Programs/Publications

Feature article from the July 2012 AIRblast 

Consulting the (Fractured) Atlas

By Adam Huttler and Dianne Debicella

Since February 2011, AIR has partnered with Fractured Atlas, a New York-based arts organization, to offer AIR members support in finding a range of insurance options as well as fiscal sponsorship and fundraising support. Executive Director Adam Huttler and Program Director Dianne Debicella explain the range of their services.

 


Fractured Atlas has connected artists with affordable health insurance since 2001. Although we no longer manage group plans, we serve as a health insurance navigator and advocate for the field. To learn about available plans in your state, you can conduct a quick search on our website, and our skilled, dedicated staff is able to talk you through your plan options.

We're also the leading provider of liability and business insurance for artists and media producers. When AIR joined the Open Arts Network, we created several new programs specially designed for AIR members.

Fractured Atlas also provides a number of online services to the arts community, including Artful.ly (ticketing and CRM for arts organizations), Fractured U. (online courses in arts management), and others.

In addition, Fractured Atlas runs the country's largest fiscal sponsorship program, which helps artists and producers find funding for their projects.

For example, Bridge the Gap TV is a documentary/Web series about sustainable development and cultural immersion. Host Chris Bashinelli travels to impoverished areas around the world, immersing himself in local cultures and discovering first-hand the role young Americans can play in sustainable development worldwide.

In January 2010, Chris came to Fractured Atlas for fiscal sponsorship and immersed himself in the task of raising money from individuals and foundations. He worked closely with fiscal sponsorship staff to prepare letters of inquiry, proposals, and solicitations, learning the ins and outs of the fundraising world along the way. He has successfully gotten support from individuals, humanities councils, community foundations, and broadcasting companies and has raised close to $40,000 with Fractured Atlas's fiscal sponsorship program.

Originally, Chris and his team had their own nonprofit organization and hoped to get 501(c)(3) status. But in 2011, they decided this wasn't the right course for them. The decision gave Chris flexibility artistically as well as administratively. In 2012, Bridge the Gap TV will premiere a one-hour episode of the series on national PBS stations in a prime time slot.

Getting Started with Fiscal Sponsorship

Fiscal sponsorship is an arrangement between a person or group (project) and an IRS-approved 501(c)(3) organization. The project is interested in getting funding from private foundations, government agencies, individuals, or corporate donors.

Most institutional funders are either required by law or simply prefer to make their contributions to organizations with 501(c)(3) status. Individual donors, meanwhile, are more likely to give when the donation is tax-deductible.

Obtaining 501(c)(3) status can be time consuming and fairly costly. It can mean, for example, hiring a lawyer to help with the paperwork involved in filing with the IRS. So, asking an organization with 501(c)(3) status to sponsor your project is often the simplest way.

When a 501(c)(3) organization fiscally sponsors a project, it agrees to receive funds for the purposes of the project, which are then used to cover project expenses. There are different models for sponsorship relationships, but one universal principle is that the project must fall within the organizational mission of the sponsor and be charitable in nature.

All kinds of arts and media ventures — independent films, dance companies, art galleries, as well as public television and radio producers — raise money through fiscal sponsorship.

As Chris Bashinelli found, working with a fiscal sponsor lets you spend more time on your creative work and less balancing the books and filing reports — you enjoy most of the benefits of 501(c)(3) status without the accompanying migraine.

Good fiscal sponsors also work closely with you to support your project's fundraising practices and to provide educational tools to help you succeed. Your sponsor can help you navigate the fundraising world, carry some of the administrative burden, and help you get organized. Many sponsors also provide ancillary services like networking, consulting, customer-service management tools, technology support, legal advice, or fundraising training. Applying for grants through a reputable sponsor can even lend your project credibility, since the funder will likely be familiar with your sponsor even if the project itself is a complete unknown.

Getting Started with Crowdfunding

Whereas fiscal sponsorship is a long-term relationship that supports the ongoing fundraising efforts of an artist or arts organization, crowdfunding is a one-time effort that can provide a shot of adrenaline for your budget. In recent years, we have seen our fiscally sponsored projects experience tremendous success with crowdfunding campaigns.

Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or Rockethub use the power of the crowd to create transparent, timely, and sometimes viral online fundraising campaigns. Unlike an old-fashioned pledge drive or annual appeal letter, these campaigns are inherently social. Donors' names are promoted alongside the projects they have supported, and they are encouraged to recruit more supporters from their own social networks. Many platforms raise the stakes by operating under an all-or-nothing model — if you don't hit your fundraising goal by the stated deadline, you don't get a penny.

If you're ready to experiment with a crowdfunding campaign, you'll need to:

1)    Create an account at a crowdfunding website. Pick whichever you like, but if you have a fiscal sponsor, you should first contact them to find out which one(s) they can work with.
2)    Submit a project description along with a fundraising goal and a deadline by which you hope to raise all the money.
3)    If you're not raising funds through a fiscal sponsor, set up an account through PayPal or Amazon (depending on the crowdfunding site) through which your donors will make their contributions.

You can reference Kickstarter's school for a good rundown of how you should build your campaign. A few basic tips to maximize your chances of crowdfunding success:

1)    All crowdfunding sites require you to submit a written description of the project. The description should offer a good sense of what you hope to accomplish. This summary will be posted to the project page — it's your main selling tool. The language should be lively and engaging; you want to spark interest in the project. If writing isn't your forte, enlist the help of friends.
2)    An incredibly effective supplement to your description is a video or audio link. These should be short and sweet — one to two minutes long and similar to a movie preview.
3)    Select a duration for your campaign that is short enough to give the fundraising an element of urgency. According to Kickstarter's analysis of its own projects, the most successful fundraising duration is 30 days. Higher-budget projects well need as much as 90 days to reach their targets but be careful not to let your momentum lag.

[Editorial note: At the time of publication, AIR's Sonic Trace, the Localore project based at KCRW, is just launching a new Kickstarter campaign to build La Burbuja (the Bubble), a portable sound booth to gather stories of Mexican immigrants living in Los Angeles. And AIRster Roman Mars has reached more than twice his $42,000 Kickstarter goal for 99% Invisible, his "tiny radio program" broadcast on KALW in San Francisco and distributed as a podcast.]  

The Cost

Fiscal sponsors and crowdfunding platforms charge administrative fees. As public charities, most fiscal sponsors try to keep these fees as low as possible, usually between 5–10 percent of the funds raised (Fractured Atlas's fee is 6 percent). Crowdfunding platforms also take a percentage of the total raised on their site, whether or not you reach your goal. The host site's fees typically range from 4–9 percent, and the credit card processor takes an additional 3–5 percent. Make sure you take this into account when choosing a fiscal sponsor or crowdfunding platform.

Adam Huttler is the Executive Director of Fractured Atlas, and Dianne Debicella is Program Director for Fiscal Sponsorship.

Learn more about fiscal sponsorship through Fractured Atlas and apply online.

Please Note: In order to apply to Fractured Atlas’ fiscal sponsorship program, you must first upgrade to a Full Membership. AIR members receive a discounted rate on Full Memberships. For more information about Fiscal Sponsorship, go here. To upgrade from Associate to Full Membership, contact Erin Mishkin (erin@airmedia.org) for details. 

AIR welcomes inquiries about republishing this feature article in its entirety or in part. Please contact us at airblast@airmedia.org.