09/04/2012 08:20 am ET Updated Nov 04, 2012

My Very Secret Pleasure

It is time to come out of the closet and admit my most private guilty pleasure: I love fundraising.

While so many arts managers -- and especially board members -- find fundraising to be little more than high-class begging, I truly enjoy the challenge of engaging people in the work of my organization.

For small donors, I know I can create experiences that are certainly worth the price of a membership. Rather than give t-shirts, mugs, umbrellas or baseball caps, I know that most people are happy to give $50 a year to an organization that gives them advance opportunities to ticket purchases (a benefit to the organization as well, since the ticket money comes in early) access to lectures, demonstrations or dress rehearsals, information about coming attractions, etc. Watching the membership at the Kennedy Center grow to over 30,000 people over the past decade, the vast majority of whom renew their memberships every year, has been most rewarding, a testimony to their sense of engagement.

For larger donors, I enjoy the strategic challenge of matching donors with projects that will meet their needs. Indeed, when managed effectively, fundraising is not begging; it is based on the fundamental belief that the donor is entering into a contract with the organization: the donor gives something of value to the organization while receiving something of value back.

Arts organizations have much to give their donors, but too many organizations do not think creatively enough about what they have to offer or deeply enough about what is important to a specific prospect. Because not every donor is looking for the same thing. Our favorite donors truly love the work we do and want to support it. These donors simply require evidence of the work we have done and advance notice of the programming we are planning. Other donors are looking for access to artists; this can be accomplished in safe, non-obnoxious ways at special events, lectures, etc. A third group of major donors is looking for prestige. The challenge is to offer them visibility without interfering with the art we produce. And finally, a large cadre of donors is looking to enhance their social lives. Periodic special events of all kinds with their peers are of greatest value to this group.

The goal of a strong fundraising effort is to determine what a specific donor wants during the cultivation process so that it can be offered when that donor is solicited. Designing the right opportunity for each prospect is what interests me most; I know if I get it right I will have the resources I need to fulfill my programming dreams.

My enjoyment of fundraising has helped me get each of my arts management jobs; during the interview process members of the search committee simply cannot believe me when I profess my enjoyment for asking for money. They are also relieved that they may have to do less of it if they hire me.

Little do they realize that they will be my very first prospects!