What’s On Our Minds

Artists and Tax Law

Have you been wondering why is it so difficult to get artists to donate to your organization? Artists cannot receive a tax deduction for the value of their art. For example, a painter who has spent months to finish a painting and could sell the painting to a customer for $30,000 can only get tax deduction for the few hundreds that she spent on purchasing the materials for her painting if she decides to donate it to a nonprofit organization.

This policy has a story in history when a president misused the rule and took advantage of the policies to avoid paying tax. Richard Nixon donated his papers and manuscript papers to a library, and he received a contribution value for over one million dollars for his papers. After that date, Congress changed the rules, so since 1969, artists could only get tax deduction for the cost of the materials that they use, not the fair market value of the art.

Congress has not done anything to correct this unfair policy. The best place for artists to display their art is at the museums because they can be viewed by a large number of people and used for educational purposes. When artists cannot receive a fair market value deduction for their donation, they will sell their art to individual collectors instead of donating them to institutions. Therefore, we, as a general public ,will miss on seeing those pieces of art because they would be owned by individuals and kept at their private home. This limits the accessibility of visual art.

The second major issue is that this policy is not fair in a way that treats the art creator/artist different from the art collector/buyer. The artists who are indeed the main owner of the art objects cannot claim a tax deduction for the fair market value, but if a non-artist who has purchased the art previously decides to donate the item to an organization can claim a full amount of fair market value for their deduction.

It is time that Congress take this issue under consideration and make major revisions to this policy.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art is Set for a Brighter Future

This blog post is Part 2 of a pair of posts which looks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s decision to charge a mandatory admission fee.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art made a decision that could greatly raise and stabilize their revenue. The museum will be charging $25 for the general admission fee. The Met used to have this amount as a suggested fee, not a mandatory one. It has been anticipated that this change in the admission will bring an additional revenue of $6 million dollars.

One of the main reasons for this change was that although there was a raise in attendance in the last few years, people did not contribute to the suggested admission fee. There was a significant decrease in the percentage of museumgoers that would actually pay the suggested fee in last decade, all the way from 67% down to 17%. Clearly, this put the museum at a difficult place regarding its budget.

Nonprofit organizations of all kind are suffering from a systematic problem that we see in the health care, educational systems, and other arts organizations that do not get enough governmental support and need to highly depend on their individual and corporate donors. However, there is only so much money that could be raised from individual donors, and that money by itself will not be enough to pay for a large museum like the Met, which is held to high standards.

The museum will still remain free for people residing in New York who can provide an identification card, so the accessibility will not be an issue for people living in the city. Although this change has some opposition, a majority of people in informal interviews and in social media comments have shown their willingness to accept the change. This admission fee increases the overall revenue and an increase in a revenue means that the museum could take on bigger exhibitions or educational programs. The Met is currently earning 14% of its revenue from the admission fees, which is expected to increase to 17%. Although on paper this might not seem like a huge increase, it can have a profound impact on the museum’s financial stability. The doors of the museum will be open as long as it has enough supporters, so the Met is counting on its donors to support it.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s New Policy, a Failure for a Public Institution

This is the first post of two that will explore the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new admission policy. Each post takes the opposite stance about the policy. 

Starting in March 2018, the Metropolitan Museum of Art said goodbye to its “pay as you wish” policy. The new general admission fee is $25, which is considered a huge bump for a museum that did not have any mandatory admission fees before. The current policy draws a boarder between New Yorkers and outsiders because the museum will continue to remain free for the New York residents who could provide identifications. A museum that has an amazing national reputation, and has been one of the main points of attraction for tourists is making an indirect statement by saying this museum only belongs to New Yorkers. Limiting the geography that the museum is serving has consequences for their fundraising effort.

Museums like other nonprofits are highly dependent on their individual donors, and governmental grants. When a museum considers itself only a local attraction for the state of New York, it will automatically loses its chance to get donations from outside of that state. Another thing to consider is that people donate their collections to the museums to be displayed for a large number of people. They donate because they believe that museums are accessible cultural locations, so the art could be appreciated by all. The admission fee of $25 will definitely put the museum out of reach for students, large families, and the working class.

An important factor that all performing and visual arts organizations are currently focusing on is not only increasing their number of attendance, but to have a diversified audience base. Certain ethnicities and people from certain socio-economic levels who should be targeted by non profits to attend such places will not have any presence because they would not be able to afford it. The museum will certainly fail its responsibility for being accessible. Also, museums are educational places, especially for children to learn about the culture of arts. Families who are visiting New York could find much more affordable activities for their children. There is also this tradition that the museums have been free or have had very low ticket prices. The Met would be competing against other local museums or would lose some tourists to other forms of entertainment. This way the Met is indirectly pushing some families towards other entertainments, which those might not have as great of a cultural and educational impact on their audience as a museum would have.

The Met is not staying true to its role as a public and cultural institution. The Met could find ways to generate more revenue through seeking individual donors and asking them to fund the admission fees specifically. Overall, the Met decision for having a high general admission fee does not seem to prove favorable in the future both for the museum, and those who would have visited it.


New workshop offerings in partnership with Sanford Institute of Philanthropy at Xavier University of Louisiana

The Sanford Institute of Philanthropy at Xavier University of Louisiana was established to offer a range of high-quality educational opportunities to further strengthen nonprofit organizations throughout the Southeast, but especially in the New Orleans region.

Founded by entrepreneur and philanthropist, T. Denny Sanford, the Institute focuses on preparing exemplary nonprofit leaders and providing the support they need to be successful in making a difference in the world. The Institute offers more than 30 seminars, workshops and webinars built around four key themes: cause selling, marketing, fundraising strategies and relationship building. All coursework which is delivered online and face-to-face, is taught by experienced nonprofit professionals.

Sarah Cortell Vandersypen of Philanthropic Partners is excited to be teaching a number of courses for Sanford Institute of Philanthropy at Xavier University of Louisiana.

The first course is Supercharge Your Board on April 10, 2018.

Explore how to optimize your board as advocates, donors, and fundraisers. You’ll learn how to engage your Board in the entire fundraising process, how to establish expectations from the outset, and effective tactics for involving the right Board members.

Register here.

Some Ideas About Leadership

It is needless to say that leadership is an extremely important part of any nonprofit organization. Nonprofits, especially smaller organizations, often have problem maintaining high profile leaders. They usually lose them to their competitors because they cannot afford to pay a high salary. Also, nonprofit leaders face burn-out as they are expected to cover multiple positions. This might save the organization some money in the short term, but it reduces its efficiency, effectiveness, and is more expensive long-term.

It is critical to prioritize the importance of having a great leader in an organization. A great leader can provide an organization with forward-looking strategies and increase the productiveness of the organization with a much lower cost. They can energize and activate the group of volunteers. Great leadership will help the organization stay true to its mission while helping it evolve to stay relevant and effective.

The Orpheus Chamber Music Orchestra has taken a unique step in its organization by sharing the role among all the staff members. Each member has a chance to be in charge of administration and lead the decision-making process in the organization. This strategy provides an equal opportunity for all members to have a chance to bring their vision and innovation to an organization; it allows the strengths of each member to be seen and put to the use. Above all, this creates unity among the members because a single person does not run the entire organization and members feel that they have a voice. While this leadership model might not apply to many organizations, it holds a major lesson for us. It is important to provide members with opportunities to have a leading role, so the organization benefits from different perspectives.


Why Producing Creative Product is Challenging

Creative Products are different than consumer products. As an artist, I find it very challenging to advertise for my services. This is a challenge that most people in nonprofit organizations who are dedicated to produce creative products.

Demand is uncertain. Unlike consumer products and other services, it is difficult to calculate the demand for an art product. This makes it very risky for the artists and the management personnel to decide on their production. For example, we cannot run a test to see if people will like a show before producing it fully and investing in it financially and artistically.

In the previous blog post, I talked about the advantage of the research for some organizations; most art related organizations do not have a chance to get any feedback until after the show has premiered, or after their works have been displayed in the case of visual artists. As a result, there is no financial guarantee for the artists. Some artists’ works might not get published because of lack of money.

The other challenging part is the value placed on the creative products. Creative works are produced because of the inner need of the artist, and not because of a consumer need, so it is very difficult to advertise for it. However, the more concerning issue is that the value for creating a piece of art might be much more than the price that the customer is willing to pay. With some artists, they are ahead of trends or tastes in popular culture. That is one of the reasons that artists are forced to change their products to be appealing for a larger number of people to stay employed. For example, symphonies play a lot of pop concerts to attract audience, instead of the new repertoire that is not as popular. This takes the main component of artists away from them, which is the creativity.


Making Your Organization Stand Out

Marketing is becoming more convenient and accessible everyday, especially with the easy use of marketing tools on social media. However, this makes the competition very difficult for organizations because we have to compete with thousands of ads on the newsfeed. Researching the audience is something that is often overlooked, so here are some ways to make your organization stand out.

Identify Your Customers

Before doing any marketing for your organization and products/services, you need to know who your consumer is. Find out information such as gender, age, income, and the reason for their purchase. This information will be very helpful for you to determine your marketing strategies.

Research and Get Feedback, USE the Feedback

If your organization is able to offer a test run of the service or a form of sampling, that is a huge advantage. This will make it easy to receive feedback, and make appropriate changes before the product is distributed to a larger population. For example, if your nonprofit focuses on a specific education program, you can ask a school to host you for a few classes where you can show your service, then provide questionnaires to the faculty and students to see what were the strength and weaknesses of your program. Simply doing the research is not enough. You need to use that feedback and make changes to your service to meet the consumers’ needs!

Use the four P’s of Marketing to Your Best Advantage

Product: What are you selling? Why do people need it? How is it different from other products in the market?

Price: What is the true value of the service you are offering? Are you offering any discounts?

Promotion: Based on the research you have done, you need to customize your promotional strategies. If your services are mostly for young adults, you need to use social media as the main source of advertisement. If your services are for a specific community, weekly magazines, radio, or direct mail might be better ways to advertise.

Place: Where are you offering your services? What is the venue for your event? Try to make people excited for the release of your product. Maybe you can offer some promotional gifts on the day of presenting your service, or you can partner up with a local store to hold a small reception at a gallery/store that people can stop by to learn more about your organization and programs while enjoying some desserts. In other words, make an event similar to a premium for your organization to create a buzz about it. This event will be more low-key than your Gala and other big events. This is a great way you can reach out to a new audience.

Until next time,

Announcing a new workshop series: Fundraising Fundamentals

We are excited to announce the launch of a new fundraising series called Fundraising Fundamentals.

When Sarah was at the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge, she discovered her love of teaching others. She launched a professional development series for the nonprofits she worked with in her capacity at the Grants & Community Development Director.

This winter, she will offer three workshops:

Fundraising 101: The Basics and More
February 28, 2018

Grants: Research, Writing and Reporting
March 28, 2018

Individual & Major Gifts
April 18, 2018

They will be offered at the Capital Area United Way (700 Laurel Street, Baton Rouge) from 9:00am – 4:00pm.

Lunch and a certificate of completion is included in your $90 workshop fee. Discounts for students and organizations that register 2+ staff members are available.

We hope to see you at one or all of these upcoming workshops!


Storytelling for nonprofit organizations is a very powerful tool that can connect you and what you do to the community. Storytelling is engaging, and helps people get a sense of your achievements at a much deeper level. Here are two free ways of storytelling that could also be the most effective ways to market for your organization.

Invitation for Site Visits

No amount of marketing can be as effective as providing your donors with an opportunity to see what your organization is doing in action. Set up some dates, and send invitations to your individual donors, political officials, and community leaders. Seeing the work your organization firsthand is more powerful than a Facebook post or newsletter ever could be. A site visit will also give you an opportunity to get to know your donors and potential donors.

Share Testimonials

Even though site visits are wonderful, but they might not be practical for all type of organizations. Sharing testimonials of people who were positively influenced by your organization would be the next best thing. It’s critical to keep in mind one of the great principles of fundraising – people give to people. By sharing testimonials from clients, your donors strengthen their connection to the individuals they are helping through their donations.




It’s Okay to Say No

Nonprofits operate on different types of donations. Although the essential aspect of nonprofit organizations is fundraising, not all money is worth taking!

In 2015 Girls Scout of Western Washington had to make an important decision. They were offered a $100,000 donation, but the donor insisted that they promise not to use that money in support of transgender girls. Although, this was a big donation for them, they said no, and they started an online fundraising campaign to recoup for the lost donation with the name of “we won’t exclude ANY girl.” You can read more about it here.

Nonprofit organizations should be very careful about the strings that might be attached to a certain donation. Organizations should pursue donors who truly believe in the nature of their mission. Some individual donors offer a considerable amount of money, but they will put the organization in a danger of mission drift, which means they ask for major changes in the organization that would not align with the goals and priorities of that organization.

This can also be true with corporate donations. It is important to partner up with corporations that their missions are aligned with your organization. A wrong partnership can result in a very negative image in public. By saying no to certain money, you will show the dignity and transparency of your organization. A transparent and accountable organization will appeal to a larger number of people in a long run. Saying no to a “wrong” donor can result in saying multiple yeses by donors who truly care about what you are doing without setting any conditions.