Friday, February 26, 2010

The Equus Projects: Raising Money is Really Challenging But I am Still Excited

Every day that Michael Lonergan, Executive Director, and I work on raising money for our hub site projects we are struck by the many faces of this economic climate. But in seeking out funding we are exploring uncharted areas of income generating and fundraising creativity.

Here are some of our strategies and discoveries:

We make serious money teaching clinics for equestrians. Our enrollment for this spring and summer is down by 30%. So we have turned to reformatting. Instead of our previous format of two-day clinics for a set fee we are reducing our material to one-day formats. This is making us dig deeper into the material, offer smaller amounts of information but at greater depth. We are also teaming up for one-day presentations with well-known equestrian trainers. These trainers are generously charging us do-able fees for their time in exchange for attending other sessions we offer. We are all learning. We get to share information.

We are investing in some preliminary visits to communities were we have performances scheduled. This might sound like spending more money, but the preliminary visits are generating excitement about the company and the project. This excitement has led to In Kind donations, as well as –hopefully- some generous (even in this economic climate!) patrons.

Our preliminary visits are not just sit at a table planning sessions. They include a live Demonstration with horses, riders and excellent cookies. Last year we did a Demo on Vashon Island and met fabulous people who offered to house and feed us for a week. This kind of willingness from the communities to open up their homes and kitchens allow us to continue our work at a minimal cost to the company. For this we are very excited!

We just did a very successful Demo on a chilly Valentine’s Day in Aubrey, Texas for a project that will be produced in late May. Despite record low temperatures 45 people attended - horse people and lots of dancers from Texas Women’s University, University of North Texas and community dancers from the Dallas/Forth Worth area. We are very excited to build upon this Demo a deeper community involvement with those people we met.

We are holding open rehearsals.

We do not eat in restaurants.

When people ask what they can do to help out we suggest they invite us to dinner.

We are bringing our non-profit paperwork so that rental cars do not charge us tax.

We are forging relationships with local businesses to work with us on use on everything from use of equipment to help with papering the community about the company.

We use members of the community to help make introductions to local government officials and other cultural institutions.

Phase One is the Honeymoon Phase

Phase One was our exploration and options for our hub sites. Everyone was tremendously excited about the work.

We are now in Phase Two; returning to our sites. Our communities have accepted us with open arms. They donated everything to make the hub-site come into being. But, we know these donations can’t last forever and sooner than later, our communities may suffer from donor fatigue. Nobody is more aware than we are at the cost of these services – and it continues to be our challenge to keep our communities motivated and expanded enough to work with us as ambassadors for the company.

Phase One we could create community through volunteerism. Phase Two: Where does it go from here? What do we need to do to facilitate the real engagement?

There is a message about accountability inside all of this. And I like that because that accountability for action exists in our work with the horses as well.

We come with a big initial splash. The second visit we must present something different and not just for the sake of variety. We are no longer a new flavor. Now we must dig deeper.

Here are some Phase Two Challenges:

The second visit we are accountable for the residue we left behind the first time: horses that got spooked, grass that got torn from overuse, items that were lost or misplaced.

The second visit we must answer to mistakes made: using equine halters that were too heavy, forgetting to throw the wrappers away that littered not only the rental car but the car our friend lent us!

The second visit we must really deal with all the things that were not working the first time. Rather than chalk up unworkable situations as a one time event – we will be looking for ways to work in partnership with our hub site communities.

Don’t get me wrong. We are having a blast and the projects we have planned are awesome. But we are also facing the harsh reality that come fall of 2010 we will not have another ERPA check in our mailbox!!