04/02/2013 01:38 pm ET Updated Jun 02, 2013

Follow the Money Trail to Oz

In America, hundreds of thousands of people have given to charity. We give to religious charities, to children in foreign countries, to cure cancer, to restore clock towers, to parks and zoos, libraries and hospitals. Amazingly, considering the weakness of the economy, we give money away not only to assist with healthcare and feed the homeless, but also to arts organizations.

One of the first rules of fund raising is not to follow the money. Remember what your mission is and stick to that. The problem is that we all need money, so if an individual donor or foundation has funding available that is outside what you normally do, you'll want to follow the money.

This brings us to the Irvine Foundation. The Irvine Foundation is one of the most important foundations in California. The work of Irvine, Annenberg, Ahmanson, Parsons, Taper, Weingart and Rose Hills has changed the way the arts and health care function in the state. It's difficult to imagine how all of us who run arts organizations from museums to publishing, to symphonies would function without them. What usually happens with fund raising is this: You have your mission as an arts organization. You search for foundations that fund exactly what you are doing and you ask them for money. You tell them how you would spend their money, what the budget would be, the timeline and the end result, the takeaway for the community and for your organization.

But what about if you are a foundation and you don't like just chasing along behind organizations helping them with what they already do? What if you want to be a maker? What if you want to help shape the future? That's what Irvine is doing. If you apply to Irvine, you are going to do things differently. Instead of just creating art for set audiences, you are going to create art experiences some place else, some place people are not expecting art. While you're there, you should get the audience to participate. You should shake it up. We're used to thinking of the participants paying to sit in their seats and watch the makers up there making their art, putting on the ritz. What if we all got to try being makers of art or at least participants in the process? For Irvine this will be a very successful way of changing the way art is made and experienced in California, and it's a good thing, but for some organizations, it may be hard to turn the ship. Luckily, for us, we were moving in this direction anyway, and we have more like a kayak, so turning is just a matter of paddling differently.

Fund raising is one of the most difficult professions you can do because it's hard to imagine this coming naturally to anyone. Writing foundation grant requests is a lot easier than asking individual donors, because the foundation has a certain amount of money to give away, and there are guidelines to grant writing. Plus, you don't see the people saying no to you, so the risk feels lower. But asking for donations from individuals is what keeps a non profit afloat. It usually takes several contacts with the potential donor and you need to find out what it is they like about what you do. The key is to remember that this person wants to be part of changing the world as do you; they are your partner. It isn't a hierarchal relationship; it's an equal relationship between two people who are working together to change the world.

You need to remember that you are lucky to be sitting with someone who is excited about the magic you are involved in. Many people can't afford to give. Others don't care about the arts. A significant percentage of people who enjoy experiencing the arts and could give simply don't because they aren't givers; they're hoarders. Sometimes you try to get funds from a hoarder. You know they like what you're doing, so you think you should be able to move them into the category of a person who gives to your annual fund, who is a sustainer of your organization. You meet with them any number of times and nothing comes of it. Some hoarders like all the attention they get from people who want their support. It's important to be able to distinguish when someone is not a potential stakeholder, but simply has time for a lot of lunches. Move on to someone who is a giver. Someone who wants to be part of changing the world like you do.

You're a maker, and if you get a grant from the Irvine Foundation, you might end up hanging out with a lot of other makers. That's what we plan to do.