Stephanie Bleyer

About Stephanie Bleyer

Stephanie Bleyer is an outreach and engagement campaign manager. She provides a wide range of a la carte services for her clients, from community engagement coordination and partnership cultivation to event production and fundraising. In the last few years, Stephanie has raised millions of dollars and worked on the engagement campaigns for over 20 documentary films. She is currently working with American Promise (Sundance 2013), God Loves Uganda (Sundance 2013), Escape Fire (Sundance 2012), Studio H, and Creative Capital grantee Matthew Moore's Digital Farm Collective. Stephanie holds an MPA from NYU's Wagner School of Public Service. You can learn more about what Stephanie does and contact her through

How to Raise Funds for Your Socially Engaged Project, Part 3: Funding from Other Sources

Stephanie Bleyer presenting at the 2013 Creative Capital Grantee OrientationStephanie Bleyer presenting “Fundraising 101” at the 2013 Creative Capital Grantee Orientation

In the first post in this series, I shared my tips for finding foundations and philanthropists to support your socially engaged art projects, and in second I offered suggestions for writing and submitting the proposal. This post will cover other ways to source funding for your project.

Individual Giving
I’ve yet to meet an artist who is comfortable asking for money. If it makes your skin crawl, here’s an easy alternative: When you meet a potential donor, ask them to invite some friends over and host a gathering for you at their house or office. You can help them organize a salon discussing the issues in your project, you can show a screening of your film in progress or a preview of your next installation. At the event, you do not have to ask their friends for money. Be prepared to stand up and present your project and, more importantly, the issue you hope to affect. This is called a “friendraiser.” Collect cards and follow up with these new “friends” after the event is over.

If you’re on the festival circuit or you’re touring a show, take advantage of each city you’re visiting and find someone to host a gathering while you’re in town. I prioritize getting my clients into festivals in second-home communities like Palm Springs, Fire Island, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, the Hamptons and the Berkshires. Once we’re in, we work our network to find someone to host an intimate gathering for the filmmaker. If you want to be even more focused, target second-home communities that will be most interested in your issue. For example: if the project is about the Chinese-LGBT community, I’ll try to set up parties in the most popular second-home communities for Chinese-LGBT. This may seem a no-brainer, but over and again folks I work with are missing this opportunity. Continue reading

How to Raise Funds for Your Socially Engaged Project, Part 2: Writing the Proposal

Still from the film American Promise, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, 2013. The author, Stephanie Bleyer, produced a transmedia engagement campaign for the film.

In my last post, I shared my tips for finding foundations and philanthropists to support your socially engaged art projects. This post will cover writing and submitting the proposal, and what to do after you get the grant (we know you will).

Writing The Proposal
Here are just a few generalities to keep in mind when you start writing:

  1. Don’t say it’s urgent. It’s probably not. Unless you’re a few dollars away from curing cancer, no need to use the “now or never” card.
  2. For the most part, don’t write in first-person singular. Exceptions include individual fellowship applications.
  3. Don’t say that all you want to do is raise awareness. If that’s your goal, don’t ask for engagement funding.
  4. Save the art-speak for your next book. If your proposal is so muddled with art-speak that the funder can’t understand what you actually propose to do, you’re not going to get funded.
  5. Personalize the proposal. Don’t submit a template. Show them you’ve done your homework and that you know exactly what they fund and why you are a perfect fit for them.
  6. If you have to fill out an online form, copy and paste all of the questions from the form into a Word document so you can work off-line and not risk losing your master draft. Continue reading

How to Raise Funds For Your Socially Engaged Project, Part I: Finding Foundations & Philanthropists

Pictured: Digital Farm Collective, a project by Creative Capital grantee Matthew Moore (2008 Visual Arts). The author, Stephanie Bleyer, worked with Moore to plan and fundraise for the project.

I support artists across disciplines creating social advocacy artwork. What ties them all together is that they are trying to use their creativity to affect change. I have raised millions of dollars for my clients’ production budgets and engagement campaigns––without the help of crowdfunding, which from my experience, can take over your life. In this three-part blog post, I will tell you how I do it.

A Note About Fiscal Sponsorship
If you don’t have 501c(3) status, you’ll need a fiscal sponsor to receive most grants. If you are unclear whether a sponsor is necessary, call the foundation. I once won a $400k grant for a client, which I applied for through a fiscal sponsor. I later found out that fiscal sponsorship was unnecessary for this grant.  As a result, I lost three percent of the grant to the fiscal sponsor.

In general, be prepared to turn over three to eight percent of each grant to your fiscal sponsor. Having said that, you can (and should) negotiate their percentage. Some will serve as simple pass-throughs; others will do your taxes, manage your books, review your contracts and provide backend support. My absolute favorite fiscal sponsor is Sustainable Markets Foundation. Fractured Atlas is also a good one.

Note: Some government grants will not fund a fiscally sponsored project. Continue reading

Troy Story: Tips for Reaching and Engaging Your Community

Stephanie Bleyer presented on Community Engagement at the 2012 Creative Capital Artist Retreat.

In 2011, the good citizens of Troy, Michigan hired some smart strategists and succeeded in saving their public library, thanks to a clever outreach and engagement campaign. The campaign united the community by creating a rallying cry that everyone could get behind, and (importantly) they used every medium available to them—old school and high tech tools—to get their message out. Check out this terrific 3-minute video about their efforts.

This summer, I spoke at Creative Capital’s Artist Retreat about effective outreach and engagement strategies. I started my talk by showing the Troy story. It’s not tied to a piece of art, but there’s a lot of good stuff in there that we can all learn from, including these tips:

  1. Turn a political issue into a moral issue. In the case of Troy, the organizers re-framed the issue from being about taxes to being about the value of books. Moving away from political divisiveness will help you engage a broader audience.
  2. Localize your campaign. If your work is about a big, national issue, enable and encourage local organizers to use your work to focus their community on a local issue. Providing a local avenue for action will yield the most impactful, long lasting campaign.
  3. Make it memorable. Online petitions­­—not memorable. Throwing a book burning party—memorable. Create a campaign that will get people talking. Texting too. But talking is better.
  4. Get off line. Having a lot of Facebook fans is not an engagement campaign. Use social media tools to compliment and push off-line action.

I work with filmmakers, artists, authors and nonprofits to develop, fundraise for and execute their engagement campaigns. My work is about getting people to get off their duff and do something. How can you and your work benefit from creating an engagement campaign? Continue reading