What Can We Learn from Alvin Ailey Dance's Staggering Fundraising Success?

Sometimes, when the leader of an arts organization retires, the community at large throws a party, erects a plaque, or some combination of both. Then there's the case of Joan H. Weill, who's not only the wife of retired banker Sandy Weill but has often taken the lead in giving away the large fortune he made as CEO and Chairman of Citigroup. 

Dance has been one of her biggest causes, and particularly Alvin Ailey. 

Weill, a 20-year trustee of the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, announced in early October that she would be stepping down as chairwoman after 14 years at the end of 2015. She'll leave behind a stunning legacy. Among her successes was helping mobilize the resources for the Ailey organization to build a permanent home at the corner of 55th Street and Ninth Avenue, named the Joan Weill Center for Dance, which opened in 2005

Now, as part of a hyper fundraising drive, the Campaign for Ailey's Future, the foundation aims to fund an expansion of the center while adding new program initiatives.

The foundation bills the center as "by far the largest and most active destination for dance in New York City, attracting more than 200,000 visitors annually" and, because of its success, it is "bursting at the seams." Enrollment in the Ailey School's Junior Division has risen 89 percent since 2005, its Ailey Extension classes have now welcomed more than 80,000 people, and demand for Ailey's Citigroup Theater has intensified to the point that 120 other companies use the space annually.

Needless to say, the campaign has gotten off to a good start. Sandy Weill personally pledged more than $16 million to date and plans to match additional leadership gifts pledged to the campaign through the end this year's Opening Night Gala Benefit.

Now, we know what you're thinking. You're a nonprofit arts organization that lacks deep-pocket donors. You operate in a smaller city without the kind of vast donor network that Ailey enjoys. And, unlike Ailey, who's been blessed with incredible success as of late, you're simply trying to keep your organization's head above water.

These are valid concerns, but we believe there are some valid takeaways that can be applied to organizations of all sizes. First off, campaigns need "hooks" and Ailey deftly turning Weill's retirement into a means to kickstart its campaign would qualify as that. (We're also quite fond of the classic "anniversary" hook.)

Second, they've effectively made an argument that their explosive growth is a good problem to have. Or to look at it another way, they're saying "Rather than giving you an excuse not to give, our success should do the oppositecompel you to give to help us take our organization to the next level."

It's a subtle marketing distinction, but one that will nonetheless resonate with donors. Success breeds success. Momentum builds upon itself. Donors see this and want to be part of the party. Who doesn't want to go with a winner. 

And speaking of parties, that aforementioned gala benefit takes place on December 3rd. Call around. Maybe you can get on the list.