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Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance Releases Its Latest Research Report: “Beyond the Check: A Roadmap for Engaging Individual Donors”

The new report looks at what motivates donors to give to arts and culture and what organizations should be doing to better engage high-net-worth donors

PHILADELPHIA – April 9, 2018 – The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance unveiled today its most recent research report, “Beyond the Check: A Roadmap for Engaging Individual Donors,” to a sold-out audience of executive directors and board chairs from major regional cultural nonprofits.

Previous research by the Cultural Alliance found that individual giving to arts and culture nationally was down 9.7% from 2009-2012, and in Southeastern Pennsylvania it was down 12.7%.

Generous support from the Wyncote Foundation has allowed the Cultural Alliance to make a fresh exploration of the motivations and barriers, perceived or real, of high-net-worth individuals when considering financial support of the arts and culture sector. A task force of wealth advisors and fundraising professionals shaped and informed the research project, which was led by The Melior Group.

“Arts organizations are having major social impact in neighborhoods and communities throughout the region and are often doing that with much less financial support than many people think they have,” says David Haas, trustee of the Wyncote Foundation. “This report shows that misconceptions about arts and culture funding are what hold many people back from supporting the sector, and the research and education that the Cultural Alliance is doing in this area will be invaluable in maintaining the health of Greater Philadelphia’s artistic ecosystem.” 

The findings will lead to new strategies for individual organizations and the cultural sector as a whole. The report consists of three parts: a literature review revealing national trends in individual giving to all causes; the results of a survey to existing donors to the Cultural Alliance’s member organizations; and 18 in-depth interviews with high-net-worth philanthropists in the area, 13 of whom do not significantly support arts and culture.

“I commend the Cultural Alliance for taking on this important work,” says Eileen R. Heisman, president and CEO of National Philanthropic Trust in Jenkintown, PA. “Since most giving in this country comes from individuals, it is essential for all cultural nonprofits to make individual giving an organizational priority.”

“What came out of our series of interviews with high-net-worth individuals was that the decision not to support the arts is more often related to having different priorities and passions than it is a conscious choice to ignore the sector,” says Linda J. McAleer, president of The Melior Group. “What we found was high-net-worth donors’ decisions are based on what is important to them or to their families’ traditions and that they want to ‘feel needed’ for their intellect and abilities--not just their financial gifts.”

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Donors support causes about which they are passionate.These causes most frequently include education, religion, human services and social justice. However, there is insufficient awareness of how these issues intersect with arts and culture.
  • Donors are not monolithic. Differences in generation, race, gender and sexual orientation drive the issues donors care about, their approaches to giving and ways they engage with nonprofits.
  • Donors respond to meaningful engagement beyond their checkbooks. Personal connections and ways to contribute time and expertise are important. This is especially important among high-net-worth individuals and millennials.
  • Donors invest in transparent organizations.They look for organizations where they feel confident that there is strong leadership and sound financial management.

As a result, the report details several ways nonprofit organizations can engage future individual donors, including prioritizing the social impact of their work and how it intersects with causes donors care about, such as education, human services and social justice; engaging everyone in their organization, including their board, in messaging their social impact consistently across all channels; and diversifying fundraising staff and empowering them to think strategically about outreach to and engagement of diverse donors.

“This research shows that the key to success in cultivating individual donors is showing an organization’s social impact on the communities it serves, from children to the elderly, from healthcare to schools and everything in between,” says Cultural Alliance president Maud Lyon. “Donors who see the arts as a solution to a community’s needs give more and more often.”

The Cultural Alliance will continue to present the findings from this research to help cultural organizations better engage individual donors. For more information on upcoming events and a full copy of the report, visit

Established in 1972, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance is the region’s leading arts and cultural advocacy, research and marketing organization. Our mission is to “lead, strengthen and amplify the voices of a cultural community that ignites creativity, inspires people and is essential for a healthy region.” Our membership includes over 450 organizations ranging from museums and dance companies to community art centers, historic sites, music ensembles and zoos. For more information on the Cultural Alliance, please visit