Creative solutions for challenges faced by arts, culture nonprofits


Photo courtesy of NNAAC Member Center for Arabic Culture

The Nonprofit Finance Fund has many valuable resources for nonprofits, specifically those focusing on arts and culture. The fund’s report on survey data from arts and culture nonprofits details the barriers faced by many organizations and provides important lessons for how to overcome these issues.

According to the study, arts organizations face many systemic challenges. More than half of the organizations surveyed reported “achieving long-term financial sustainability” as their top problem. Many organizations have trouble building financial reserves, find that funding falls short of full project costs, struggle with strict reporting requirements, and feel unable to discuss these topics with their funders. Furthermore, funders often do not support the costs associated with grant management, which can lead to many challenges, as funding does not fully cover the true costs of many projects.


Photo courtesy of NNAAC Member The Markaz

Despite all of these challenges, the study found that many organizations are seeking creative solutions to overcome the barriers they experience. Organizations are managing creatively and listening to audiences to think innovatively about programming.

5 short-term strategies to work around barriers in the arts and culture sector: 

  1. Diversify revenue. Purse earned revenue (ticket sales, classes, gift shops) and refine fundraising approaches with individual donors.
  2. Use technology to improve efficiency in marketing, development, and sales; integrate database platforms; and explore web-based tools.
  3. Incorporate the arts in community development by initiating creative placemaking programs and leveraging any available economic incentives.
  4. Listen to the community and audiences through visitor surveys, demographics, and cultural factors to adapt programming and pricing.
  5. Engage school systems (K-12 and universities) by providing discounts, use of your space for rehearsals or events, curricula integration, and partner programming.

5 long-term strategies for sustainability and success:

  1. Articulate your needs clearly when creating your financial strategy and fundraising goals by reminding supporters that innovation and change requires extra investment.
  2. Seek funding for the full costs of new projects and exercise caution when deciding to pursue projects that are only partially funded.
  3. Track progress towards your strategic mission and business goals.
  4. Plan for scenarios before they occur. Consider what will happen if expenses exceed expectations or projected revenue does not materialize.
  5. Network with peers. Learn from strategies that are working for other organizations and modify / implement for your organization.


Photo courtesy of NNAAC Member Alwan for the Arts

Click here for more information about the Nonprofit Finance Fund and their valuable resources on arts & culture organizations (survey results, case studies, and more).

Does your organization experience other challenges not mentioned here? Have other ideas for navigating the barriers that nonprofits face? Want to suggest a future blog topic? Contact Fiona Bare, NNAAC Capacity Building Intern, at [email protected]

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