Cultural Philanthropy in Montreal: Place-des-Arts or Art Standoff?

08 September 2017

The richness and distribution of art and culture are never as evident as during the summer months in Montreal, even more so with the city’s 375thanniversary. The agenda couldn’t be more complete: from the Francofoliesto Pop Montreal, passing through the Jazz Festival, the temporary exposition “Revolution”, which retraces the ideals and aspirations of the late 1960s, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal Symphoniqueor the Avudo show, retracing the history of the city starting with the Saint-Lawrence River, making it hard not to find happiness here. Montreal, “City of Festivals”, does not hide its ambition of becoming a cultural metropolis of international influence. However, austerity policies have had consequences on grants, thus the need to find solutions elsewhere. In North America, no international cultural metropolis is possible without a strong cultural philanthropic system! When we think of cultural philanthropy, we imagine, with reason, significant donors and philanthropists. We are proposing here, to draw a picture of North American cultural philanthropy, and in particular that of Montreal, but from the general public, through Wendy Reid, cultural philanthropy researcher and professor at HEC, in the Management department.


The North American Model

North American cultural organizations find themselves, from their founding, searching for a diversity of funds that will not only fund their launching, but will also insure their credibility and sustainability. The hunt for financial support will accompany their development, whatever their results may be or the economic or social context they evolve in. Fundraising is thus a constant that is integrated into the functioning of cultural organizations and follows the artistic project in a strategic manner in its duration. According to Wendy Reid, the business model of cultural philanthropy, particularly in the Arts, in North America, follows a precise path: the progressive evolution of cultural organizations’ clients into donors, passing through several indispensable steps, of which the first step consists in buying a ticket for an artistic presentation or assisting to a museum exposition: “Buying a ticket is an act of marketing on the organization’s part. It’s an exchange, a necessary roundtrip between the individuals and the organizations, but we hope that it is the first step in a relationship that will last (or for the long-term)”.


The implementation of the donor development strategy follows the following pyramidal graphic. The “General Public” is composed of potential clients that don’t consume the “cultural products” produced by the organization, but are susceptible to do it one day. Then come the spectators, the “purchasers of individual tickets”. While they don’t participate in a fundraising campaign per se, they feed a database that will eventually be used for this end. The “subscribers” or members are very important in the process, as they represent the first step in the process of donor relations. The subscription or membership offers a global vision of the organization because it allows for individuals to assist to several events throughout the season. Becoming a donor allows one to access numerous advantages such as invitations to rehearsals, visits backstage or meeting the artists. This is how to start building a relationship between the organization and the individual. “It is no longer the sole event that interests the individual, but the vision of the organization throughout an artistic season”.


The Practices: Classic or 2.0.

“Finding the people who love our organization is difficult”. In order to find them, the cultural sector depends on the development of two main practices: the fundraising event, big classic, and participatory fundraising, also called crowdfunding, which is more recent and very in vogue. The fundraising event has its own codes and integrates into the “practical kit” of cultural philanthropy. “There’s a culture around the fundraising event, we have a tendency of thinking that a fundraiser in the cultural sector; we tend to think that it can only be a fundraising event; it is however a plethora of activities!” The search for leaders who will sit on the Honor Committee is activated from the get-go. “It’s a win-win relationship, those who have a network will be able to get their friends, not necessarily out of love for the cause, but because that is how it is done in the business world.” When comes the time for the fundraising event to take place, these ambassadors will sell tickets within their network. If they exhaust their network, they can’t ask for a refund and cannot sit on the committee. “It goes full circle, and we’ve already given to the person; we are witness to public relation mechanisms more than those of philanthropy”. In fact, during these events, only a small portion of the artists’ talent is presented; it is difficult, in these conditions, to build a lasting sense of membership among the spectators. Putting art in the background leads to more room given to networking. “Among the donors, there is a big difference to be made between those who participate in a fundraising event, and those who assist to a recognition event. The motivations are different. In the second case, art is placed back at center stage”. If an influential person leaves the network, will the other members stay? We are thus witness to the development of a competition between business networks sheltered by cultural organizations. In this way, if we consider that fundraising events are becoming, little by little, solely networking activities, what do we have to do to find lasting donors? We might consider individuals through mailing lists, “but the results are not that great for the arts in general in Montreal”. The size of the individual donation is not very high, especially for the arts, even if those close to the organization are targeted. Crowdfunding appears as the great savior, as it comes with its own database, is transmitted quickly on the Internet and seems to address a larger public, thus more chances of there being an answer. However, certain difficulties persist. Crowdfunding platforms are multiplying and it is difficult to navigate them. “Do we absolutely have to use the crowdfunding platforms? No”. Speaking of, do we need our own database to organize a campaign? Wendy Reid questions the sustainability of this tool. In fact, although this method is dynamic and “loud”, it is difficult to maintain in the long-run at the same level as a membership or subscription, which becomes a donation, a more conventional relationship. Both situations demand a great capacity for creating a sustainable drama around the fundraising. Mrs. Reid detects a parallel with fundraising events “We notice that success in crowdfunding occurs when it is within the concentric circles closest to us. Which are? Our friends and family! It is the group of people who love us. The problem, however, is the following: the day that a member leaves the organization, their entourage leaves the donor pool as well. Exactly like with fundraising events.


The Tool to Make the Relationship Evolve: Databases

The cultural sector must face a paradoxical situation: while it is the sector that confronts the most difficulties in financing (Dalphond, 2008), it also appears to be very funded by the provincial government and little by philanthropy. In fact, philanthropy in the arts represented 3% of donations (in value) in 2010 and is classified last in the distribution of donations by sector, according to the Bourgie report (2013).

When it comes to financial resources, their study indicates that Quebec is the most involved province in culture, and this involvement has been maintained through time. Cultural expenditures have even increased faster than the total expenditures of the Quebec government. (Dalphond, 2008:71)

Moreover, in contrast to other organizations like “Dans la rue”, organizations from the arts and culture backgrounds do not benefit from the same feeling of necessity as health or social causes. It is thus very difficult to obtain donations from individual who do not frequent their establishments regularly out of a desire to discover an event or an artistic project. This finding reveals that fundraising in this sector can be complex and it is vital to nurture the small group of loyal individuals in order to make their numbers grow. A solid and up-to-date database is thus necessary. “In the Arts, accessing information on clients can be difficult, the majority of non-profits don’t have sophisticated databases” and work with “homemade” databases that are quite diminished.” This tool allows for the development of privileged relationships with individuals, by finding ambassadors and/or leaders of the organization. “It’s continuous. We have marketing through the media, mailing lists, and it becomes more and more personal, focused on the individual and the relationship becomes philanthropic. It’s the great model”. Wendy Reid sees a parallel with universities, where students become graduates, then alumni and finally donors. However, there are nuances to distinguish between the two, as a subscriber or member can remain subscribed and become a donor. Students leave the university and are contacted to become a donor from the outside. “Data mining in a database is very important for our ability to help donors evolve within cultural organizations”. Mrs. Reid reminds us that in hospitals and in social services, patients can also become donors, but the link with the organization is not made under the same conditions. The Arts are not naturally linked to the characteristics of urgency or empathy. The approach must thus be different: “Donors to cultural organizations are in love with the artistic masterpieces presented. The fundraisingmessages are different. The tools are the same, of course, but they are not used in the same way”.


The particular case of Montreal

Many organizations that specialize in performance art and museums are located in Montreal. Be it for dance, theater, or the circus, many of them do international tours promoted and funded by the State. In fact, it is actually quite hard to assist to one of their performances in Montreal. “For example, the Montreal Ballet-jazz (…) we only get to see it once every two or three years in Montreal, presented by Danse Danse”. Even so, the capacity of a non-profit to be strongly anchored in its community is a crucial component of its sustainability and its possibility of building a strong relationship with the public.This Montreal specificity can easily be found in any other large cultural metropolis. However, between the public and the organizations that host the shows, we find the broadcasters. It is at this level that we can underline a particularity that is, according to Wendy Reid, in the absence of databases hosted by the organizations. This precious information is kept captive by the broadcasters. In this way, Ballet-Jazz doesn’t have the possibility of using this tool to its full potential: “Even if we had the chance of watching Ballet Jazz at the Place des Arts, the data concerning the purchases is not accessible to them. Thus, Ballet Jazz can neither offer memberships, nor collect the names or the addresses”. The North American model of cultural philanthropy is fundamentally altered, as the transition from single buyer to donor via a membership is compromised. Cultural organizations that own their own physical location are rare. They depend on the broadcasters: it’s the role of the Place des Arts and of other broadcasters in Montreal. It is easier to collect the information when you exist physically. This is why institutionalized museums and theaters seem to be spared. “Nonetheless, when we are residents in a large infrastructure, we can have access to the database hosted by the broadcaster. Such is the case for the Grands Ballets, of the OSM, with the Place des Arts”. At the city’s level, there is a delay with regards to the access of the databases. This situation is perpetuated at another level: Montreal when faced with other big cities in North America. The Place des Arts, main broadcaster and host of information “hired, a year ago, the services of a company that was to install database software for both it and its resident companies”. The renown Tesitura software, developed by the Metropolitan Opera, and adopted by the largest cultural places, didn’t have the opportunity of being presented to the Place des Arts.

Tessitura: Launched in 1998, this software manages all the databases of the Met. It collects precise information concerning al the organization’s contact: ticket purchasing history, personal information, and also allows for a targeted marketing towards the public and its subscribers.  All information concerning fundraising is also taken charge by the software. This data can also be used to generate detailed performance reports. The et is the most famous user of this software. From its beginning in the early 2000s, its users multiplied in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland (Boutonnet et al. 2014)

The tendering process specified that the software had to be in French, and it is not its case. As Place des Arts is a company of the State, it cannot accept software that is not developed in French”.The other cultural organizations outside of Quebec continue to advance together “This large user group, composed of the Met, Canadian Opera Company, Vancouver Symphony, and many others, participate in the development of the software according to their needs”. We’ll have to wait and see for Place des Arts. “We still have hope that Quebec will develop its own Tessitura”.




At the North American level, cultural philanthropy is going through significant structural changes. First off, according to Wendy Reid, the two main practices put in place are very different, but have one essential thing in common; they both work with the following hypothesis: “someone else will take care of finding future donors; the connection is not directly with the cultural organization”. When we know about the attention given to cultivating a particular relationship with the public, we can highlight a strategic incoherence. Next, the largest part of networking in the philanthropic activities of the cultural sector is a transformation that is interesting and needs to be observed. “With the Musée des Beaux-Arts, we saw an interesting development within philanthropist circles. We see the same evolution within the OSM or the Opera of Montreal”.However, if we don’t focus the relationship around Art, we find ourselves in a situation where we are developing business networks within a cultural structure, instead of megalomaniac philanthropists from all backgrounds. The “young philanthropist” networks of cultural organizations have the wind in their sails and are also developing in this way. “Many sponsors are attracted by the market of young philanthropists composed of lawyers, business people, as it is an additional and lucrative database for them”. Since the relationship with the organization doesn’t depend on the love of artistic work, we can doubt the sustainability of the young donor pool. At the Montreal level, they are arriving at the same conclusions, with a growing difficulty in catching up to the large organizations of North America when it comes to data management. Nothing is lost in advance, and it is in this sense that research chairs are evolving and working. “I think that these specificities explain why cultural philanthropy in Montreal is behind compared to other North American cultural centers. When we hear ‘Anglo-Saxons have more money so philanthropy is more developed’, that is reducing the problem, as this is not an exclusive reason!”

  • Dalphond, C.E. (2008). Le système culturel québécois en perspective, document de réflexion, Québec, Direction du lectorat et des politiques, 112 p.
  • Bourgie, P (dir.) (2013). Vivement, pour une culture philanthropique au Québec ! Québec, Rapport du Groupe de travail sur la philanthropie culturelle, 80 p.
  • Boutonnet T, S. & Poisson-de Haro, S. (2014). Live from the Met : l’art lyrique entre dans le XXIème siècle. Revue internationale de cas en gestion, Vol. 12, n°4.
For further information
  • Hopkins K & Friedman C. (1997). Successful Fundraising for Arts and Cultural Organizations, Phoenix, Arizona, USA, The Oryx Press. 259 p.
  • Klein, K. (2016). Fundraising for Social Change, 7th Edition, Wiley.
  • Lapointe, D. (2013). La gestion philanthropique : La gestion philanthropique, PUQ, 258 p.
  • Martel F. (2006), De la culture en Amérique, Paris, Gallimard, 620 p.
  • Paquette, J. (2011). Le tournant social de la philanthropie culturelle anglaise : institutions culturelles et gouvernance des problèmes sociaux, Lien social et politiques, Volume 65, Numéro 1, 139-154 (Février 2011)
  • Monier, A. (2017). Le soutien des acteurs diplomatiques à la philanthropie transnationale. Les « American Friends » des institutions culturelles françaises., Numéro 34 – Philanthropie
  • L’Année PhiLanthropique, août 2017, PhiLab, Montréal.