The Claremont Museum of Art (CAM) just scored a huge donation of $10 million dollars, but the last thing Executive Director William Moreno wants you to do is put that twenty dollar bill you had earmarked for the museum back in your pocket.
“Please don’t,” Moreno says.
Despite the stunning fund-raising success, in an interview with the IE Weekly, Moreno stressed that the work at the museum is just beginning, and that the quest for volunteer donors marches on, in essence, never stopping. “I’m a big believer in the Obama school [of fundraising]” Moreno says, referring to the presumptive Democratic candidate for president’s fund-raising machine. “Small amounts, tens, twentys—that’s what it takes to survive.”
Still, the whopping donation by an art patron who chose to remain anonymous is a real coup for the 16-month old museum, as well for the future of Inland Empire art. “Phenomenal . . . astounding,” says Daniel Foster, executive director of the Riverside Art Museum. It’s “extremely rare” for a regional museum to have that amount bestowed upon it, especially one so new. And it can only help bring a higher profile to all art museums and galleries in the area, Foster feels. And that will help bring in the bucks.
Fund-raising—whether culling large amounts or small—is the fuel that runs the engine in the art world. And, generally, a potential donor starts out as someone who walks through the museum doors and likes what they see. Relationships develop. Memberships are offered. The donor who gives $100 today could be the one who contributes hundreds of thousands tomorrow. Nurturing these donors is a long, time-consuming process. Moreno says the CMA met its patron a year ago, and that the negotiations began almost immediately.
“High-touch” is how Moreno describes these types of donors. “Donors at that level want to get to know you, get to know the staff, to see what your vision is. We spent a lot of one on one time with this donor.” The donor’s primary interests are youth-based and educational. As for the mystery donor’s identity Moreno won’t divulge, but he does say that, originally, the benefactor was not cloaked in a veil of anonymity. “We had all the press releases made up, ready to go,” explains Moreno. “But after a series of conversations they said, ‘I don’t want [my identity] to be that public.’”
What hasn’t been decided yet is how CMA will use the money. “We have no immediate plans,” says Moreno, although he indicates that the gift will better inform the museum’s long-term planning, where they will be three or four years from now. Still, the primary goal of any museum is to create dynamic and interest-provoking exhibits—such as CMA’s current Vexing show on the history of East LA female punk rockers—that bring in new customers.
Walk-ins are the lifeblood of museum fund-raising, says V.P. of Advancement George Abdo of the Huntington Library in San Marino. “We find that the critical decision of becoming a member of the Huntington comes during the first visit,” says Abdo. The Huntington grounds, which include a botanical garden, are so vast that it often requires repeat visits to take it all in. First-time visitors are so swept away by the beauty and grandeur of the Huntington that they want to contribute right away, usually in small amounts. It’s a vital first step, according to Abdo, because “a certain percentage will become major donors.”
However, one doesn’t have to physically visit a museum to donate money. Online fund-raising is relatively new and makes gift giving as easy as clicking a button. Most museums, including CMA and RAM, now have a “Support” page where you can choose an amount to donate. Foster says RAM just started their online donation program a little over a month ago. “We’re still phasing that in,” he says. He doesn’t yet know how effective it has been although he is certain that the future of marketing membership development will be in large part fueled by the Internet.
For now, Moreno says CMA is more worried about mixing in a wider community and attracting a younger cross-demographic. All this money and attention, it’s a far cry from when Moreno moved to southern California with no concrete plans and was contacted by the CMA board of directors to guide their fledgling museum.
“I was just sitting around, minding my own business,” admits a smiling Moreno.