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Keeping Partner Trust: A Support System for Nonprofit Arts Organizations

by Tamara Mozahuani Alvarado, Program Officer, Local Grantmaking Program, David and Lucile Packard Foundation & Chair, Arts Loan Fund

My first executive director position was with MACLA/Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana in San Jose, CA. I distinctly remember the day I started, it was May 7th, 2003 and I had just taken on the role with all the energy and confidence of an almost 28 year old, artist and recent youth center leader can and should have. However, I lacked professional financial literacy and fund development management knowledge among many other skills that gratefully, MACLA developed in me.

One year into the role, MACLA was a participant and grantee of the Ford Foundation’s Shifting Sands Initiative and worked with an intermediary to administer the grant. I found myself, one day, along with my colleague Anjee Helstrup-Alvarez, now the ED of MACLA, facing a nine-month delay for a significant grant that supported the work. MACLA was subsidizing the work with no funds. The intermediary was not delivering the grant on time, nor did it seem it was going to be delivered on time in spite of repeated efforts to collect the grant funds.

I became aware of the Arts Loan Fund (ALF) and after some difficult deliberation, applied.

As a new ED, I struggled with the idea of applying. Was I admitting failure? Why didn’t we have enough funds to cover the work on our own while the check arrived? I felt disappointed in myself and had multiple negative thoughts about my own worth to the organization and questioned my ability to raise “enough” money. I battled my own ignorance as well: I didn’t know that a delivery date for a check should not have been extended for months and months on end.

We finally decided to apply to the Arts Loan Fund, which was created by art funders to alleviate short-term cash-flow challenges for arts organizations. We knew that we didn’t have the money to continue large projects without the support that the Ford Foundation granted the intermediary to then channel to MACLA. I thought ‘What’s the worst that can happen? We already are financially weak and perhaps we can get some support to make us stronger.’

To my quick surprise, just applying set support in motion. We applied to the ALF, ALF staff checked with the original source of the funds (The Ford Foundation), who in turn applied immediate pressure to the intermediary to pay out the grant. The mere act of applying triggered a domino set of actions and phone calls that resulted in MACLA receiving an approved grant of $75,000 quickly.

The ALF was critical to our efforts in our own neighborhood and was starting to see us as part of the communal work. We were in danger of losing that trust if we were not able to deliver on programs we had publicly committed to. The Arts Loan Fund supported us, MACLA, a new leader, and most importantly, our work in a diverse primarily BIPOC set of neighborhoods that didn’t need to experience philanthropic/intermediary delays in funding.

My message to readers and potential applicants to the Arts Loan Fund is this: Apply. Our committee of funders representing multiple Bay Area institutions and municipalities are also, artists, arts administrators, volunteers for other arts organizations, and most importantly, we are not bankers.

We know that a for profit business is often lauded for taking a loan to support a new or ongoing initiative or project and no one bats an eye. The same should be said for the nonprofit arts sector. I mean aren’t we in the daily business of creativity and new ideas? We also know that sometimes, your cash flow dips and it seems to always be the same time of the year. Why not plan for it and get some support?

Whether you are in the beginning thought stages of a new idea, or your cash flow always dips before a fundraiser or a major program event, there may be a product in the Arts Loan Fund that is suitable for your organization. We benefit greatly from the fund being housed at Northern California Grantmakers with the keen support of long-time nonprofit finance wizard, Margaret Southerland and the outgoing consistent leadership of Krystle Chipman.

You can visit the website here to read up on our products and low-interest rates. If it’s not the right time or perhaps not needed, please do let a colleague in your circle know that the Arts Loan Fund exists and is ready to serve.


Con respeto, with respect,

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