A Path to Growth: How a Foundation Helps Arts Nonprofits Get to the Next Level

"How do we grow?"

It's one of simplest, yet most vexing questions a nonprofit arts organization can ask itself. After all, each arts organization is different. There's no single "right" way to grow. And there are multiple moving parts in play — trade-offs between various capitalization opportunities, new program offerings, new audience outreach efforts, and so on. 

In short, there are various ways to grow. But what's the best way?

Phoenix's Flinn Foundation's Initiative for Financial and Creative Health tries to answer this question by identifying priority capitalization needs and designing strategies to impact those needs. And for an excellent case study illustrating the initiative in action, we turn to news that the foundation awarded a 12-month $100,000 Implementation Award to the School of Ballet Arizona (SBAZ). But before we dive into the nuts and bolts of the grant, let's first take a closer look at the school itself.

The school is a community arts resource in the truest sense. Over 250 children and teens are currently registered in weekly ballet classes, with approximately 500 adult students taking classes monthly. The SBAZ also offers scholarships and financial aid of more than $55,000 to its young dance students each year. When you add it all up, the school reaches 35,000 kids annually.

Now, some arts organizations may be perfectly content to ride this wave of success for years (if not decades). Not the SBAZ — and we can't blame them. After all, if you're a successful organization operating in a city with close to seven million people, it's only natural to ask, "What's the next step?"

Enter the Flinn Foundation, whose grant enabled the SBAZ to contact the Boston-based nonprofit consultant Technical Development Corp. (TDC). TDC looked under the hood, conducting an in-depth analysis of the SBAZ's attendance figures, revenues, and costs across of various class types. It also rolled out a thorough survey of recent students.

The findings from the TDC engagement provided the SBAZ with a roadmap for growth. Specifically, SBAZ will earmark grant dollars for specific marketing campaigns and new class offerings that, according to TDC, will contribute to "tremendous revenue growth by 2020 and beyond."

Helping organizations identify capitalization priorities is one of the Flinn Foundation's two main missions in the arts and culture space. The other is the Arizona Cultural Data Project, a statewide component of a growing national program — profiled here — to use standardized financial and organizational data to strengthen the effectiveness of arts and culture organizations, advocates, and funders.

For a deeper dive into the foundation's other, non-arts grantmaking areas, check out our funder profile here.