WaterFire Providence last month named Dana DiMarco, a 21-year professional fundraiser, as it director of philanthropy to head the nonprofit’s newly development department of philanthropy with a focus on expanding WaterFire’s community presence.
DiMarco, who most recently was director of development for Community Preparatory School in Providence where she led efforts to raise more than $1.4 million annually, says WaterFire is positioned to help build Providence’s tourism and the city’s creative reputation.
PBN: WaterFire is a beloved Providence arts fixture as well as a serious tourism draw that is gaining an international reputation. Might some people think the organization isn’t in need of philanthropic partnerships?
DIMARCO: That’s an interesting point. There is a lot that goes on here all at an amazing pace. Although we are fiscally healthy, we are a nonprofit that directly invests its resources right back into the community. We raise funds to advance our mission of inspiring the city and creatively transforming Providence.
While WaterFire is proud to present great art without charging admission, it certainly isn’t expense free. We have a talented profession staff that runs the organization.
Historically we have relied on sponsorships to cover our annual budget. However, to develop new attractions and make sure that WaterFire continues to make significant cultural and economic contributions to Providence long into the future, philanthropy needs to become a larger piece of the funding equation.
PBN: You were brought on board to assist in broadening WaterFire’s role in the community. What kind of expanded role is the organization looking to have?
DIMARCO: Remarkably WaterFire draws approximately 1 million people per year into Providence. Many of these visitors come from out of state and spend money in our hotels, restaurants, and shops. A university study done a few years ago estimated that WaterFire creates $70 million of economic activity for businesses.
We are working on new, exciting projects that will invite visitors to come earlier, stay longer, and experience more the great cultural offerings throughout our city and state. One of our goals is to provide a better interface for the many visitors we bring to Rhode Island. Our plan is to make WaterFire an even greater contributor to our community and economy while continuing to expand as a world class art experience for residents and visitors.
PBN: Where do you see the greatest potential for gaining philanthropic support?
DIMARCO: I see potential everywhere and think that right here in Rhode Island WaterFire Providence has brought a real sense of pride back to all of us who live and work here. I look forward to building on that reserve of great good will into a fund that will both assure WaterFire’s future and allow WaterFire to continue to inspire us with new creative ideas.
As we move forward with WaterFire and the 2013 season, I think we will see our community rally around what is considered to be one of our biggest and most beautiful tourist draws. I am excited about building a broad-based philanthropic program that will add major support from philanthropists to our sponsor base and to creating a range of giving opportunities for everyone at all levels to make voluntary contributions each time they experience the art.
PBN: What do you find rewarding about a career in professional fundraising?
DIMARCO: Fundraising is a privilege. I enjoy learning about what people are truly passionate about and connecting them to organizations with similar goals and passion. Often I am in the position of being able to help people realize their wish to make a difference in the world.
I have been truly lucky to be exposed to so many amazing nonprofit organizations. There is so much power in seeing how your efforts have paid off when you help an organization reach its goal and advance its mission.
The absolute best part of my career is the people you meet and form relationships with. It restores your faith in humanity. I would easily say the people I have met along the way have changed my life.
PBN: You have a wealth of fundraising experience but this will be your first role with an arts-based organization. What challenges await you in this way?
DIMARCO: I wanted to be part of a team that has the ability to create meaningful change for our community. Fundraising is never easy, especially in this economic climate. However, the staff and board leadership has done a great job in preparing the organization for its next exciting phase. This is the first large arts-based organization that I have worked for exclusively. I am always up for learning about a new field. What is fascinating to me is that art and beauty have such power to touch us so deeply. I am looking forward to using my knowledge, expertise, and networks to build strong philanthropic support for WaterFire.