by Megan Kosmoski
Having worked a combined 10 years between Washington, D.C. and New York City, in every position from volunteer usher to ASM to Marketing Director, I have seen nonprofit theaters struggle and fight for federal, city, and state funding. I have witnessed artistic directors, producers, and development directors raise their fist to the heavens and curse the system of arts funding because finding funding for nonprofits usually consists of: constantly schmoozing donors, hosting fundraising events, applying and reapplying and submitting final reports for city grants, state grants, federal grants, and private grants. It is a big weight that looms over every nonprofit organization in our country. However, I have never witnessed a fundraising event create such excitement and full community involvement the way GiveNOLA Day does for every nonprofit in New Orleans.
Every company I have worked for prior to New Orleans has had different fundraising strategies. Each of them had a few guaranteed city and/or state funding opportunities that gave them a good foundation. It was not until last year that I learned more about the nonprofit funding opportunities, or lack thereof, in New Orleans and Louisiana.
I was looking to get a grant for an artistic endeavor in New Orleans when I attended an information meeting for the Decentralized Funding Grants offered by Louisiana. For those of you who don’t know:
“The Louisiana Decentralized Arts Fund Program (DAF), initiated in 1995, makes the arts available in every parish in the State of Louisiana by providing grant funding for artists, nonprofit organizations, community groups, and local government agencies. Funding is allocated to each parish on a per capita basis utilizing U.S. census figures. It is based on population, not on any additional factors.”- Office Of Cultural Development
This seems to be a wonderful initiative, to give money to all parishes. However, this money is based solely on the population of each parish and does not consider that New Orleans’ population triples thanks to people who visit the city throughout the year. Additionally, arts and culture is a major draw for those tourists and is a prime contributor to our economy. New Orleans is a cultural center and needs more funding, resources, and support for our artists, companies, and community groups.
Our city funding, as in many cities, significantly decreased after the great recession and is still not close to recovered. Last year, the New Orleans Arts Council was allocated $405,000, $56,700 of that for management and operations. The remaining 86% is distributed to non-profits in New Orleans. That means New Orleans allocates $1.05 per capita to arts funding, way below the national average in 2017 of $4.05. While New Orleans’ city budget allocates less than $400,000, Atlanta’s allocates $2 million, Nashville’s allocates $2.4 million, and Oakland allocates over $1 million. Nonprofits everywhere struggle for funding. In New Orleans, that struggle is even greater.
But New Orleans will not problem solve like the rest of the country, we have to find a way to add our own charm. The Greater New Orleans Foundation (GNOF) did the most New Orleans thing upon realizing that the government (federal, state, and city) was not going to provide more funding. They turned to their neighbors and our community to do the work. And like NOLA does, the community showed up! If the city doesn’t have the funds to employ enough people to clear the catch basins, you go out with a crowbar, boots, and gloves and dig those beads out; if the NFL referees don't call a blatant penalty that keeps the Saints out of the Super Bowl, the people of New Orleans throw an enormous party anyway. Our city knows that who we can depend on most is each other, our neighbors, and our community.
On May 7th, 2019, the sixth year of GiveNOLA Day, nonprofits asked the community of New Orleans for help and raised 5.9 million dollars in one 24-hr period. On GiveNOLA Day, nonprofits registered with the GNOF to participate in a massive crowdfunding campaign. Anyone with a credit card can donate to the nonprofit(s) of their choice and can choose to contribute to the “Lagniappe Fund.” This accumulated fund is disbursed as prizes to participating organizations. Through the Lagniappe Fund, a nonprofit can win an additional $1,000-$10,000 for having the most individual donors, raising the most money, or being randomly selected by the hour on GiveNOLA Day.
GiveNOLA Day is not just any crowdfunding platform, where whoever has the most connections, or the fanciest videos and graphics, wins. This feels like a game and a party. In previous years the GNOF hosted “GiveNOLA Fest,” a festival in Lafayette park with swag, giveaways, live music, and food, where nonprofits can have booths and you can donate on the spot to any nonprofit registered, as well as explore more means of engagement. Participants also have events surrounding GiveNOLA Day: Dancing Grounds, 2019’s winner for most individual donors, has an annual dance party the day before GiveNOLA Day with live performances, raffle, food, and drinks, ending in “an epic dance party.” The most New Orleans way to fundraise: food, drinks, and an epic dance party! On May 7th, 2019, Dancing Grounds raised $20,465 and won an additional $10,000 for having the most individual donors. It is amazing how our community will show up.
I know the money on GiveNOLA Day was not just raised by a couple people saying “NOLA’s nonprofits need more support and funding. Give us money.” There is a lot of work that goes into this event by the GNOF and by each of the 752 organizations that participate.
GiveNOLA Day is now a pillar in our city, it is a community event: weeks leading up to it you can’t walk a block without seeing signs, postcards, or billboards with the bright yellow logo. GiveNOLA Day is on TV, it’s on the radio, there are block parties, and emails (oh so many emails). Day of there is energy and excitement, people boasting about their favorite community group and organizations, people sharing their donations or support, people texting thank you’s or updates on giving. I am enamored with GiveNOLA Day, the swell of love and support, and the change $10 can bring to our community. I believe this city, when it comes together, can move mountains. I’m so excited to see how we scale other obstacles, how we can come together to provide other resources, and how we can defy circumstances set against us. What is the next “New Orleans” way can we problem solve?