Bloomberg Philanthropies Doubles Down On Its Arts Innovation and Management Program

"If it ain't broke, give it more funding."

That's the logic behind news that Bloomberg Philanthropies is expanding its Arts Innovation and Management (AIM) program, formerly known as the Arts Advancement Initiative. The invitation-only program seeks to strengthen nearly 300 small- and mid-sized organizations within six cities: Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Through the two-year initiative, Bloomberg Philanthropies will offer $30 million of unrestricted general operating support. It will also include arts management training in fundraising, audience development, and board member engagement.

The announcement is rich with subplots, so let's take them one at a time, shall we? The first involves Michael Bloomberg himself.

Say what you will about his funding priorities, we can all agree that at the end of the day, he's a data-driven businessman at heart. His foundation views AIM as an investment that should be quantifiably measured. And guess what? So far the numbers are looking good. The investment has paid substantial dividends in the form of improvements in audience development, board engagement, and fundraising over the two-year period, thereby triggering this new cash infusion.

Piloted in New York City, Bloomberg Philanthropies supported 245 grantees through AIM from 2011 to 2013. They measured progress at recipient organizations during this period and discovered the following:

  • 79 percent reached new audiences through targeted marketing campaigns and social media.
  • 95 percent improved board member engagement by adding new members and/or increasing board giving.
  • 88 percent leveraged the grant to secure new contributions from donors.

If only my 401(k) performed that well!

Secondly, we're sensing that many of you started salivating earlier in the post when we mentioned those three magical words, "general operating support." It's a big deal. As my colleague David Callahan noted, foundations have a difficult time refraining from micromanaging. Bloomberg Philanthropies, however, has no such qualms. They're a secure bunch.

Thirdly, don't be deterred by the "invitation-only" component of the project. Bloomberg will support (at least) 245 organizations across six cities—that's approximately 41 organizations per city. What's more, the eligibility criteria should be within reach for most organizations. As Bloomberg's press release notes, all organizations invited to participate are locally or internationally recognized nonprofits that have been in existence for at least two years. Grantees are required to secure matching funds, reach 100 percent board participation in fundraising, and maintain up-to-date information in the Cultural Data Project.

Lastly, I apologize for that lame 401(k) joke.