics to use when building your foundation as a sustainable funding source.

Mission: Make sure your mission is relevant to your community and its constituents. It should fill a needed gap, which makes you an essential component of your community’s social fabric. Make sure your mission is clear, concise and well known, and most importantly, that the work you do reflects it. Print it on your business card. Every time you meet someone include it as part of your introduction. As you continue to promote your cause people will identify your face with your work.

Board members: Your board of directors is one of the most essential tools you have in furthering your organization’s aims. They are your eyes, ears and voices around town. Make sure they are passionate about your mission, positive and willing to “sell” your cause. They should represent the community broadly and have essential skills for expanding the foundation. Finding key people to serve or join your board means strategically networking to identify those connected to monetary sources, community groups, government, school districts and local industry.

Join local groups: Often times attending luncheons, receptions and other community group functions can be perceived as a loss of staff productivity. WRONG! Face-to-face contact and social engagement can ultimately bring in major economic support while confirming your image as an engaged leader. Make sure to join the local chamber of commerce, Kiwanis club, community council groups and other nonprofit networks. Be cordial and inviting to other local nonprofits, and meet with them to discuss mutually beneficial initiatives.

Civic meetings: Attend City Council and school board meetings. Show other leaders you are interested in their work. If there is an opportunity to speak, remain positive and concise and don’t forget to mention your mission and one key success. By becoming a familiar and positively-focused fixture, you won’t be perceived as negative if you ever need to explicitly speak regarding funding cuts, lack of support or other downbeat issues. You want civic leaders in your court when it comes to support. Frequently businesses seek the input of civic leaders regarding charitable outlets or where to focus funds that can benefit your foundation, such as % for the arts initiatives. You want your face to be the first one that pops into an official’s mind.

Read the paper: Or should I say, READ THE PAPER! When I first started in nonprofit I was always gob smacked when I saw the executive director reading the paper. I thought… “How do they have that much time to read the paper and still accomplish tasks??” Here is the rub: They aren’t reading it for personal enjoyment. They are scouring it for morsels and tidbits to fund the organization. For example: Did the county or city just sign a contract with someone to provide outreach services? Are there community events that can benefit your organization? What new businesses are moving to town? An informed leader effectively identifies intersections between their organization and the community to create opportunities for funding and partnerships.

Local funders: Who is sitting right in your own backyard? Local relationships with the right people can often lead to increased income generation, especially when your brand is visible through community press and promotion. Do research on what companies and corporations are in your area. Compile a list and ask board members about any possible connections. If you don’t have a connection, make one and start the cultivation process. Set up a meeting, give them comp tickets to an event and be politely persistent. Goodwill goes a long way. When you do meet them to talk business, make sure you have a variety of funding options or partnering opportunities to share with them so you aren’t perceived as a one-trick pony.

Always take a meeting: You never know when an opportunity may come your way. If a community person calls to discuss something or make an offer– take the meeting, don’t say no! I am always pleasantly surprised when I take a ubiquitous meeting only to discover that I would have missed out on an amazing opportunity had I said no. Additionally, taking meetings demonstrates friendliness and a pleasant disposition. You never know when So-and-So will run into You-Know-Who and says you were amazing, or no help at all.

In harsh economic times, when health and human service nonprofits often take precedent, these tactics become crucial in championing civic engagement to support arts in our communities.



Burbank Arts for All: An Education FoundationKenton Haleem acts as the executive director of Burbank Arts For All Foundation – an organization committed to ensuring every student in Burbank public schools receives a quality arts education as part of their core curriculum. In this role he has worked closely with his board of directors to expand the visibility and outreach of the Foundation by implementing a membership campaign, increasing grant allocations and strategic planning to create sustained growth and stability. Previously Haleem spent nine years as an educator in Long Beach before becoming Director of Arts Learning at the Arts Council for Long Beach. Most recently, he served as Director of Education & Development at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum.  In these positions he developed and implemented a wide range of standards-based arts curricula and programs while increasing funding from individuals, corporations and foundations.  Haleem’s expertise in grant writing has contributed to awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts and a prestigious American Reinvestment and Recovery Act grant from the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.