When I started writing the business plan for Treasure Valley Children’s Theater I had to make a decision about the structure of the organization. 85% of arts organizations in America are 501(c)3 Non Profit organizations. This means they are controlled by a board of directors and funded through grants, donations, corporate giving, and so on. While some very successful arts organizations generate substantial gifts from donors, make a profit off of ticket sales and other creative revenue sources, the majority of arts organizations struggle to achieve their artistic goals and pay livable wages to their staff. And all of these organizations are knocking on the same donor/foundation doors for funding.
I’ve spent several years as a professional fundraiser for non profits. It’s extremely rewarding work, but it is also extremely time consuming. Organizations that can afford to hire a dedicated full time fundraising professional are more successful in raising the funds needed to deliver their mission.
And, in my experience, our society views non profits differently than for profits. Non profits are almost expected to give away their goods and services – as if they aren’t valuable enough to pay for. Non profits are often viewed as inexperienced and unprofessional – this impression is almost never true. I’ve worked with some of the most intelligent, innovative professionals in a non profit setting. But still, the idea that charitable organizations are not true businesses lingers. And non profits are faced with significant challenges that for profits rarely have to consider.
Treasure Valley Children’s Theater exists to produce quality theater arts experiences for young people.
I could file for 501c3 status and spend years trying to raise funds to produce a show and offer theater education – OR I can run a business that provides a service to the community. I can offer other businesses in the community excellent marketing and public relations opportunities through sponsorship. I can charge reasonable fees for event tickets and education offerings. I can hire (and PAY) experienced artist educators, actors, directors and theater technicians as independent contractors to produce programs. I can work with other arts and youth groups to create programs and partnerships that are mutually beneficial. I can do all of this work as an LLC, achieve the results I’m seeking, and avoid being another nonprofit arts group going to the same funders and asking for support.
I believe in the mission of Treasure Valley Children’s Theater, and I believe our community will invest in that mission, regardless of the governmental business status. Well, at least I can try!