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  • Writer's pictureJeffrey Nytch

Once again, it's all about relationships

Updated: Dec 16, 2018

Last year the Pittsburgh philanthropic community tried something new with the notion of "Giving Tuesday," an initiative that's gained tremendous traction over the last couple of years and engaging thousands of individuals from around the world in charitable giving for their communities. "Give Big Pittsburgh" was designed to create a wide range of prizes and incentives for giving by setting up friendly competition between the city's non-profits, with prizes for most giving for a given budget size, most individual gifts, most gifts in the first hour of the campaign, and several others.

I help run Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble (, and while we are one of the nation's oldest and most distinguished contemporary music ensembles, we remain a small and scrappy group when it comes to our budget and finances. So I thought our Executive Director had lost her mind when she proposed that we aim to raise $10,000 for the 2017 GBP.

We raised just over $20,000.

So this year we went for $30,000, and yesterday we exceed that, too. In fact, we were 10th in the entire city of Pittsburgh, side by side with organizations many times our size. How did we do it?

One of the most important things to keep in mind when it comes to fundraising is that people give to charities for one of two reasons: they believe in the mission of the organization, or they believe in the people running it. For an arts organization, that often means that our fans, the folks who love what we do, can be counted on to make a gift (either during a dedicated day or at some point during the year). But folks are just as likely to give to me personally because they see how passionate I am about the group; since I care about PNME, and they care about me, they will make a gift.

But here's the thing that's often overlooked, even by experienced fundraising professionals: the most powerful giving is when you can combine these two motivations; when you cultivate a community of people who care about your people on a personal level and care about the work you do. This is why religious organizations top the list of the types of charities folks contribute to -- by a lot: members of a religious community share both a passion for the mission of the organization and close personal bonds with the people involved.

So how do we accomplish that in the arts world? Well, for the last few years we at PNME have been putting tremendous effort into building a community, our "lime green family" (lime green being our signature color). We've held social gatherings before concerts, each concert has board members on duty to greet patrons as they come in the door and help them with any needs they may have. And we started hosting BYOB after-parties in the lobby, with food prepared by a different member of the ensemble each week. This last part is key: the food is prepared by the artists. Not a meat and cheese tray or a platter of cookies from the local supermarket; the members of our team share something personal with our patrons; they share something of themselves.

There have been many-an after party that went on longer than the concert, and where we have to literally kick people out of the building because it's getting so late. The conversations, the communal sharing of food and drink and ideas, has created a close-knit family that grows through these individuals sharing their passion with their friends and family.

Because we are a summer series only, with artists coming in from around the world, we have an additional challenge of maintaining connection with our patrons throughout the year. So we've launched social events with our patrons every month, send postcards or hand-written notes, and maintain an active social media presence that is not about promoting the group but simply promoting community.

With all of this as a backdrop, along comes Give Big Pittsburgh. Within the context of genuine friendship, the "ask" becomes natural, unforced, and authentic. And that's how a tiny organization raises $30,000 in 24 hours.

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