TAP: A Simple Solution To Investing In The Arts. Just Ask Sanford

Written by: Fargo Inc

Photos by J. Alan Paul

There’s no question the nonprofit sector is growing in the metro, and in nearly every case, we’re performing tasks and standing on the front lines of keeping our special interests supported, safe, fed, housed, advocated for and more.

But with that growth comes more demands for funds from the corporate sector. With state government agencies seeing drastic cuts to their budgets, we in the nonprofit sector are having to find ways to engage with businesses that no doubt feel there’s a long line out the door of those waiting to make an ask.

Frankly, when I sit down with business leaders, I can often see the wariness in their eyes. It’s not that they don’t want to support my cause or the long list of other worthy causes in the community, but even the deepest well eventually runs dry. So what’s the solution? I’m here to pitch a simple one, a solution that works in many other communities: Let The Arts Partnership manage your funding to the arts.

Think of it like this: If something sounds funny with my car, I don’t try to fix it myself. I take it to my tried-and-true mechanic. I know he’ll assess the problem, provide me with a solution and price, and then actually take care of the problem.

The same can be true with funding the arts and The Arts Partnership.

Let’s say you’re the person at your business whose job is to take meetings with nonprofit leaders making a pitch for support. For the purposes of the metaphor, that makes you the driver of the funny-sounding car.

You’re driving the car, and you hear the funny sounds. You might even have an instinct as to what it is, but you don’t know how to fix it. And why would you? Unless you’re a trained mechanic or had someone in your life who taught you how to be handy with cars, your knowledge of cars is likely pretty limited.

So what do you do with these people sitting hopefully across from you, making a pitch about supporting their arts organizations?

You might say yes to everyone, but then your well is going to dry up pretty fast. You might, from time to time, weigh the various organizations based on their presentation and materials, but that’s kind of like knowing where the gas tank and dipstick are, thinking that tells you everything you need to know about the camshaft.

So who is the mechanic in this too-long metaphor? The Arts Partnership, of course.

Did you know we have a highly formal grant process that has been in place for more than 30 years with the city of Fargo (and eventually Moorhead and West Fargo)? We also have a director of operations who has years of expertise in grant programs and who continues to refine and finesse the grant-application process. She also manages the five-member panel that reads the online grant applications from arts nonprofits and others making art.

You might say yes to everyone, but then your well is going to dry up pretty fast.

The panel has a strict rubric and set of criteria, which means they are looking as objectively as possible at the various organizations, whose budgets range from $5,000 to more than $2 million.

Applicants must not only attend mandatory pre-application meetings; they also must submit final reports and keep in touch with The Arts Partnership throughout the year so that we can monitor the progress they are making with these dollars.

Dave Anderson from Sanford

“We’ve come to depend on The Arts Partnership to be our eyes and ears in the FM arts community,” says Sanford Fargo Director of Public Affairs Dave Anderson.

But the three cities are not the only entities that utilize The Arts Partnership in this way. One of our region’s largest employers, Sanford Health, does, too.

When I first sat down with Sanford Fargo Director of Public Affairs Dave Anderson, we discussed why support from Sanford was so important, both for the arts community and Sanford itself.

Remember: The arts are a big piece of what attracts and retains employees, which Sanford and just about every other business in town are in a constant scramble to find and keep.

Sanford got it immediately. Anderson saw the value because he was drowning in ask meetings and had no way to assess which arts organizations should receive funding and at what level.

“We’ve come to depend on The Arts Partnership to be our eyes and ears in the FM arts community,” he says, “allowing us, then, to lend our voices and resources where we can best be supportive in providing this critical building block for the community’s health, growth and prosperity.”

Beyond the fact that The Arts Partnership ensures your dollars are being spent strategically, this relationship can also serve those of you taking all the meetings from nonprofits making asks in other ways:

  1. If you meet annually with The Arts Partnership, that’s the only meeting you need to take. Anderson routinely thanks people for inquiring about a funding meeting and directs them to The Arts Partnership website and grant information. Of course, if Sanford wants to have an additional relationship with an arts nonprofit, which we highly encourage, he and Sanford are free to do so, separate from and in addition to the funding relationship they have with The Arts Partnership.
  2. Your dollars, when combined with other business’ dollars, create a significant pool of money to help sustain and grow the arts in the metro. This is good for everyone, and this collective support means that no single business bears the brunt of ensuring the success of the local arts organizations.
  3. It’s truly reciprocal. Whether you support the arts currently or not — and as I’ve written about before – your business is benefitting from the work the sector is doing in the metro. It’s only appropriate that you would contribute to that work.

All in all, supporting The Arts Partnership by supporting the grant program to nonprofits making art just makes good sense. If you want to know more about this, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’ll talk about the value of this investment any time, any place and with anyone. I look forward to helping you see the importance of saying that you and your business #SupportLocalArt, too!

The Arts Partnership


Sanford Health


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Brady Drake is the editor of Fargo INC!