For the Greater Good: An Association’s Purpose

Janet Brown

At the 2009 GIA conference in Brooklyn, we asked participants to tell us how Grantmakers in the Arts can best contribute to building a successful nonprofit arts sector in this country over the next ten years. Participants provided 439 ideas, from which six strategies emerged. These strategies will drive the future work of GIA, which as a national association is uniquely positioned to serve the “greater good” of a vital sector of American society.

In some ways, the benefits of supporting a national association may seem elusive. Most of us view our world as concentric circles (which is how my iPhone sees me on its GPS), with our immediate location at the center. Our universe begins at home, where we live, work, own property, and buy our groceries. Our dreams and goals next expand to the workplace and to political entities on the local, regional, state, and national level. Thinking about the arts often stays focused at the community level, where artists are busy creating their work and grantmakers strategizing how best to support them. A national association of arts grantmakers, however, brings together a multiplicity of perspectives. It is through this national network that we create substantial change to a society so that it values more significantly the work of artists and arts organizations.

GIA members believe that through an association that gives a voice to arts philanthropy, we serve the greater vision of making the lives of artists and arts organizations more productive and welcome in our society. New strategies for accomplishing this were spelled out by our members in Brooklyn. They reflect the need for improved access to information, networks, research, advocacy, collaboration, and professional development.

Members believe GIA should work toward these goals:

  1. Information. Collect, share, and link information and resources to create a stronger learning community, particularly using the GIA website and new technologies.
  2. Networks. Facilitate networks, particularly interest groups, to build alliances among peers and others with similar needs and concerns.
  3. Research. Commission research, promote best practices and innovative models, and serve as a database/information clearinghouse for this type of information.
  4. Advocacy. Advocate on a national level, creating one unified voice for the field connecting to the most pressing national issues and leaders.
  5. Collaboration. Engage non-arts organizations, leaders and influencers in the conversations to bring broader perspectives, new models, and greater connectivity.
  6. Professional development. Convene and host more discussions, training, and information sharing specific to regions (local, state, urban, non-urban, rural).

To have relevant discussions and produce the suggestions from which these themes were drawn, GIA conference participants met in small groups defined by organizational structure and resource level: private foundations and corporate givers; national service organizations; state arts agencies; local arts agencies; nonprofit funders; and community foundations.

The groups had differing priorities when ranking the suggestions. For instance, private foundations and local arts agencies listed collecting, sharing, and linking information (#1) as their top priority for GIA. It was slightly less a priority for state arts agencies, nonprofit funders, and community foundations, and further down the list for national service organizations.

National service organizations, state arts agencies, and nonprofit funders cited facilitating networks (#2) as their top priority, which says a great deal about their focus on groups of constituents and their own experience as networkers.

Commissioning research (#3) ranked higher for private and corporate foundations, local arts agencies, nonprofit funders and community foundations than it did for national service organizations and state arts agencies, who do research themselves or have associations that provide more directed information to them.

National service organizations rated advocacy (#4) significantly higher than did all other groups.

Community foundations rated engaging non-arts organizations, leaders, and influencers (#5) more highly than any other group.

Private foundations, corporate givers, and community foundations felt GIA’s convenings (#6) were more important than did national service organizations and local arts agencies.

The diversity of GIA’s membership is its strength and greatest challenge. Our role as convener, educator, librarian, and researcher must touch each member’s individual needs while contributing to our goal of serving the greater good. Illuminating the role of artists and arts organizations is critical to a great nation and a civilized society. This is the greater good that our members expect us to pursue. And with their direction and strong involvement, so we shall.