Community-Centric Fundraising: The Principles for Opera
These 10 principles are adapted from the original CCF Principles to enhance their relevance to opera companies. Just like the originals, these principles may not all apply equally at every opera company. They are aspirational and evolving and will require participants at each company to discuss how they can apply these principles to move toward social and economic justice in their company and community.
- We ground fundraising for our opera company in anti-racism, equity, economic justice, and social justice.
Participants at opera companies recognize that donors (and those who serve as trustees) rarely reflect the diversity of their communities. In creating change, we must move fundraising conversations beyond “diversifying donors” and “tapping into marginalized communities.” We must engage them in sometimes uncomfortable discussions and programming about systemic racism and wealth disparities. All participants must understand how they contribute to the current system and how they can contribute to more equitable and inclusive fundraising practices.
- We understand our opera company’s mission within the context of our collective community.
The passion of opera practitioners has historically placed the creation of the art form above all other considerations in an opera company’s mission. However, it is the community that gives meaning to an opera company’s purpose: by attending, participating, supporting, co-creating, endorsing, and priding itself on how the company contributes to the greater good. We must see ourselves as part of that larger ecosystem. We must avoid fundraising practices that benefit our company while ignoring or negatively affecting our community. We must be mutually supportive and work collectively to build a just society.
- We are generous with and mutually supportive of other organizations, both within the opera sector and within our community.
No single opera company can satisfy the appetite of all participants of opera; no single arts organization can satisfy the appetite of all participants of culture; no single nonprofit organization can satisfy the needs of all participants in its municipality. We must treat peer companies and nonprofit organizations in our cities and sector not as competitors for dollars, but as critical partners with the common mission of strengthening the community and the art form.
- We value all who engage in strengthening the community equally, whether artist, administrator, donor, volunteer, trustee, purchaser, or audience member.
Opera companies currently respect, thank, recognize, convene, and build relationships with their donors, particularly those who give significantly. We must employ those same practices with all participants. We must recognize that every individual in our community has the potential to progress on a continuum from audience member to donor or can contribute to our success by other means. We must appreciate all participants in an equal manner, for the progress of a more equitable art form.
- We value contributions of time, talent, and connections to our opera company as much as gifts of money.
Opera companies cannot operate without their supporting participants, and notably donors, whose generosity pays for the performances and activities that define their work. Yet, we must understand that not all members of our community can contribute financially to our work. We must appreciate those who contribute time, talent, and connections to communities not currently represented within our organizations as much as we appreciate those who contribute money.
- We treat donors to our opera company as partners in our commitment to serving our community and achieving social and economic justice.
Donors frequently enjoy the best of what an opera company has to offer — performances, artist access, behind-the-scenes glimpses, and more — while being shielded from challenging discussions about the company’s values and community purpose. We must make sure our donors understand our goals and commitments and what their role is in helping us achieve them. We must have honest, transparent, and respectful conversations about our responsibilities to our full community, even if we end up pushing some donors and their support away.
- We foster a sense of belonging at our opera company, not othering.
Opera welcomes passionate artists, administrators, students, and audiences who believe in the power of the art form. However, fundraising practices often undermine our best intentions to make all members of our community feel they belong. We must discontinue exclusionary behaviors that further perceptions of elitism and hyper-intellectualism among prospective audiences. We must recognize and remedy harmful, self-serving attitudes and behaviors rooted in saviorism — the notion that artists, students, and community engagement participants must be culturally or socially enlightened by opera. We must create space in and around our fundraising practices for everyone within our community, regardless of economic or social background, so that we are working together to create a shared artistic experience.
- We invite donors to be part of our commitment to change by promoting the understanding that everyone in our community benefits from the work of social and economic justice.
The actions our opera company takes now to ensure access and participation throughout our community by those who have historically been unable or unwelcomed fortify the civic value of our institutions. We must show our donors that a company’s commitment to nourishing the community will increase involvement with our art form and lead to a sustainable future for opera. We must demonstrate through words and action that we are not removing chairs from the table, but enlarging the table and adding new voices alongside those of our donors.
- We see our opera company’s work in social and economic justice as holistic and transformative, not transactional.
Donors enjoy making gifts to support the art we produce, the artists we hire, or the programs we offer. Yet, partitioning funds around specific initiatives often separates the art form from the work of social and economic justice. We must craft compelling cases for support that motivate donors to fund our missions holistically, with a level of trust and investment in the company’s role as a community asset. We must help donors avoid transactional thinking whenever possible and recognize the long-term impact they can have by affording our company greater flexibility and freedom to realize our missions and visions.
- We recognize that our fundraising practices are rooted in a history of economic and social injustice and commit ourselves to making steps toward justice.
The fundraising practices that our opera company employs today, often to great effect, are built on a foundation of inequity, elitism, and systemic and institutional racism. In our commitment to our community, we must grapple with and address the root causes. We must remember that we are not limited to our current donors but can find donors to support every purpose as long as that purpose is well-defined, sincerely adhered to, and proven to the communities it is designed to serve.
This article is part of the report, Community-Centric Fundraising for Opera Companies, published by OPERA America. The report builds on the national Community-Centric Fundraising movement and was developed by a working group of fundraisers from the opera field.