“You Always Want to go Back.” A Revered Artist Colony Gets Serious About Raising Money


“Once you come to Ucross, you always want to go back,” says Stephen Jimenez, a writer and filmmaker now working on two novels.

He’s talking about the Ucross Foundation’s artist colony, which hosts 10 artists at a time for two-, four- or six-week stays on a 20,000-acre cattle ranch in Wyoming. Jimenez has been there four times since 1989.

Resident artists from a range of disciplines get space in which to work, with lunch delivered to their doorsteps daily. In the evening, they come together for a chef-prepared meal. Collaborations among artists who meet at Ucross are not uncommon.

Jimenez joined the Ucross Foundation’s board, and is now helping the organization expand its fundraising after the death last year of Ucross benefactor Raymond Plank, founder of the Apache Corporation.

By creating an endowment, which provides about half of the artist colony’s $1.5 million annual budget, Plank was the colony’s main supporter. Now, Director of Development William Belcher, a former fundraising consultant who joined the Ucross Foundation’s staff in August, is working to attract new donors.

This is not such an unusual story. Nonprofits that are founded or heavily backed by a single benefactor can enjoy years of stable funding—until that donor steps back or passes away. Some organizations aren’t able to adapt to the new reality of scrambling for money and shut down. But others rise to the occasion by embracing fundraising, learning the art of appealing to new supporters. 

“We are transitioning from a founder model to an engagement model,” Belcher says. Working with alumni like Jimenez and others, the foundation plans “Spotlight” events to showcase alumni artists’ work during and after their Ucross residency.

“Ucross is a revered place among artists, but the world at large has a far dimmer idea of what it is,” Jimenez says. “We want to get the Ucross story out.”

That story includes quite a few well-known writers who’ve spent time at Ucross. For example, Annie Proulx's The Shipping News and Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love were both written in part during Ucross residencies.  

Already, the foundation has chalked up some fundraising wins. Its first-ever gala, held in New York in June of last year, grossed more than $300,000.

A year-end appeal that started after Thanksgiving doubled the number of donors who gave in 2018. The 200 who gave in 2017 grew to 400. And the appeal tripled the amount raised. Total giving at year end was over $200,000, after Belcher had expected to raise $70,000.

“It was a record year because of this year-end appeal and the gala,” Belcher says. “This was our first foray into the engagement model, and it showed the board that this was the way to go.”

He adds: “We have big plans for 2019.”