Raising funds for a not-for-profit as large and ambitious as the Straz Center creates some interesting challenges for the people who run our development department. In this exclusive profile in honor of Give Day Tampa Bay and The Straz spring membership drive, Caught in the Act introduces you to some of the delightful people who build and maintain our vital donor community. Here, they wax philosophical on the number one challenge and why we need a donor community anyway.
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The biggest challenge:
“Believe it or not, most people don’t understand we’re a not-for-profit,” says Director of Special Events Sharon McDonald, who heads up Best of Tampa Bay, the food and drink fundraising festival on the Riverwalk each year. “My son’s girlfriend asked me if we did Best of Tampa Bay for charity, and I said, ‘yes—us!’ She paused for a moment then said, ‘The Straz is a charity?’ Oh, yes. When people think charity, they tend to think of shelters or cancer, these types of things. Not performing arts. But, the performing arts aren’t sustainable by just coming to see a show. With the big Broadway blockbusters, 70 cents of every dollar goes back to the show. People think we make all this money when we have The Lion King or Wicked, but we don’t. The majority of profits go to the show. We have to raise money for everything—education, outreach, our programming, everything.”
“The most difficult challenge is having people see we’re a nonprofit. People don’t know what it really takes to bring high-quality arts and artists here. Not only that, but donors are vital to keeping our stages lit. Lights on, water running … that’s not the sexiest thing to give money for, but where would we be without it?” says Kim Bateman, manager of member relations and development systems. “Donors keep arts in this community.”
“If we have grants and tickets, why donate? That’s a great question,” says staff grant writer Maggie DiPietra. “Well, we’ve got to raise about seven million dollars a year to break even. Seven million dollars to break even. We are very good, conscientious stewards of what we’re given, but people don’t realize we’re a nonprofit. The Straz Center started as a dream of the community; donors keep the dream alive. That’s what donors bring to the table. We simply can’t do it without them.”
Philanthropy and The Straz. Why do it?
“Because it makes you feel good. I really believe that. The world can’t survive without those who are generous and can give back. All the work we do at The Straz brings joy to others and is—authentically—an uplifting experience,” says Vice President of Development Julie Britton. “For me, I also think people don’t understand our work creates memories that last forever. What we teach here gives you discipline and skill sets that last your whole lifetime. I took free music appreciation classes at the museum in Toledo growing up. That was possible because of philanthropy, and that experience shaped who I am as a person. Having experiences in the performing arts makes for richer human beings as people learn to appreciate intangible things like beauty and goodness. Performances and classes, spending time at The Straz, creates a break in a frenzied world, adding a rich and rewarding dimension to life that is unique to the performing arts. Philanthropy for The Straz funnels right into our ability to create these experiences.”
“In the big picture, the Straz Center feeds the economic success and growth of all Tampa Bay,” says Bill Rolon, who helps cultivate our relationships with area businesses as our corporate relations manager. “It’s a ripple effect starting here for students taking theater classes, summer camps, dance intensives, any of the arts education programs. When people support arts training, most of the time they don’t even think about the fact that those kids are learning focus, team leading, collaboration, discipline and perseverance. You can’t put on a show without going through the long, hard, challenging process of getting it up and running, and, if you want to do it, you don’t quit. It’s all those life skills that the performing arts teach. I’m a prime example. I was an artist for 15 years, and that part of my life gave me every single skill that makes me valuable to a company today. Our students have the same training for life whether they go into a career in the performing arts or not, but the end result is that they have a work ethic to go until the job is done. And an understanding of how much they can achieve and what can be achieved when people work hard to a common goal. We don’t just teach performing arts, but character. Those students will become future employees, future business owners, future leaders. So the value of The Straz goes on and on.”
Nicole Stickeler, our bi-lingual development coordinator, explains:
“Las artes escénicas traen cultura y proveen una vía para que los estudiantes y adultos puedan expresar y entretener su lado artístico,” ella dice. “Al asistir a un evento las personas crean recuerdos que pueden conducir a un vínculo emocional con un lugar como el Straz. A través del apoyo de la comunidad, podemos ofrecer obras de alta calidad, educación gratuita de las artes, extensión a la comunidad, y mucho más. El apoyo del público es una parte integral de nuestro éxito y es necesario para que todos los clientes, estudiantes y adultos por igual, puedan soñar, llegar a, y celebrar las artes.”
In other words:
“The performing arts bring culture and provide an outlet for students and adults to express and entertain their artistic side,” she says. “Patrons come here to attend an event and they create memories which can lead to an emotional attachment to a place like The Straz. Through the support of the community, we are able to provide high quality performances, tuition-free arts education, community outreach, and so much more. Their support is an integral part of our success and is needed so that all patrons, students and adults alike, can dream, reach, and celebrate the arts.”
If you’re interested in making a difference for the lives of the next generation and having the unique experience of being a part of our donor community, please visit us.