Monadnock Region, NH

Contact Name
Jessica Gelter
Project Dates
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2019
Business Planning, Entrepreneurship, Workforce Development
Arts Alive! offers fiscal sponsorship to help increase arts access, arts employment and fair pay, and the number of creative economy businesses in our region. Its something almost any nonprofit CAN do, but the risks involved turn many boards, treasurers, and directors away from this great option to stimulate the creative economy.
We would like to share our model for fiscal sponsorship management, and the stories of challenge, failure, and success that have helped us fine tune our model.
Our process of entering fiscal sponsorship and managing a project under fiscal sponsorship puts project leaders the tools they need to begin their own nonprofit organization businesses.
We will have launched 5 nonprofits by the time of the 2019 CCX. A total of 11 projects have come through the program.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
The goal of the Fiscal Sponsorship program development project was to develop a low-risk but highly accessible way to offer incubation to new arts and culture based nonprofits in order to spur and support increased arts activity in the region.
The things we've had to consider:
Business preparedness
Leadership commitment
Clear purpose
Accessible but controlled financial practices
Funding to support staff administrative and coaching time
Fit with the Arts Alive! mission and values
How to develop a transparent, thoughtful, and timely application process
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
Originally we designed the program to support arts and culture based nonprofits in the startup phase.

During a strategic planning year, we came to better understand our community's need/desire for public art. In order to support this we have allowed a group in our incubation program to remain with us because they are facilitating and supporting public art. They operate independently, we have contracted a lower fee with them for program participation, and they do good work and serve as a great resource!

Later we realized the need for project based support. Artists, community members, and groups had come to us with project ideas that we were unable to support because we focused on incubating and launching nonprofits. The community demonstrated need for project based support. We are slowly adapting our model, first with our public art partner, to be able to support smaller projects that do not have a long-range operating goal.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
Our bookkeeper was instrumental to this program development. We also relied on our insurance provider, our partners at the Entrepreneurship center, the New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits, the NH Secretary of State's office, the NH Attorney General's office, and applicants and participants in the program gave essential feedback.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
Fiscal Sponsorship is an amazing way to help arts businesses launch, and to support Creative Economy and Creative Placemaking. Here are our success stories:
MAxT Makerspace in Peterborough has grown from a small operation under our fiscal sponsorship to an independent nonprofit organization with a robust membership, an industrial space that is over 4,000 square feet, paid staff, and great community partnerships and a working business model.
Monadnock International Film Festival celebrates its 7th year in operation in 2019. It has a strong community following, international participation in the submission process, and now offers year round programming in a few of the Monadnock region towns. The organization has been able to sustain 1-2 staff members since its inception, and engages hundreds of volunteers each year for the festival.
ConVal Visual & Performing Arts Center continues to work towards building a multi-arts performance space in the "Void" left at the ConVal high school. A void meant to be filled with a performing arts center back in the 1970s. It was never built, and the community has been organizing around realizing this vision. Our program allowed the project to raise funds for a feasibility study and architectural planning, as well as to engage the community with outreach and planning events. They continue to work towards their dream now as an independent nonprofit.
The idea for Ashuelot Concerts began as a music appreciation and performance organization that would hatch in our program and develop as a means to employ and engage internationally recognized classical musicians. Through working with their board, and better understanding needs in the community, the leadership of the project developed a new program that pivoted their work towards younger audiences - ages 0-18. This has opened funding opportunities and employment opportunities for the musicians this group works with. They look forward to launching into 501(c)3 independence in 2019.
The Magical History Tour is a community group that will host a mural festival in Keene in June 2019 to produce 15 permanent murals painted by The Walldogs, an international group of artists who are professional historic sign painters. This group has had to work closely with the City to get approvals, change policies, and tweak ordinances to allow this project to happen. They are smoothing the way for future public art and mural projects. They will not become a nonprofit, but they will transfer maintenance funds to another arts & culture nonprofit, which will be the caretaker of the murals long into the future.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
In our community an organization called The Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurs has always been an inspiration. They focus their work on for-profit businesses and entrepreneurs, but have resources that also apply to nonprofit businesses. Their coaching programs, referral services, and workshops have taught us how best to care for these fledgling organizations and projects.
On a personal note: As an artist myself, in the past I have sought fiscal sponsorship from my local arts council. It helped me raise $5,000 for a project I was working on. The partnership was so valuable to the creation of my work it certainly inspired me to invest time and care to develop this program to artists and community groups in my work with Arts Alive!
Beyond that there wasn't much information available to help us discover best practices at the time we began looking hard at the details of our program. Many organizations we talked to basically said - "we just open a bank account and let them use it."
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
-Research into tax law, which primarily consisted of reading and meetings with a tax consultant and our bookkeeper/tax filer
-Development of bookkeeping procedures
-Which left us with a good understanding of risks to our organization
-Internal conversations about Arts Alive!'s values and purpose in offering this, and capacity to provide services
-Policy development for the process to be accepted into fiscal sponsorship
-Financial management procedure development
-Exit procedure development
If the project steps changed over time, please describe how:
This is our fiscal sponsorship acceptance process checklist

Initial Steps:
Make your request to Arts Alive
Review project against our guidelines
Assign Project Lead
Project plan submitted to Executive Director & Finance Committee for preliminary approval
Project plan presented by Requestor to the Board for preliminary approval
Board Vote -- Approval Required to Move forward

Required Tasks to begin Program Activities & Fundraising:
Fiscal Agent agreement established
DBA name registered
Insurance acquired
Bank account set up
Present a final project budget to Arts Alive for approval by the Finance Committee
Present means of measuring impact to Arts Alive for approval
Present fundraising plan in detail to Arts Alive for approval by the Executive Director


Required Tasks for Fiscal Sponsorship Continuation:
Meet with your liason on an agreed upon a regular schedule
Implement fundraising plan
Expectations to be reported on in updates
Arts Alive approves all expenses
Credit Arts Alive in all promotion
Measure impact
Complete a year-end report by 12/1 of each year
Pay Arts Alive fiscal agent fee by 12/1 of each year
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
To some this process is daunting. We felt we made it easy enough for groups who wanted to establish their own nonprofits to kickstart their process. But we also made it difficult enough so that we can't be quickly responsive when a donor offers a project money "only if you've got a fiscal sponsor."

Also the 10% fiscal sponsorship, tax reporting, financial management, donor tracking and acknowledgement letters, and bookkeeping fee that we take from all deposits is unacceptable to some applicants. However, no one ever tries to negotiate it with us - they just tell us that it disqualifies us as an option.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Education, education, education. In marketing and messaging the program Arts Alive! has been careful to include language about why we offer fiscal sponsorship - and that is primarily to launch new nonprofit organizations, not to be a "pass through" for grants or donations. Additionally, when we discuss the cost with potential groups, we're clear about communicating the services we offer that are covered by that 10% fee.
Clarity and transparency have been key - to have internally and to share externally.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
Know your values and determine how to manage risk AFTER - ours revolve around creative economy support, access to the arts, supporting artists to thrive, and absolute transparency in our decision-making processes.

Know your organizational goals and beware of scope creep. We had a project come to us for fiscal sponsorship that was focused on pollinator advocacy, but they wanted to utilize creative projects and public art as one element of their advocacy and education programming. They could've amended their plans to focus on the arts, but that wasn't at the heart of what they wanted to do.

Acknowledge there is risk involved with being a fiscal sponsor. Get insurance to cover it. Have policies in place to manage money transparently and safely.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
It's helped us support artists developing new businesses, and helped us support the development of businesses that support artists. It's helped our community respond to emerging needs with innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit. It's increased our greater community's ability to access the arts. It grows our region's reputation as a place where arts businesses can succeed.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
We are still perfecting the model as new opportunities and challenges arise, but success looks like launching new sustainable nonprofits, and we're doing that on a sustainable time scale - 4 nonprofits in 5 years. We also look at towns and populations that the art and programming reaches. Through our fiscal sponsees Arts Alive has been able to enhance arts access for new populations, particularly through public art and art in the schools. Donors don't often hesitate to give to fiscal sponsees when they know what services we are providing.
How did you measure this success or progress?
We continue to monitor, partner with, and stay in communication with groups that have been through our fiscal sponsorship program. There aren't too many yet!
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
The advocacy and educational power of arts, culture, and craft businesses is reverberating through our communities - these organizations are strong partners in communicating the value of creative enterprise to towns across the region.
CCX Workshop Handout