by Nina Yarbrough, MFA
Expectations are a funny thing. Many of us spend a majority of our time trying to manage them in a way that a) doesn’t get our feelings hurt and b) keeps us moving forward with at least a modicum of confidence that we are actually capable of making good life choices. The kind of choices that all of our mamas could be proud of. That said, if you would have told me that 2020 was going to turn into the type of sucker-punch that knocked us all squarely on our collective behinds the way that it did, I don’t know if I would have bothered getting out of bed after the first of the year.
Like many of my colleagues in the fundraising profession I have had to become very comfortable with an even greater level of ambiguity. Projecting revenue goals based on the voluntary donations of kind and generous people can get a bit tricky at the best of times. Every gift that CD Forum receives is a joy, but it is just that, a gift. Something not to be begged for nor demanded. Like any act of good will, it is to be welcomed, honored, and stewarded with the best of intentions when, and if ever, it arrives. While we can anticipate receiving certain donations from individuals at different times of the year, as well as funding from institutions, and some government support here and there, fundraising–especially in the arts– has always been a bit of a gamble. That said, each organization has its own cycle of giving that carries an innate degree of dependability and predictability. But today? Forget it! Gone are the days of planning ahead by six or twelve months. Nothing is really predictable or knowable anymore and those of us in the fundraising profession cannot be certain when that security might come back. With the widespread impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on all of us, the task of planning for a brighter tomorrow seems almost insurmountable.
It would be a disservice to say nothing of the economic hit that many Americans have faced during the past several months. In particular those of us who were already at the economic margins, such as BIPOC, LGBTQAI+, and folx with disabilities. It is the psychological, emotional, and spiritual assault that we’re all reckoning with that feels the heaviest to bear. Being cut off from friends and family and managing an existential crisis all while simultaneously living through the Trump administration? This is NOT how I thought the year would go. I had PLANS! I was supposed to go to Japan and see hundred-year-old temples and write deep, beautiful poetry while riding the bullet train between prefectures. Weddings and celebrations and newfound love have all had to take a backseat to the pressing civil and political turmoil that is our new reality. Knowing all of this, how in the world are any of us fundraisers meant to look at another forecasting document with the same level of interest?
“And still she persisted.”
While this was not the disaster many of us had been preparing for this is nonetheless the disaster we find ourselves in. So, how did we find a way forward? For CD Forum it involved an early recognition that this year was going to be unlike anything we could have anticipated. It also required our leadership to make some tough calls early on. The health and safety of our staff, artists, volunteers, and audiences, cancelling all in-person performances, rescheduling our fiscal-year-end fundraiser, and figuring out how to shift our contractors to best maximize their expertise were the best decisions for us to make.
Watching our artists re-invest in themselves and seeing our community prioritize their mental health and well-being have been huge bonuses of the past year. What we discovered while transitioning our programs and operations has and continues to delight and surprise us. Luckily, CD Forum had already been on a path to creating a more robust lineup of online content. While the pandemic did accelerate those plans, we were able to continue engaging with our community and our artists. Black creatives find themselves at the crux of vulnerability. For this reason it is even more important that we maintain a lifeline to them during this time. By using Instagram, StreamYard, and Facebook we have been able to continue the equitable compensation of artists and we have been able to grow our audience in ways we were not able to achieve with local, in-person events. Even knowing though our 'likes' and click-through rates had improved, it was worrying to contemplate how we were going to transition that digital audience to attendees and donors at our newly designed fundraiser.
Like most of CD Forum’s success stories, it was through great partnerships, letting the artist's voice take center stage, and by providing leadership opportunities to our team members, that we were able to pull off one of our most successful fundraisers of the past three years.
We partnered with local event planning company Synchronicity Events who provided us with a project manager, technical support that made it both smooth and accessible for participants, and they helped us design and execute CD Forum’s first Peer-2-Peer fundraising campaign. While overseeing this event with CD Forum’s Season Curator Dani Tirrell, we made a joint decision well before the pandemic: any fundraiser that CD Forum did would be a fun celebration that highlighted the work of our incredible artists and one that encouraged people to make a night of it. We still held this as our north star even as the nature of the fundraiser shifted.
Instead of a grand masquerade ball we made it a “Boujee Brunch Soiree.” Rather than having a fully catered event we came up with a list of incredible Black chefs that were still operating and adhering to COVID-19 food safety guidelines and were able to either provide pick-up or delivery for orders the day before the event. We chose Remo as our online venue platform rather than Zoom because it gave guests the closest experience to an in-person event while also giving everyone an opportunity to engage with an online platform not many people had even heard of. We also made sure the host, just like at our in-person events, was dynamic, comfortable with quick changes, and someone who could speak to the importance of CD Forum’s mission. Those things combined with investing in a savvy and brilliant production lead and film crew (who we had worked with on previous projects), meant that our July 11th Brunch Soiree was a big hit.
Peer-2-Peer fundraising was a new activity for the organization. It was unclear if this would work for us, but the results were better than we could have imagined. Our community continues to surprise us and with an overall fundraising goal of $20,000 we went into our event with over $14,000 already raised by our Peer-2-Pear Table Captains. To that end I want to thank:
Maris Antolin, Divas for Black Artists,
Dan Bannerman, Sandra Brierley, Timeca Briggs, Coyote Central,
Amy Chasanov, Seattle Center Racial Equity Cohort, Liz Dawson, Kristen Faiferlick,
Liz Houlton, Kristen Ramer Liang, Hersh Powers, Janice Price, Becca Roy,
Stephanie Shushan, Randy Steiger, Hailey Tayathy, Tonieh Thompson,
Dani Tirrell, Kathryn Wahlberg, Sharon Nyree Williams,
It was proof that nothing in the arts can be done alone.
What does the future hold for CD Forum? Uncertainty for sure, but also the joyful chaos of figuring things out. It is clear that people recognize the importance of supporting and centering Black voices. CD Forum has a 21-year track record of providing a much-needed platform for innovative, creative Black storytellers who work in varied disciplines and mediums. Even though the landscape of fundraising is filled with unknown challenges we can be certain that our resilience, spirit of innovation, and investment in Black joy will continue to see us through any trial.