Raising Money from Individual Donors

Jerry Yoshitomi, Arts Consultant




Consultant Jerry Yoshitomi blogs on innovative strategies for cultivating individual donors for arts & cultural organizations.





Over eighty percent of contributed income for non-profits comes from individual donors and small family foundations. In recent years, there’s been a concerted effort in several communities to increase contributions from individual donors, particularly modest amounts of money from large numbers of people. An important premise at work in these initiatives was that artists and the non-profits that engage them would have a more sustainable future if there were a broad base of renewable financial support from individuals at all income levels within their communities. If this broad-based individual support at all levels is attained, those who depend on these renewable forms of income will be better able to make their own decisions on programs and priorities.

Online, we see large numbers of modest donors contributing through KickStarter, IndieGoGo and Wiggio.  In 2008, we saw a similar pattern of donors repeatedly contributing $25 amounts for totals in excess of $250 to the Obama Presidential Campaign.

The four initiatives I’ll describe are:

  • The Fund For Artists Matching Commissions program, a collaborative initiative of The San Francisco Foundation and East Bay Community Foundation working regionally to build individual donor capacity and bring new resources to artists. The Program supported the creation of new artwork by Bay Area artists and expanded the pool of individual donors engaged with artists and their work. Between 2004 and 2010, FFAMC funded 117 new works involving more than 180 artists.  It stimulated over $705,000 in contributions by more than 2,900 individual donors, many of them new to giving to artists' projects.
  • The Traditional Arts Sustainability initiative of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA). ACTA’s Traditional Arts Sustainability Grants aim to build the capacity of nonprofit organizations that integrate traditional arts in their work and serve low-income communities and communities of color in the Central Coast and San Joaquin Valley. ACTA's Traditional Arts Sustainability Grants are supported by a joint partnership between the David & Lucile Packard, James Irvine, and William & Flora Hewlett Foundations as part of their Community Leadership Project (CLP).  The goal of the initiative is to provide skills so the traditional arts groups can raise funds from own communities to offset the loss of CLP funds when the program ends. 
  • The Los Angeles County Arts Commission’s Cultivate/Create Initiative, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Los Angeles County Quality & Productivity Commission, provides $10,000 grants to nine arts organizations to commission new works of art.  The commissions help drive donor engagement and strengthen the connections between the organization, the artist(s) and the people who support them. Presentations of the new work will be in the first half of June 30, 2012. The goal of the Cultivate/Create Initiative is to increase contributions to the arts by individual donors.  Each grant must be matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis by new or increased contributions from individual donors.  The fundraising period began on August 1, 2011 and ends on November 30, 2011. 

Each of the initiatives provided varying levels of workshops, in-depth coaching, site visits, meetings with Boards and fundraising teams, as well as encouragement and hand-holding for groups who had never before raised money from individuals.  This support was provided by Foundation, Commission and organization staff, consultants and outside coaches.  The workshops created the opportunity for groups to develop draft fundraising plans during the workshop and present it to others within the cohort.  The content and draft workplan template for workshops and coaching can be downloaded by clicking here (PDF).

The success of the Fund For Artists Matching Commissions program is described above.  Several of the groups in the ACTA cohort have attained some level of success, but none has yet reached the goal of raising funds equal to their TAS grant.  Both of the Colburn Foundation grantees have already met their match, far before the November 30, 2011 deadline.  For the other nine Cultivate/Create grantees, with 55% of time period elapsed, two have already met their match and several expect that October fundraising events will put them over the top. I encourage everyone reading this blog post to make a $50, $25, $10, $5 or even $1 online contribution to support one of these meritorious groups.  If you do, you’ll better understand how you might create a similar campaign for your own favorite arts organization.  Furthermore, as an incentive, for those that do, I’d pleased to offer a free online webinar of the training content to the first 50 people who make a contribution.  Just respond to the blog and let us know the group to whom you made a donation (the amount is not relevant).  The groups are listed on the Cultivate/Create webpage, except for Los Angeles Children's Chorus and the Los Angeles Music & Art School

If you have thoughts/questions/ideas, I’d be pleased to respond on this blog. 

Jerry Yoshitomi

Los Angeles County Arts Commission Cultivate/Create Initiative

For questions:

Fund For Artists Matching Commissions: Diane Sanchez, [email protected] or 510.208-0803.

Traditional Arts Sustainability: Nayamin Martinez, [email protected] or 559 237-9812.

Los Angeles County Arts Commission’s Cultivate/Create Initiative: Rosalyn Kawahira, [email protected] or 213 202-5858.

The Colburn Foundation: Kristin Runnels, [email protected] or 213 452-4300.


Jerry is an independent cultural facilitator and Chief Knowledge Officer of MeaningMatters, LLC. MeaningMatters, LLC is engaged by foundations, public arts agencies, and arts organizations to research and provoke innovative new practices that have changed the landscape of arts practice in the United States, Canada, Australia, and more recently New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Organizations and artists have successfully implemented methods from his writings and workshops to diversify attendance, deepen engagement, enhance customer experience and increase earned and contributed income from individuals.

Jerry is the facilitator for a collaborative of Performing Arts Presenters at major research universities and served as facilitator for the START (State Arts Agency) Initiative of the Wallace Foundation, managed by Arts Midwest. He participated in teams to create the Cultural Master Plan for the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, a Regional Learning Framework to increase participation in the arts for the Washington State Arts Commission, and an evaluation of the California Community Foundation’s Arts Program. His recent keynote remarks at the Arts Marketing Association – UK in Glasgow focused on the changing behavior of arts audiences and consumers.

Mr. Yoshitomi was the lead consultant to establish information and network strategies for LINC—Leveraging Investments in Creativity—a national initiative to improve the lives/conditions of artists. He also chaired the National Task Force on Presenting and Touring the Performing Arts, coordinated by the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, resulting in the 1989 seminal report, An American Dialogue. He chaired three panels at the National Endowment for the Arts, served four years on the California Arts Council, and was treasurer of the Music Center of Los Angeles County.


Photos courtesy Mr. Yoshitomi and the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.

Other Fundraising Methods

Sir, that is an excellent article with great ideas and useful links.  Our group, Friends of William Grant Still Art Center in Los Angeles have had a rough time since our inception 31 years ago.  We used to receive programming grants from the City, our Councilmen, local businesses and a handful of individuals -


To survive, we had to make a major paradigm shift in terms of funding because public funding never was really there for us and private funding was cyclical.  We are so small we program events with pennies like $5,000.  That includes either a special event or an exhibit for 3 to 4 months -


We changed what we offered as a listing in the programs for our events.  If you wish to know more about what we do or see an example I would be more than happy to share with you -


While it has not created a windfall, it has allowed at least 2 of our programs to have their own viability, their own ' sea legs ', certainly brought in a lot $25 checks and gave us a chance to live another year -




Van Young