Spotlight On: Sustain Arts and Kenneth Rainin Foundation

Katie Fahey is the program officer for the Kenneth Rainin Foundation's arts program. We interviewed her about the Foundation's experience using Sustain Arts--a newly-launched fundraising tool that provides open access to arts and cultural philanthropy data, for which the Rainin Foundation provided seed funding. 

1. What does your foundation do? Tell us about your mission and your work.

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Kenneth Rainin Foundation is a private family foundation dedicated to enhancing quality of life by championing and sustaining the arts, promoting early childhood literacy, and supporting research to cure chronic disease. Specifically, in the Arts Program, we are committed to achieving a more vibrant, sustainable arts ecosystem in the San Francisco Bay Area by supporting visionary small and mid-size organizations. We primarily fund the work of dance, theater, and multidisciplinary performing arts organizations, as well as film through the San Francisco Film Society. In addition, we are deeply engaged in nonprofit real estate development through the Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST), and will be launching a new public art program in 2016.

2. What role does data play in your work?

Data plays a critical role in our work: it allows us to make sound decisions around the Foundation’s investments; to assess the progress of our grantees; and to reflect critically on our impact in the community. As our grantees will attest, we have a robust application process that requires them to share a significant amount of data, in particular financial information, such as their organization and project budgets, any reviewed financial statements or audits, and their Cultural Data Project (CDP) reports. Our grant reports similarly demand substantial data, financial and otherwise, on projects completed. Asking for this information helps both inform strategic decisions around who and how we should support the arts community, as well as enables us to more accurately measure the reach of our work in aggregate.

3. Has using the Sustain Arts tool influenced your approach to awarding organizations with funding? Have you learned anything surprising from the data you’ve collected?

We are just beginning to use Sustain Arts as a tool, though we have been excited about its development since the idea was presented to us. For our own part, I anticipate us using the tool for a range of purposes. For example, when an organization that is new to the Foundation approaches us for support, it will be helpful in offering historical funding and other data on them. It will aid us in determining which other Foundations are supporting our grantees, and perhaps reveal grantees of our peer funders about whom we’re interested to learn more. I’m most excited about being able to recommend the Sustain Arts tool to our grantees that want to learn more about additional funding opportunities. It serves to level the playing field in terms of access to information, making grants research much easier for grantees like ours that are sometimes earlier in their development and in almost all cases, interested in broadening their support base.

As I said, I’m a newer user of the Sustain Arts platform but an area I expect to be surprised is in conducting queries on organizations across the State of California. Because our funding is concentrated on the San Francisco Bay Area, I am most familiar with our local organizations. Though I’m sure organizations outside of the closest Bay Area counties experience very similar challenges, I also expect trends to emerge through my research (for example in rural California), to which I’ve been less exposed.

4. Outside of funding data, what other aspect of the Sustain Arts data do you anticipate will be most useful to your foundation?

While we are fortunate to have strong relationships with our funder colleagues whose missions and geographic emphases are similar to our own, on the whole I think funders are not in communication as often as they would like. Being able to access up-to-date grants data about our funder colleagues--such as how often and at what levels they are supporting organizations in the community--is important to us for a number of reasons. Some examples include being able to more readily identify which geographic areas and specific organizations are in the greatest need, and in some cases to gauge if our grantees have been able to leverage our support for other funding from our colleagues. Ultimately, it helps us better understand the landscape in which we’re operating.

5. In your opinion, how can data sharing and sector-wide transparency benefit arts funding?

As I previously mentioned, access to information about available grants and funders is critical to arts organizations at all levels of the spectrum, as such a significant percentage of their budgets are comprised of contributed funding. Whether we are talking about a small organization starting out, seeking to learn what their prospects are, or a large organization, developing a new program or hoping to learn about a funders’ giving trends over time, knowledge is power! What’s great about Sustain Arts is that it brings so many databases and diverse sets of information together under one, attractive, user-friendly platform. It has enormous potential. 

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Katie Fahey is the program officer for the Kenneth Rainin Foundation's arts program.