ambitious SF Cinematheque membership drive (was Re: volunteering in San Francisco)

From: Eric S. Theise (email suppressed)
Date: Fri Oct 24 2008 - 10:03:58 PDT

Lawrence Daressa writes:
> The San Francisco Cinematheque
> presents two seasons of experimental moving image art each year. We are
> now gearing up for our 50th anniversary year in 2011 and are conducting
> ambitious membership and donor drives.

Dear Lawrence (and Jonathan),

I alluded to this in my previous frameworks message to Esperanza,
but I marked your earlier message as something to come back to and
this seems like the opportune time.

Towards the end of *my* term on the SF Cinematheque Board, we
conducted an ambitious membership and donor drive, and to kick it
off, I became a Lifetime Member, to the tune of $1500. The
Cinematheque was a formidable organization in those days, we were
going through the National Endowment for the Arts' Advancement
Program, and our consultants drilled it into our heads that Board
Members needed to put their wallets where their mouths were. I
did, and, while not many others did, I do know that I am not the
only person who joined at that level.

As is typical with these things, that category was supposed to
include the benefits of less expensive categories, and to them it
added the benefit of receiving a copy of every SF Cinematheque
publication, upon publication. While the organization was always
lax about mailing these, I used to attend a third or more of the
programs on the calendar and Steve Anker would always ask if I had
one of everything on the table that was set up for ticket and
publication sales.

When the organization passed from Steve Anker to Steves Jenkins and
Polta, this benefit came under suspicion, then disappeared. After
nine months of pestering, a filthy envelope with my name misspelled
turned up containing the then backlog of publications. I have not
pestered since--why go through the humiliation?--and of course, no
publications have been sent. That was in 2004; I haven't attended
a show since, and, really, damn your eyes, San Francisco Cinematheque.

Our Advancement consultants told us another obvious truth: go out
of your way to treat your major donors well. Let them know if
there's a screening they'd be interested in (which implies knowing
or keeping a database of their interests) or invite them to a meal
or after-screening drink with a visiting filmmaker. Cinematheque
could never manage that level of grace, but clearly treating a donor
like a chiseler when all they're asking for is the benefits associated
with their level of membership fully flies in the face of any sane
behavior as regards fundraising and development.

Please treat this email as a request* for a full refund of my
membership dues. I'll follow this up with a letter to the office
containing my membership card (I will miss the sideways '8' for
infinity, typed by David Gerstein on an old selectric long ago).

All that said, it would be a happy day if the new ED can get the
organization back on track. I had three motivations for moving to
San Francisco in 1989: the landscape, the tolerance, and the film
culture, which the Cinematheque of that time epitomized for me.


P.S. I post this to frameworks a) so that all the filmmakers who
have asked what my issues with the Cinematheque are can know the
most cut-and-dry one, b) to provide an example for people who wonder
why organizations lose the support of individuals and grantmaking
organizations (e.g., the recent Film Arts Foundation discussion),
and c) maybe so that other media arts organizations might hop on
the phone and give a little love to their major benefactors; can't


For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.