Transcript 098 – Karen Thickstun on Fundraising
098 – Karen Thickstun on Fundraising
Transcript for 098 – Karen Thickstun on Fundraising
[00:00:00] Andrea: Hey, it’s Andrea with Music Stuido Startup, the podcast about the business of teaching music. Learn from the startup stories of music teachers who are doing incredible things with their studios. Be inspired by creating musicians who are branching out and thriving. Be empowered by the insights of experts who will help you grow your own studio.
Let’s get started.
If you hit play on this episode thinking I don’t have a nonprofit, so fundraising isn’t really for me, I think you’ll be surprised by the discussion. Karen covers so many more types of fundraising than I ever would have thought about and talks about how even for-profit studio owners can use fundraising to stretch their impact.
Be prepared to take notes. Here’s my conversation with Karen. Hi Karen. Thank you so much for being here today. Can you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background.
[00:01:05] Karen Thickstun: Sure, thank you for having me here today also is very happy to be asked. My background is a bit of a dual career in business and the arts. My education followed that path. I have an MBA, but I also have a masters in piano pedagogy. I’ve worked in business. I worked as an economist long ago in Washington, DC. I worked as an operations manager for a fortune 500 company. But I also, for the past 30, 35 years have had an active career in piano teaching and arts administration.
So I have an independent studio that’s going on 30 years. I am adjunct faculty at Butler University in piano pedagogy. That’s going on 24 years now. And I just retired. Yay. Just retired as founding director of the Butler Community Art School after 20 years. And several of those positions have intertwined to kind of create a career in arts administration, but heavily steeped in piano teaching.
[00:02:10] Andrea: Uh, huh? Yeah, you’re not like 80% one 20% the other. You’re really just like a hundred each aren’t you.
[00:02:17] Karen Thickstun: I am. And they have intertwined to, you know, skills in one area and form what’s happening in another area and vice versa.
[00:02:24] Andrea: Ah, that’s really neat. I see so many parallels between the end of our careers, which is just fun to see someone ahead of me doing that too.
So well, can you talk about, today we’re going to be talking about fundraising. Can you maybe lead us into the topic by sharing some projects that you’ve personally led that were made possible by fundraising?
[00:02:45] Karen Thickstun: Absolutely. And most of this will come from my experience as director of a community arts school, because a primary primary component of that job was fundraising.
It was supported by the university, but we were also clearly told you must sustain yourself beyond the basic costs. We’re not going to pay for everything that you want to do. So fundraising was a primary component. And I will share before that job, I had never written a grant in my life. I had done some fundraising, which I’ll tell you about, but anybody, honestly, I would encourage anybody to try fundraising and grant writing because if I can learn it from scratch, you can learn it from scratch too.
So I mostly learned on the job. Lots of grants over the years. And there was different kinds of grants typically I was writing for the community art school. There were project grants and an example would be the String Scholars Project which provided access to a strings education for underserved children. And that included string camps, private lessons, a children’s orchestra. Everything that a child might want to experience in the world of strings. And then we also wrote operating grants. And that’s a great grant to get, because you can use the money for anything related to your operating expenses. And so I would write grants for just funding our general operating expenses, but that might include also after-school programming at a local charter school. We had several of those over the years. And then the third type of grant that I was writing was a capital grant. And what that meant for us usually was purchasing musical instruments for various classes. So through grant writing and fundraising, we developed an inventory of violins, guitars, percussion instruments, and various jazz band instruments.
So that’s kind of the, the community art school experience that I’ve had. And then another experience is for many years, I have been adviser at Butler to one of our student organizations, the MTNA collegiate chapter, which is a group of college students who have joined the Music Teachers National Association, and then they have their own chapter there on campus where they do various projects. And as their advisors, we’ve worked through a number of fundraising projects. So they might be raising funds to travel to a national conference, to present a session. Or annually they were raising funds to underwrite a children’s festival that they put on for the community.
So there’s a number of projects in that arena that I’ve worked on. And then if I go back even further, I had a little bit of experience back in the 1990s, before everything happened at Butler, where I was founder of the Indiana youth keyboard ensemble. This is when keyboard playing in ensembles really started to take off with digital keyboards.
And we had a group of six to eight high school students that would perform around the community playing ensemble pieces, but they also went kind of outside the community. We funded two large trips. One was to Mississippi and one was to Kansas City to perform at a particular concert venue. So we did a lot of fundraising for that particular organization too.
So I hope that gives you a kind of an idea of the different types of projects, but honestly it’s been so varied and every project is so different.
[00:06:23] Andrea: Yeah. I appreciate that. You broke down that there project grants, operating grants and the capital grants, because those are really all just different, but equally important parts to running an organization. And I think I typically think of the project grants. I wasn’t even really aware that there were as many operating grants that that’s a less flashy sometimes. Like, but the administrative costs do need to be covered. And what exactly is fundraising and maybe what are some common misconceptions that people might have about fundraising?
[00:06:52] Karen Thickstun: Yeah. I love that question, Andrea, because I always thought growing up that fundraising was kind of a, a negative word or something that would not be very fun or exciting, but honestly, once I’ve gotten to understand fundraising, I think it can be quite an exciting challenge. Let me answer that by saying what fundraising is not. Fundraising is not just asking for money. And it is not something that has to be unpleasant or awkward. What it is, are several things. I think of it as matching opportunities with resources.. It’s like a puzzle. Finding the very best donor for the very best project that fits that donor’s interests and passion and value. So it’s bringing together like-minded individuals or organizations, depending on the context. And longterm it’s about, I think of it as raising donors, not raising money, raising funders, developing a long-term relationship, which can be quite exciting. And so when many people start to ask me about grant writing or fundraising, they’re asking me, where should I go? Who has the money? And the question I think they should be asking is who cares?
Not who cares, but cares. Who is passionate about your values? About the project that you’re working on? About your cause about your outcomes? Your impact? Who shares that past? And some ways that I have found that this is not intuitive maybe I’m not going to send you to the internet yet to Google for things.
Here’s what I did. I look at who is sponsoring ads in the concert programs in my community. I look at the Indianapolis Symphony and who is supporting them. Or because I work a lot with arts education and youth, I look at the youth conferences in my area. Who is supporting the development of youth? Who is showing up at my events? Who do I see over and over?
I look at my community and just general things that are happening in my community. In Indianapolis, a few years ago, they started a project for the city called the Cultural Trail, which is the series of sidewalks and artwork all along the sidewalks. And it connects all the major venues in our downtown area.
So a lot of individual artists, especially that was an opportunity. The city was already creating something and it was a great way for artists to kind of partner with the city.
[00:09:29] Andrea: I want that attitude towards fundraising, that you are finding people who care because. We may care about our project enough to initiate it, to take it on and turn it from idea to reality. And someone else may have the same passion for the cause, but not the capacity to actually make the project happen, but the very willing to partner with funds. And that’s a really, really helpful way of reframing fundraising.
[00:09:57] Karen Thickstun: Absolutely. And it may not be the people you expect. Another again, I’ll use Indianapolis as an example, and I’m going to encourage teachers to look outside of the arts for partners and funders.
Our mayor’s office has a crime prevention grant program right now where several of the arts organizations in my city have gotten grants through that program because they’re providing after-school activities that keep at risk youth involved in the arts rather than left to their own devices. And then another example is one of our local foundations.
Their current mission is about social justice and neighborhood development. So if you have a project that can help build a neighborhood, it happens to be the arts. That’s great, but you may get funding from a social justice organization rather than an arts organization. And that’s where if you just broaden the frame of what you were trying to do and what you’re looking for, you may find opportunities. You never, ever thought would find.
[00:11:02] Andrea: Okay. That’s that’s really helpful too. I’m sure we’ll talk more about how to find these grant opportunities and kinds of things to look for. Who should consider fundraising?
[00:11:13] Karen Thickstun: Well, anyone. I think anyone can articulate a compelling project. I don’t know who all of your listeners are, but I’m talking about individuals and organizations or a multi teacher studio, you know, anybody who might have a compelling project.
And if you can articulate that and you can identify the outcomes of the project. And that’s where many of us may struggle. It’s a great idea, but you have to be able to articulate all the way through the end of the project. What is the impact going to be and who is going to benefit from it? And in general, if you can identify a need to fill or a problem to solve, then you should consider fundraising.
[00:11:54] Andrea: And is this strictly for non-profits or can for-profit studios also, is there an opportunity there?
[00:11:59] Karen Thickstun: It is not strictly for non-profits. You know, a lot of the fundraising, if we talk about donors and general fundraising activities, anybody can do those. And even if we talk about grants, while many grants may require that you be a 5 0 1 C3 nonprofit, you can still apply for those grants through a fiscal agent. And that is another organization that acts on your behalf as the 5 0 1 C3 and the money kind of funnels through that fiscal agent to you. So there’s really no restriction in that regard as to who can fundraise.
[00:12:34] Andrea: All right. As long as the project kind of has a community orientation,
[00:12:38] Karen Thickstun: well, anybody can fundraise. Anybody can propose a project. The challenge is finding the funder who has that same mission has as you. And that will not matter if you are profit or non-profit. Now, as you know, some donors are going to want to only work with a 5 0 1 C3 because of the tax benefits that they get as the donor. Fair enough. And that’s where the fiscal agent can help you in that relationship.
[00:13:06] Andrea: Certainly. Okay. And we have a whole episode on fiscal sponsorship that I’ll link to in the show notes. If people want to hear more about how that whole structure works. So what are some of the different forms of fundraising?
[00:13:18] Karen Thickstun: So this is where I was just alluding to, depending on what type of thing you might want to do. I’ll just give you a quick list here.
Individual donors are an option. Corporate sponsors. Grants, as we’ve already mentioned. Crowdsourcing, multiple platforms. Now that you can do that. What I call friends and family. Honestly, if you’re first getting into fundraising, that’s often where many of us start, and that could be alone, or it could be a donation, or it could be just tapping into your savings.
But that is a way that you can jumpstart your fundraising effort. Fundraising activities. I just think of this as a general laundry list of things like. Okay, I’m going to say bake sales. Although people don’t do that so much anymore because of the food laws in your communities. But you know, selling t-shirts, a play-a-thon teachers have often done that to raise money for charity.
Selling the keys on a piano. Every donor gets their own key. That’s earmarked with their name. These are just different creative fundraising activities that have been around for a long time. But then two that maybe people don’t think about when they’re thinking about how they’re going to support their project. One is earned income. And that for me, as a part of the community arts school, that meant using a portion of what full paying families are paying for lessons to support need-based scholarships that we’re raising funds for. So we might designate right off the bat, you know, X percent of your tuition for a full paying family, 5% maybe is going to be used in our fundraising efforts for lower income families. And you can do that in an individual studio also.
[00:15:07] Andrea: Sure. Yeah. And just make it part of the pitch. This is what you pay for when you pay for your piano lessons.
[00:15:12] Karen Thickstun: And this is what you support. And then the other one that I didn’t think about for, for many years, We all should is in kind contributions. Where it’s not money that’s changing hands, but it might be goods or services. An example again, in my experience for our summer piano camps, in order to have multiple pianos on site, rather than renting those pianos and paying for them to be moved, we made an in-kind agreement with a local music store where they would loan us digital pianos, and they moved them in return for advertising that here’s where you would buy these pianos after the camp is over. If you’re interested in buying a piano. So that didn’t cost us anything, but it was a very valuable part of our fundraising for supporting that particular piano camp.
[00:16:03] Andrea: I know lots of businesses just have pretty generous policies for that too. I remember my mom trying to coordinate snacks for kids summer program, and McDonald’s every year would give them orange juice and cups and just, they could count on that every year. Yeah. And there are many, many examples.
[00:16:24] Karen Thickstun: And I’ll give you an example of our community art school. Again, I have eight different fundraising sources that we typically were working at any given time.
And I just mentioned some of them, but I can give you some more specific examples here. One, you just mentioned corporate donations and sponsorships. And in my area, it’s the grocery store that will give you snacks for youth events. So that, that was important. I mentioned the in kind, which often was digital pianos for our camp.
Something that I call strategic partnerships. That might be another youth organization in town. It might be another arts organization where they provide part of what we need and we provide part of what we need. And we both benefit from that. So often that might’ve been an afterschool class where they would provide the venue.
I would provide the teachers and together we would do the marketing to create that outreach program. So that was just a strategic partnership that we would develop with other community organizations. I already mentioned earned revenue from those who can afford to pay full price. And then we always had multiple grants in the pipeline, individual donors, and I think of individual donors as our tribe.
You’ve heard that before in the business world building your tribe, but this is building my tribe of donors. It’s that core group who will donate no matter what project you’re working on, because they just valued, in my case, they valued that we were working with children. That we were working in the arts and that we were doing outreach in the community.
And so I had a few key ones that would consistently be a part of what we were doing. Our mayor’s office, but look in general at your city and county government agencies and what they’re doing, Sometimes just look at what they’re supporting in terms of afterschool programming or anything with youth. The fact that you’re in the arts is great and they may love that they may also be supporting something with sports in after school programming, but I found it, it wasn’t the fact that it was sports that they liked.
It was the fact that it was afterschool programming and that it was for youth underserved youth. And that’s what we did too. And then the last one is civic groups, your local Quantas rotary club. They often will support you perhaps in return for a performance by your students. We had a regular relationship with one of the women’s clubs where our younger children performed once a year and we received a donation in return.
So that’s kind of eight. And my point is that this is a diversified approach to fundraising, and that’s the way fundraising is most successful because some years grants may be down. Other things may be up and then it will reverse itself. So you always want to have multiple paths of fundraising in the pipeline.
[00:19:19] Andrea: Okay. That makes a ton of sense.
[00:19:21] Karen Thickstun: The other thing to consider too, is some of these pipelines take a long time to yield results. Grants are typically on an annual cycle. You may apply in March. I would have just done the Indiana Arts Commission Grant, but I won’t know if I get the money until July. The money won’t show up until September or October.
And then it will only be part of the money because they want to wait until you file your final report to give you the rest of the money. So you’re often working on a year or more cycles. So that’s the other reason to have that diversified plan. I think the mistake many first timers in this make is you try one path for fundraising and it doesn’t yield results.
So you assume it wasn’t a good project and you give up. When really you just needed to try some other paths. That one just didn’t click. That doesn’t mean others won’t.
[00:20:16] Andrea: Okay. And that is a bad idea forever. It might just be a bad idea this season or not the most fruitful one. Right?
[00:20:25] Karen Thickstun: Yeah, and let’s not call it a bad idea. I should’ve have heard that it didn’t resonate with the funder right now. But related to that, if I can share with you sort of some basic rules of fundraising that I have found very helpful as I worked with mentoring younger teachers, but also in my own career. These are not mine. These are from Thomas Wolff.
And in the book that he wrote called Managing a Nonprofit Organization in the 21st Century. that is the revised and updated version of his book, but he summarizes and I’m going to summarize even further. 10 commandments of fundraising. And this is no matter which path you’re taking of all those that we’ve just been talking about, but just some general principles.
Number one, only prospectors find goals. I’ll say that again, only prospectors find gold. So a fundraising team needs to spend far more time assembling those prospect lists. Researching the funding sources, than you do actually asking for money. Knowing whom to ask is more important than knowing how to ask.
I researched tons and tons of grants before I narrowed down the ones that I’m actually gonna write to. If you’re like me, you want to be efficient and not waste time. Your time or the funders time. So you look at all these many, many different options before you narrow it down to the few that you’re going to approach.
Commandment number two, be sure that courtship precedes the proposal. Be sure that courtship precedes the proposal. To me, that means you get acquainted. You find out if you’re compatible before you ask for money or whatever you’re asking for. You know, it’s sort of like marriage, you know, you, you get to know each other first, you ask for money after you have had the chance to find out what their visions are. Their passions, their approach to philanthropy.
Number three, personalize the pitch. Every request should be tailored to the giver, to the funder. Taking into consideration what you know about their likes, their dislikes, what they’re passionate about, what types of projects they support, what they’ve done in the past, what they’ve said they want to do in the future. It’s a very targeted request. No matter what path you’re taking.
Number four. This is Thomas Wolf phrasing. If you want bread, you need dough. If you want bread, you need dough. People who give money are conservative and they’re more likely to contribute to an operation that already has a list of donors. Most grants require matching funds. They want to see that somebody else is invested in the project. Also, corporations may want to see that you also have earned income. They want to see other sources of cash before they join in. So you want to be able to show that if you’re then asking for a bigger amount from somebody. You know, we see that colloquially, you know, every gig performer has a tip jar that tip jar always has money in it already.
You know, you’re priming the pump. One of the crowdsourcing tips that, that my colleagues always tell me is already have money in your crowdsourcing pot so that the first donor sees that somebody has already invested in you. And that could be just your parents giving you $10, but it’s showing that somebody else is going to support it.
Commandment number five, when asking for money, assume consent. Do you remember the last time somebody tried to sell you life insurance or something like that? They don’t use the words if you buy this policy such and such will happen. They say, when you buy this such and such will happen. They’re not tentative. And they don’t give you many opportunities to say no. They’re always assuming you will see the value in this product and will come on board. So you always assume in that kind of communication that your prospective donor will ultimately be making a contribution. It might not be tomorrow. It might be three months from now, but you assume consent.
Number six, in written requests, so this will be in grant writing for example, or you’re writing a donor letter. If you can’t scan it can it. And this is more and more true today than when he wrote the book, I am sure. Most letters are not read carefully. We know this, we all scan our emails. We scan proposals that come across our desk. All else being equal, those that get the most attention are ones that are legible, they’re easy to read, they make sense. They might be using bullet points. Don’t be afraid of that. Underlining other ways that help people scan it and really get to the main points quickly. And related to that, brevity is still a virtue. They don’t have time to read length.
If we get into the nuts and bolts of grant writing, every grant now, pretty much is online application with word counts. They don’t let you get too long anymore. They put a restriction on you. Okay.
Number seven for budgets, anything financial use what I go call the old math, which means show your work, explain the numbers. Don’t assume somebody can follow your bottom line and how you got there. Make sure they add up correctly. Make sure it looks and makes sense as somebody reads through all of your math. Honestly, for grants, especially they have little faith in your ability to handle their money. If you can’t present your own money in a logical concrete way.
Number eight, when in doubt communicate in English. And by that, I mean don’t use jargon. Don’t use acronyms. Just clear, short sentences, nouns and verbs, very specific. Just get directly to the point.
Number nine. Don’t take it personally when they say no. Every good fundraiser hears the word know more often than they hear the word yes. And that’s a challenge. That’s really a challenge to get used to that, get used to that rejection, but it’s a mindset also. Great fundraisers when they hear no, they think that just means I need to come back. It’s persistence. I need to come back maybe with a different project, maybe with a different pitch.
And I always assume consent. It’s going to be yes, the next time. But they definitely don’t take it no and give up.
And number 10, this is common sense also, in fact, don’t you think most of this is common sense so far.
[00:27:13] Andrea: Yeah. But it’s helpful to have the list of reminders. So
[00:27:17] Karen Thickstun: Number 10, no matter how many times you said thank you, say it again. Because this I live by this. The secret of fundraising is not getting that first contribution. It is getting the second and the third. And hopefully maybe a lifetime of contributions. And that is the one of the most rewarding parts of fundraising. I was very fortunate with our community art school.
One of our local foundations was so supportive, her mission, her values, her passion, all aligned with ours, that after about 15 years, she set us up as a legacy fund. Kind of like an endowment, but she set money aside. We still had to apply each year, but as long as we were still doing the same good work, we knew the money was there in a fund that she had set aside.
And that’s the best kind of grant relationship that you want. But that took a good 15, 16 years to develop. And unless something drastic were to happen to her philanthropy plans, that will continue for the future. So, you know, developing that kind of a loyal supporter in the long run is really what you want, but it also is a lot of attention and a lot of work that gets you there. And that’s why I talked about earlier about raising donors, cultivating donors for the long-term. Because that’s what it can lead to.
[00:28:44] Andrea: It’s not about the a hundred dollar donation today or a thousand dollars, but in 10 years, what’s the relationship going to be.
[00:28:50] Karen Thickstun: Absolutely for long-term sustainability. Now, granted, I love that a hundred dollar donation today because we have short-term needs also, but in terms of thanking them, that could be just an occasional newsletter.
It could be your students writing thank you notes. I still love to get handwritten something from my students saying, thank you for doing something. You certainly mentioned your contributors, your donors in any press materials on your website and your social media. Never miss an opportunity to say thanks. You just can’t say it often enough.. Honestly. So those are kind of his 10 rules that I think provide a framework for fundraising in general.
[00:29:29] Andrea: So I’ve got a bunch of questions now, following up from these 10 commandments, going back to the one that courtship before the proposal, when you’re thinking about maybe approaching an individual donor, or I guess this could be a corporate sponsor to anyone, how do you start that relationship?
[00:29:46] Karen Thickstun: It’s a great question. And one that I have come to think very differently about over the years. I do not think about starting a conversation with the agenda that I’m going to ask for a donation. Definitely not in the short term I start that relationship to see if we have mutual goals and values and passions.
I explore our interests, any affinity that we might have. And then I just see where it takes me. You know, you get to know the donor, you don’t know where this is going to lead. You don’t know when you meet anybody where it’s going to lead and what’s going to benefit you and them in the future. You know, and as you have those conversations and so my conversations might be initially, I just like to have coffee with you and tell you about our community arts school. I would just like to share with you what our college students are doing in the community and where that goes. It’s not always obvious in the beginning over time, it becomes more obvious what they might want to support, which is often different what you think they might have wanted to support. I’ll give you an example.
There’s a group of advisors to our music school at my university. And regularly, I would provide updates about what the community art school was doing, and they would listen and nod and collectively they fundraise for the university in the past. They no longer exist right now, but in the past when we were getting started. And I could not have predicted which one, one particular woman who years later started giving us 5,000 annually. And it was just that she had seen our growth. She had seen what we were doing with children and she just wanted to support that. It was essentially unsolicited, but I had worked for years to lay that foundation in, in a general way. She knew exactly who we were and what we do. And she felt very comfortable making that donation.
There’s a general thought in this profession that people invest in people. They want to know who they are investing in and that goes to the values and the passion. But in the past 10 to 15 years, I think there’s another aspect that has become really important. They also want to know that you’re going to be successful and have impact. That the outcomes are going to happen, that the impact will be achieved.
And so they have to see some success. And then success that you can build on with their donation. And I think that two-pronged thought process is true for many donors now in the nonprofit world, because they’re there they’re being bombarded. You know, think how many nonprofits there are, you know, all of us trying, trying to fundraise.
So it goes back to that relationship building that I have mentioned in the past. Ultimately, that relationship is. It’s not that one donation as you build a relationship. I also think of it as circles of influence and connection. So as I connected with this person, they’re connecting with somebody else who they might say I can’t give right now, but go talk to this person. And then that person mentions it to somebody else. And you start just widening the circle of people who know about your project, who might have that passion for it, that you didn’t even know they existed. They wouldn’t have been on a prospect list anywhere. So just widening that it’s somewhat related to marketing strategies, also, you know, making people aware of what you do and what your business is.
But building it as a relationship is far more intimate and ultimately more impactful because you’re making that very direct connection and hopefully somebody then who becomes a legacy funder for you.
[00:33:46] Andrea: So it sounds like when you are, you’re not approaching people as a fundraiser. You’re approaching people as a community music school director, and it’s almost just like general networking. And if they happen to be someone who has that values and passion that are aligned, then they might become a donor down the line. But that’s not the purpose of all of your, your coffee meetings.
[00:34:09] Karen Thickstun: No. And it may end up that it becomes an in kind donation of some kind, or it just becomes a connection to somebody else. What I’m trying to describe as a mindset. And, and you know this, if somebody’s asking you for money, you can tell right away if they’re genuine. And if they’re talking to you, just because they want your money, I really want that connection to be more than money. I want them to be talking about us in a positive way in the community.
I want them to be telling their friends about us. And yes, this sounds time-consuming. It is. But in the long run again, you’re, if you’re fundraising, you’re thinking long-term. You really want to sustain your business or your project long-term. Now even for a short-term project, let me go back to my college students because when they are raising funds, say to travel to a conference, to present a session, that’s a very short-term need.
But when we write letters to potential donors and that’s often family and friends for them, but it might be another professor. It might be somebody they met at a summer festival somewhere. We talk about framing that and sharing what they’re doing with their life, how they’re contributing to our profession, what the value of that conference is going to be. And yes, there might be an ask at the end. But sometimes what comes back is, oh, I was so glad to hear that you’re doing this. This is great experience for you. Could you give your presentation at our state conference, do you think? Because I think other teachers would be interested in this. Or some have said, because they also wrote these letters to local teachers as well as our state organization. So a local teacher group said, this is fantastic. This is great experience for you. I know you asked for a hundred dollars, but we think this is so important we’re going to give you $200. And it was because they resonated with the purpose. Not the amount of money, but the purpose of what the college students were going to do and the value that they were going to get from presenting at a national conference.
And that’s just kind of a different mindset than just saying I’m raising travel funds to go to a national conference. Would you consider donating a hundred dollars to me. That does not establish a relationship with somebody that might be supporting you longer term. Does that make sense?
[00:36:36] Andrea: Yeah, it hits at something deeper when you’re connecting over something you both share some common interest.
[00:36:42] Karen Thickstun: Exactly. And I think you’ll get more yeses that way also. And I also found, and this goes back to, you know, people think fundraising is unpleasant and awkward and it is if you’re just asking for money. Honestly, it is. I try not to do that. I found it became very easy when I started to think about who am I asking for?
I’m asking for the children that I support in the community art school. I’m asking for the college students that I mentor. I’m asking for the future of the arts in our community. I’m not asking for me an individual. When you take it out of your own personality, it doesn’t feel awkward and selfish anymore. It feels like I’m supporting my community. I’m supporting the future of the children in my city.
[00:37:28] Andrea: There’s so much mindset in this. I went to go also back to the commandment about not taking nos personally. How have you grown in that and maybe what helped you to get there?
[00:37:43] Karen Thickstun: If you know me, you know, that I like to prepare and over prepare and research on the front end. Which really does help in grant writing in particular. But it’s also helped me to understand nos because I try to reflect back on what did I not anticipate? Or what did I not foresee that perhaps was really there and I just overlooked it or I didn’t go deep enough, or I didn’t do enough preparation in terms of how to frame my project or how to .Adjust my mindset.
An example from, from grant writing in particular. First of all grant writing can be fickle. Let me say that you can do all that homework and write the best narrative you think you’ve ever written and they’ll still say no, and it has nothing to do with you. So the more you learn about that world in particular or fundraising in particular, uh, use grant writing as an example, you know, our state legislature funds a lot of arts organizations and they funded me for years.
But one year, and they didn’t necessarily tell us this upfront, you know, they made a state legislative decision to purposely not fund the best applications, but to fund one from each county, whether they were the best or not. So one county may have had five great applications, but only one was going to be funded in favor of equity and favoring one in each of the others. So the more you understand and figure out what they’re doing, it’s, it’s easy to not take it quite so personally in that respect. Often, yes. If I get a no, I’ll go back and try to reframe. I might submit the exact same project, but just in a different framework and understanding how to frame it on the front end is something I’ve worked on for years.
And an example from my university would be our keyboard lab. And you know, those old Wurlitzer, I don’t know if you remember those Wurlitzer, you know, when it came time long overdue to upgrade, asking for money to upgrade. Pianos never went anywhere. That was just not something that people were interested in. A piano is a piano, not to me, but you know, when non musician a keyboard is a keyboard is a keyboard, but then the university announced a technology innovation grant program.
And when I, and the piano faculty started thinking about it that way and framing it as a technology project, it was funded. And that’s how we now have digital pianos with computer monitors and internet, and a really, really nice setup. But it was reframed as a technology project.
[00:40:46] Andrea: I see. Yeah. And wow. When you think about a keyboard is a keyboard, but when you’re thinking about it as a, from a tech angle, you can ask for a really nice keyboard when you’re pitching that cause you can ask for all the bells and whistles, that’s what makes it glamorous to that kind of person reviewing those grant applications.
[00:41:05] Karen Thickstun: And sometimes you honestly don’t know why they said no. And you never will. That’s part of accepting rejection in life. I suppose you can’t dwell on the nos. You focus on moving forward with the yeses.
[00:41:18] Andrea: We’ve talked a lot today about the general fundraising opportunities, relationship building, how to grow donors. Are there any books or resources that you recommend for someone wanting to take the next step?
[00:41:31] Karen Thickstun: I can think of a few. Yes. I mentioned Thomas Wolf managing a nonprofit organization in the 21st century. This is a very comprehensive book about nonprofits in general. So go straight to the chapter on fundraising and you’ll get great information there. Another book again, it’s going to be general across all nonprofits and artists is creating the revolutionary artist by mark Rabideau. You may know him currently as president of the college music society.
Coincidentally, that’s where I’ve heard his name a lot. But again, this is about more so about individual artists, careers, but there’s a great chapter on fundraising and grants in that book. Also, and then also by David Cutler, the savvy musician. Many of your listeners may be familiar with that book. A lot of great case studies, individual artists who have done fundraising.
And again, you want to go straight to the chapter funding your dreams, if you are specifically interested in this topic. But it’s a great read for understanding developing your career in the arts in general. There’s tons you can Google. And if we delve into grants more deeply, I’ll comment more specifically on that.
But in general, if you’re looking for fundraising and Googling stuff, I would start with looking at what’s in your local area. Maybe there’s a local foundation, a local community center that is already supporting artists and their fundraising. I would look at your state arts commission. Every state has it’s called something different in each state, mine is the Indiana arts commission. Every state has an organization or an agency that is tied back to the NEA, the national endowment for the arts, where federal money can trickle down to the state level. But part of that purpose of serving your state is not just to receive that federal money and then disperse it.
It’s also to educate your state and to support your artist and to support the arts in your state. And there’s often some great workshops, either on fundraising or artists in their careers or grants. Again, Indiana has one at least once a month, and these are free and open to anybody. That’s part of the purpose of having that state agents.
So figure out what that agency is in your state and you’ll find great resources.
[00:43:59] Andrea: Okay, thank you for this pointers. And we will come back for part two, where we’ll really talk specifically about the nuts and bolts of how to apply for grants and how to find them. In the meantime, where can listeners get in touch with you?
[00:44:11] Karen Thickstun: It’s very simple. It’s my email Kt********@bu****.edu. You are welcome to email me with questions and I’d love to hear from you.
[00:44:20] Andrea: All right, Karen. Thank you so much.
[00:44:22] Karen Thickstun: Thank you
[00:44:29] Andrea: So many ideas for creative fundraising. Karen is such a wealth of information on this topic. Whatever definition of fundraising I had been using before is at least 10 times more expansive since we talked. Karen’s broad suggestions really had something for everyone. And I’d second her encouragement for everyone to try fundraising.
I know from talking to so many of you lovely listeners, that you have goals for your businesses that go well beyond your own livelihood. On that note, I think this is the perfect compliment to last week’s episode with Stephanie Tenil about vocalese and the way she’s trying to positively impact her local community and the music community through her business.
At the end of that episode, I briefly talked about how business strategy and philanthropic strategy are not at odds. Ignoring the business side doesn’t automatically make a project more noble or effective. In fact, ignoring the business side can have the exact opposite effect. If you’re planning a project that’s designed to serve a hundred students, but we’re not paying attention to our budget and we run out of money after student 47, then those resources have not had the impact we said they would have on the other. If we implement some business savvy and monitor our expenses, maybe even do some additional fundraising. We might be able to stretch that budget for a hundred students to serve 125 or more. That’s business strategy at work in beautiful ways.
And Karen reminded us that that’s what donors want to see. They want to see their contributions being put to good use. They want to see the impact stretched as far as it can. There’s a lot in this episode and it’s only the beginning. Next week. I’ll be back with Karen to talk specifically about grants and grant writing. So stay tuned for that. Also, you may have noticed I’m getting pretty close to the hundredth episode of Music Studio Startup. This is exciting. I think I mentioned in my goal setting episode that I’m not super great at celebrating things, but I’m trying to get better so I’m asking for your help here. If you’ve learned something or been inspired by this podcast over the last 98 episodes and you think it’s worth five stars, I’d really appreciate it if you would jump over to apple podcasts and leave a rating and review. These mean the world to me and help other teachers find out about the show. I’ll include that link as well as links to all the other resources mentioned in this episode at musicstudiostartup.com/episode098.
One more time. That’s musicstudiostartup.com/episode098. That’s all for today. Thanks for listening. I’ll be back next week. .