Q&A With Danny Whitman, Director of Communications and Development, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS
With a $14 million annual operating budget, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is one of the nation's leading industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations. By drawing upon the talents, resources and generosity of the American theatre community, since 1988 BC/EFA has raised more than $195 million for essential services for people with AIDS and other critical illnesses across the United States.
BC/EFA awards annual grants to more than 400 AIDS and family service organizations nationwide and is the major supporter of seven programs at The Actors Fund, including the HIV/AIDS Initiative, the Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative and the Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic.
Here, FundRaising Success talks with Danny Whitman, director of communications and development, about Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and its fundraising efforts.
FundRaising Success: How does the organization fund its mission?
Danny Whitman: Broadway Cares is a little different from many other charitable organizations in that we are a fundraising and grant-making organization. So our mission is about fundraising (not simply a component of what we do to fund services) and grant-making. Most of what we do year-round is fundraise in order to award grants to more than 400 AIDS and family-service organizations around the country and six vital programs of the The Actors Fund.
FS: What are the organization's fundraising strengths/weaknesses?
DW: The greatest strength of Broadway Cares' fundraising is our unique and incredible relationship with the American theatre community, right here in New York and around the country. Behind Broadway Cares is an army of thousands of the most talented, generous and compassionate individuals who make possible so much of what we do, whether through audience appeals and collections; the large fundraising events we are able to produce like Broadway Bares, Gypsy of the Year or Broadway Backwards; or other fundraising opportunities we are able to coordinate through this unique collaboration with the theatre community.
This is possible because of that special relationship with so many in all aspects of the industry — including stage managers, performers, press agents, theatre owners, producers, stage hands and so many others — which is something we will never take for granted. We take tremendous care in working with our friends and supporters in the theatre community. Without them, we couldn't do what we do and reach hundreds of thousands of individuals across the country.
The "weakness," or I'd prefer to call it "challenge," comes from exactly what makes Broadway Cares and our unique fundraising so special. To continue to make a difference, it's essential that we keep a lens on BC/EFA's mission: to raise money for HIV/AIDS organizations such as health clinics, food pantries, meal-delivery programs, emergency financial assistance, supportive housing initiatives and so much more. It is our challenge to continually present opportunities for those who support BC/EFA to gain a greater understanding of where the money goes that we raise and why it is so important.
Through the incredible collaboration with the Broadway community, Broadway Cares is able to connect our supporters with some pretty amazing opportunities and items, from an autographed poster or playbill from their favorite play or musical, to a backstage visit or meet-and-greet with some of the most exciting performers in theatre. It's our job to engage these donors so that they don't lose sight of why we're doing this work and whom we are helping, so that they have a greater understanding of what they, and our friends in the theatre community, are making possible.
FS: How does the organization engage donors and other supporters and potential supporters in ways other than purely fundraising efforts?
DW: Our goal is to involve our supporters in ways that go beyond simply writing a check once a year. It starts with communication. We do our best to keep our supporters aware of the latest news about our grant-making and the impact their support is having, whether through e-communication, social media, print newsletters or one-on-one connections. We also encourage our supporters to volunteer, whether in our offices, through events, or during our audience appeals and collections.
We have a stewardship plan to keep Broadway Cares supporters engaged throughout the year, through small donor events and performances, in-person visits or regular communication.
Of course, one of the things that is unique about Broadway Cares is our events. So we would be foolish to not encourage our supporters to get involved with whatever events are most appealing to them, whether that be Fire Island Dance Festival, The Broadway Flea Market & Grand Auction, or one of our very exclusive and intimate house concerts featuring stars of the classical music world.
FS: Can you share a recent fundraising success? Why was it successful?
DW: In the past two years, we have been hosting more appreciation events for our major donors. I've discovered how important it is to make these as interesting and exclusive as possible. We worked for months on a special reception and performance, which I knew would be of interest to our supporters. It took a bit more effort than one would generally expect to put into a stewardship event, but it was well worth it. We had a higher response rate for the event, were able to have quality time and make connections with donors we previously hadn't connected with in a meaningful way, and we received several donations as a "thank you" for coordinating such a special evening.
Additionally, a few donors invited friends to come in their place. One couple took our executive director and me aside to let us know they wanted to get involved personally, which they did within a few weeks.
FS: Any major difficulties or setbacks you've faced along the way as far as fundraising is concerned?
DW: The only difficulty we face is that our fundraising reflects the health of the Broadway community, which can be unpredictable. Therefore, we do everything possible to support the theatre community so that it will thrive.
FS: What is the organization's fundraising philosophy?
DW: I'm not certain that Broadway Cares has a "fundraising philosophy" per se, however, I would say that our approach is to cultivate and steward relationships with the Broadway community just as much as, if not more than, our donors.
FS: What advice would you give to organizations similar to yours?
DW: The advice I would give is to always focus on long-term goal; that raising an extra $1,000, $5,000 or even $10,000 isn't the most important thing. The priority should always be developing a deeper, stronger relationship with a supporter so that you can build trust and sustain it over a longer period of time.
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS
165 West 46th Street, Suite 1300
New York, NY 10036
Dane Grams is director of nonprofit services at Care2, and co-chair of the FundRaising Success Editorial Advisory Board.