After two years of a recession, the only thing nearly as bothersome as the floundering economy is hearing so few solutions in the sea of problems. In the field of philanthropy, however, Marts & Lundy has found success with a concept that has been a pillar in the fundraising community long before the markets took a dive—public-private partnerships.
“Consider the case of public universities from the 1960s to 1980s,” proposes Roy Muir, a senior consultant with Marts & Lundy who specializes in public university fundraising. “A few of the major public universities started individual fundraising programs in the 60s, and by the 70s you’d still see as much as 70% to 80% of their general fund support from state legislatures. Today, that percentage has dropped to a range of 25% to 50%, sometimes even lower. Nearly every public university has placed an increasing focus on building private giving programs.”
And while those percentages may vary with the arts or other social programs, the benefit of the partnership is still the same: two tracks of revenue from diverse sources to achieve the ultimate fundraising goal. With the expansion of state-funded systems and increasingly stretched tax revenues, multiple fund sources from the private sector have been not only helpful, but often necessary to keep programs running. Although the diversity of the donor pool is a helpful way to combat recession-battered public funding and private spending trends, it is absolutely imperative to effectively communicate why private money is needed to support a public institution.
“Therein lies the key challenge with public-private partnerships: communication,” says Willard White, a senior consultant with Marts & Lundy’s Arts & Culture Practice Group. “If tax dollars are traditionally the sole financial support of an institution, then it will be very difficult to attain private funding without careful communication with the public. Articulating the vision, objectives and specific details of the project is absolutely vital. We must build a crystal clear case to private donors that their money isn’t just going to a good cause, but it is absolutely necessary in partnership with public funding.”
In building that case for the funding partnership, Marts & Lundy’s experience comes into play in making financial projections with two very different realms of donation sources, aiding the institution in specific advanced planning and ultimately building a compelling communication strategy that ensures the story that best represents the institution reaches the people who need to hear it.
“This entire process keeps the client responsive to the true public good, and the partnership process is something that will stay with both the institution and the community well after the initial campaign,” adds White. “When you bring private and public funding together, you’re relying on a very broad, diverse group of funding sources, and that diversity makes the institution both stronger financially and more accountable to its patrons. The partnership ultimately honors the public good and enriches the lives of everyone involved.”