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Non-profits: Sweet Charity

By Selena Fragassi


Allison Nance remembers a special moment last fall when she helped host a fundraising event for Street Sense, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit organization that employs homeless individuals and provides job skills related to creating, selling, and distributing a weekly newspaper around the city.

“It had a direct impact on something I see every day,” says Nance, the gallery director of Hillyer Art Space, in the nation’s capital, where the event was held. “A lot of the people behind the paper came to share their stories and were so inspiring. It really fit with our mission to create cross-cultural understanding through access to the arts. Knowing our own community is something we really try to be aware of.”

One of the prominent ways in which Hillyer Art Space (a part of the International Arts and Artists group) furthers that goal is by creating a variety of public programming and readily offering their space to fellow nonprofits in the area so that they can host meetings and events at budget-friendly costs.

“Our rental fee is already lower than most in the area, and in addition we give a 20 percent discount to other nonprofits so they can have events here,” says Nance.

It’s also the policy of nearby Dumbarton House, also in Washington, D.C., which offers 10 percent off the total rental fee for charity organizations to use the grounds of the historic house and museum for non-ticketed events such as receptions and award ceremonies.

“It’s a great way to get to know people in organizations we may have not otherwise stumbled upon,” says Rental Events Coordinator Hillary Hughes. “Especially if we might be able to partner with them in the future. For example, we had a preservation organization that wanted to rent our space, so we thought, ‘Great, let’s talk and see if there’s a partnership there.’”

Sandra Christian also sees the symbiotic relationships that present themselves when nonprofits help nonprofits. She is the rental coordinator for the Glenview Mansion and F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, two historic venues owned and operated by the city of Rockville, Maryland.

“It’s a nice opportunity to be able to support different programs that are doing wonderful things in the community. That’s part of our mission, to be a service for the community,” says Christian, noting that rates for nonprofit groups are about half the regular fee, and her team will work with those that have even more limited budgets. Rental fees are always free for schools, too, during the academic year. “But there’s also a selfish reason to doing this, and that is, the more people you have at your venue, the more that are likely to consider it for another event. In that way, we are able to provide exposure while the event is underway.”

At Calgary’s Glenbow Museum—a cultural and contemporary art institute—Coordinator of Special Events and Museum Rentals Devon LeClair goes as far as handing out membership discount coupons to guests at charity events. “It’s super important for us to help out the community as much as possible, especially with the great spaces we have here,” says LeClair, of three open floors that can accommodate up to 1,000 guests. For nonprofits, they can take advantage of these rooms for up to 50 percent off regular rates. “It’s also a good opportunity for us to get them in the door more often as well.”

More Cost Saving Measures

Not only does a spot like Glenbow Museum offer steep discounts for the actual room rates, but LeClair says the staff works with various suppliers that also might be able to provide further deals. “We work with caterers and décor and lighting vendors that often do sponsorships for nonprofits. Not so much for the smaller presentation but if they have something like a large gala fundraiser,” she says. “And if there’s a concurrent event, for example if the group is bringing in a speaker that fits well with our exhibitions, we might partner with the planner to provide space for free in exchange for sharing resources.”

Nance says her staff also has worked with vendors to help impart further benefits to nonprofit clients. “We are aware of which ones are more likely to work with groups on pricing, and so we can make recommendations.”

At Glenview Mansion and F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatres, Christian says planners can also look forward to “having all tables and chairs included, plus we set up and breakdown for them, so there’s no added costs in that regard.” As well, she says, “We have an open catering policy and don’t charge extra for that either.”

How It Works

Another great benefit is that there aren’t a lot of extra steps to take part in the cost saving measures. “We just have to see a copy of their 501c3 certificate, so it’s pretty straightforward,” says Nance for groups that want to book at Hillyer Art Space. It also becomes a more streamlined process since most nonprofits book during non-peak weekdays as opposed to the more popular weekend days. “Rarely are events in competition with each other because of this,” Nance says.

“We take nonprofits at any time of the year, and we don’t have any blackout dates,” adds LeClair. “The way we do it at Glenbow Museum is on a first come, first served basis. The first to book the date is confirmed.” And even though more lucrative corporate clients may come along that want the same day and time, “We would never tell the nonprofit group you can’t be here because we have a client that will pay full price,” LeClair adds. “We are not doing ourselves any favors if we turn away nonprofits because we have someone that can pay a little more than they can. That doesn’t make us look very good.”

Christian is also adamant about that policy. “The date is guaranteed even if a more competitive offer comes through,” she says.

Hughes says Dumbarton House also makes the process smooth and easy for planners. “There are no additional steps. We don’t want to make it difficult for nonprofits to be here.” However, she also admits the venue has a few more restrictions than the other venues interviewed.

“We can’t allow another nonprofit fundraiser; since we are a nonprofit ourselves, our donor pools could overlap,” she says. The other qualifier is it can’t be a partisan event. “Because are in D.C., we get requests for a lot of political kinds of events. Our rule is that it has to represent both sides,” Hughes furthers. In these cases, she will refer interested parties to another likeminded venue in the area. “We all work together in that way,” she says.

Getting the Word Out

In order for both venue and planner to benefit from these mutual agreements, venues have the task of spreading the word.

“Our president and myself are always out in the community and going to a lot of networking events, so we can chat with planners about any events they might have coming up,” says LeClair. Glenbow Museum also advertises the option in their rental brochures. “The nonprofit world here is rather small, so people talk.”

Word of mouth is also important for Hillyer Art Space. “There are a lot of nonprofits in D.C. and we are all very aware of each other I think,” says Nance, noting the venue also participates in paid marketing on Yelp and social media channels—and they always welcome any chance to work with a nonprofit group. “A lot of them have a very small staff, but they’re always so hardworking, so sometimes they’re even easier to work with and we appreciate that.”

Get Connected

Dumbarton House
Washington, D.C.
(202) 337.2288

Glenbow Museum
Calgary, AB
(403) 268.4132

Glenview Mansion & F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre
Rockville, MD
(240) 314.8660

Hillyer Art Space
Washington, D.C.
(202) 338.0325