How Knight Arts Challenge winners have raised funds to meet their match

Above: Miami’s Rise Up Gallery, a recent Knight Arts Challenge winner.

Next fall, when Knight Foundation announces the 2016 winners of the Knight Arts Challenge, each winner will embark on the hectic and rewarding process of raising funds to match their grant. Hence, the word “Challenge.” Raising money sounds daunting, and it is, especially for individuals like me and organizations not familiar with the process. However, it’s doable – and   I’ve done it. To help others, I talked with previous winners of the challenge for their stories on how they matched the grant. I’ll start with mine:

When I started Reading Queer, which promotes queer literary culture in South Florida, I had never raised money before. I was concerned, but Knight made the process doable. We raised money three ways. I started with traditional and online (social media-driven) fundraising appeals, grants, event revenue and donations. I started with friends and family, and then I reached out to the people who have always supported me in other projects in the past and grew my network from there. I met as many attendees of our events as possible and some of those connections have become financial supporters. I’ve also asked our supporters to talk up the importance of Reading Queer for the community to their friends and family. I asked for ‘big’ money donations. I asked for small, $5 donations. I asked for what people could afford and I did it throughout the year to catch those who maybe couldn’t contribute in May but were ready in July. Here’s the kicker: I’m not a networker or very social, but you don’t have to be a networking-socialite, though it helps. You just have to connect and authentically communicate your idea to the community and they’ll have your back. That’s why you’ve been awarded a grant. Knight picked you because your idea has value. Build your fundraising efforts from that premise.

Here’s what other winners said about how they raised their matches.

Above: The Smallest Museum in St. Paul.

The Smallest Museum in St. Paul, which turned a vintage fire hose cabinet outside a coffee house into a curated display of artists work: “I helped the Smallest Museum in St Paul meet the $5,000 match by appealing to my personal family members, all of whom live outside of Minnesota. My grandmother had passed away in 2013, and her legacy was one of civic leadership through church, school, and politics. She was a formidable matriarch of a North Carolina family, and I sought to engage my family around the excitement of civic participation. I sent a single email to 20 of my family members, explaining the project and Knight Foundation’s vision for igniting communities.”

“I knew these family members were not necessarily ‘arts supporters,” so I engaged the next most obvious shared value: civic participation. Within two months, I raised the entire match from that single email. It was a powerful reminder that seeking out donor relationships around shared values is critical to raising funds. We will certainly have to raise money going forward, and we have some ideas about how to make our fundraising playful, which further honors the character of the project. For example, we could riff on the idea of “small” – a fundraiser for small donations (no more than $5) – furthering the spark of accessibility and playful engagement.” – Shannon  Forney, founder

Detroit Fiber Works, a fiber arts studio in Detroit that is also a gallery, boutique and learning space:

Mandisa Smith, co-owner, Detroit Fiber Works, with Najima Wilson (right).

Raising the funds for our Knight Arts Challenge Fiber Art Project was at once a terrifying prospect, frustrating, mystifying, satisfying and magical. How did we do it? We began by making a list of every single person that we ever met, with the hopes that if everyone we knew just gave us $10, we could make it to our $20,000 goal. 

Shortly after winning the Knight Arts Challenge, we were fortunate to be invited to mount our campaign on Patronicity, an online fundraising platform for Michigan-based projects. There were two really great benefits to Patronicity versus Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, or any of the other crowdfunding platforms. One, Patronicity partners with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). If we raised half of our goal, MEDC would kick in the other half. So instead of having to raise $20,000, we only had to raise $10,000. That was HUGE! Second, MEDC provided a videographer who crafted a beautiful, professional pitch video for our platform page.

We held a kick-off event.  We sent emails to everyone explaining our project, with a link to our Patronicity page. We also posted the link on our website and our Facebook pages (both business and personal). We made personal appearances at neighborhood association meetings and on local radio programs. We told every single person who came into our store. We did not get $10 from everyone we knew, but we were blown away by the people who we didn’t know, who gave everything from $5 to thousands (yes, thousands!).  That was the magical part. They say the universe conspires to make your dreams come true. We believe it to be so!”  — Mandisa Smith, co-owner, Detroit Fiber Works

Laundromat Art Space, an artist residency program and exhibition space in Miami: “Our experience raising the matching funds for the Knight Arts Challenge was somewhat ordinary. Knowing we had 12 months to raise the money, we set a couple fundraising goals on the calendar. In November we held an art auction at The Laundromat which netted us almost a quarter of the amount needed. Then in February, we had another art auction of the artwork created in our adaptive art workshops at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Thankfully, the art studio rentals we provide count as a revenue stream (i.e. matching funds) which covers approximately one-sixth of the total amount per month. Add that amount to one more art auction planned for this summer and we should have the funds matched by July!” — David McCauley, executive director of Rise Up Gallery

Above: FEAST Miami.

FEAST MIAMI, a series of pop-up, microfunding events where diners pool funds and vote for a creative project to receive them: “When we developed FEAST Miami, we designed it so the project would, in essence, raise its own matching funds. We did need to have start up funds. We used earned revenue from a portion of a large catering job that our chef Loren B. Pulitzer had during Art Basel Miami Beach. With those initial funds, we were able to get started. Now, every FEAST Miami event generates ticket revenue. Those admission fees are both the amount that is used to pay the grantee chosen by the attendees and serve as matching funds for the Knight grant. We also received sponsorship from Whole Foods Market and all of the partnering venues. Although we cannot use all of the in-kind as matching funds, it enables us to match a significant amount to complement the ticket revenue.” – Susan Caraballo and Loren Pulitzer, founders

Tigertail Productions, a Miami-based group that presents cutting-edge contemporary dance, music, visual art and literary events and programs: “Before applying, Tigertail had a very good idea about what our matching support would be. The match was in hand before applying for the grant. This method started 36 years ago with our first grant for $1,000. I knew I had enough in personal savings if the matching tickets sales were not adequate. Did not have to touch the savings as we sold more than $1,000 in tickets. Personal savings are no longer a part of finances, but we have a plan as to how we will match the grant.” – Mary Luft, founder and executive director

Applications for the Knight Arts Challenge in Akron, Detroit, Miami and St. Paul are being accepted through May 2 at