When asked why he gives well before his twilight years, Paul Carter, chief executive of software developer MapHook Inc., gives a simple response:
“At the Kennedy Center, you become to be like a family. . . . It’s not just about the shows. It’s the whole concierge-level experience they provide.”
And that explanation — one that prioritizes the donor experience — is a hopeful sign for arts centers, galleries, museums and theaters, which are competing for donations from coveted younger patrons. “Hook them young and they’ll stick around” is the conventional wisdom. And Washington arts institutions are catering to the tastes of younger donors, just as they’re becoming more important to arts giving.
Still, it’s unclear whether patrons in their 30s, 40s and 50s are eager to give large gifts to the arts. And because donors such as the Carters are so rare, there is cause for concern in the art world. The recent death of philanthropist Jaylee Mead, 83, who with her late husband, Gilbert, donated more than $50 million to area theaters, raises uncomfortable questions about the age of Washington’s big givers. Where is the next generation of arts philanthropists? Will their giving patterns differ from those of current donors?
Younger patrons have come of age in a fast-evolving world, where mobile entertainment rivals the stage, the gallery and the concert hall. And with shifting wealth demographics and the emergence of new technologies, arts institutions in Washington and across the country are evolving to reach an elusive new brand of benefactor, one who sees patronage as an investment, not a gift.
Arts fundraising is a competitive business. There are 115,000 nonprofit arts organizations in the United States, according to Robert Lynch, president of
Americans for the Arts
. These institutions depend on government grants, corporate giving and individual gifts from patrons, and gifts in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars are a rarity. According to the the Chronicle of Philanthropy, of the 3,882 gifts over $1 million in the past five years, only 189 were to arts organizations.
Older generations have always been the bread and butter of individual arts giving, but demographic shifts suggest that middle-aged benefactors could become just as important. According to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, wealth in America is shifting, with more millionaires in their 50s than in their 60s.