Cullen Foundation Request for Proposal

Request for Proposal

Strategic Investment Strategy to Grow Supports
for Western New York’s Performing Arts Sector


Cullen Foundation (“the Foundation”) invites interested and qualified consulting firms or individuals to submit a proposal to guide the Foundation in its internal investment strategy for its performing arts focus area.

The purpose of the project is to work with the Foundation’s Trustees and staff to develop its initial five-year comprehensive strategy to develop and prioritize impactful investment opportunities in Western New York’s performing arts sector. The strategy will build on existing funding provided through program, general operating and capital grants, currently provided through a biennial grant cycle, while providing the foundation with an innovative roadmap for additional strategic investment opportunities.

Cullen Foundation’s Trustees and staff will review the responses and select a firm to conduct the process. Responses are due by 5:00 PM (EST) on February 20, 2018. 

Organizational Overview

Cullen Foundation is an independent, private foundation dedicated to enhancing education for students in grades pre-K to 12 and advancing theatre and performing arts to positively impact residents of Erie County, New York. It was created by the late John S. “Jack” Cullen whose estate provided the funding for the foundation.

Jack Cullen was a passionate supporter of the performing arts and the Foundation continues his legacy by advancing the theatre and performing arts sector for residents of Erie County. Our local performing arts sector, which has a rich history and an exciting future, includes a robust and eclectic mix of organizations that contribute to making Buffalo and Western New York (WNY) a vibrant place to live.

While the Foundation believes in cultivating and strengthening a variety of performing arts groups, it prioritizes funding to those organizations where the primary focus and mission is community performances. Organizations supported span music, dance, singers, and theatre. The impact, reach, accessibility and sustainability of grantees is vital to Cullen Foundation.

The Foundation does not fund: “arts in education” requests; activities of organizations serving primarily their own membership; programs that benefit an individual school; and events with a performing arts component that are hosted by organizations that are not in the performing arts sector.

The Foundation has four full-time and one part-time staff members and four Trustees, all of whom are highly engaged with our strategic direction and grant-making work. An organization-wide strategic plan and deeper strategic investment plans for its education focus areas are in the implementation phase. 


Cullen Foundation seeks to improve the quality of life for residents of Erie County. 


Cullen Foundation serves the residents of Erie County by providing funding and support that significantly enhances the education of students in grades pre-K through 12 and advances theatre and the performing arts. 


  • Evidence-based: rely on evidence and data to inform decision making and ensure high standards
  • Innovative: Believe innovative approaches are important to achieving our mission
  • Continuous Learning: we have much to learn and anticipate new ideas and perspectives will inform our approach
  • Inclusive: diversity is an important value to be considered in achieving our vision and mission

Please visit for further information.  

Background of Recent Performing Arts Sector Investments

The foundation plans to award approximately $1.0 to $1.25 million annually to performing arts organizations based in and serving residents of Erie County, New York. 

In its first two years of formal grant-making, the foundation awarded a total of $2.1 million through grants to 41 WNY-based performing arts organizations.  The majority of these investments were made through the biennial grant cycle process. The grantees span several sub-disciplines and represent investments in organizations with revenues ranging from $30,000 to $11 million. 

Proposal Overview

Overall, the Foundation envisions that the consultant will guide it in the development of a strong strategic investment plan with a portfolio of approaches to complement investments made through its current biennial grant cycles. This is the foundation’s first effort to build-out a unique investment strategy for its performing arts focus area.

Early-stage work of the project will include working with the Trustees and staff to build a common understanding around what Cullen’s deeper goals, mission, vision and outcomes for this focus area will be and how the foundation will invest to achieve them. Another objective is to explore creative investment strategies working elsewhere that the foundation might replicate to strengthen WNY’s performing arts sector.

The selected consulting firm will engage foundation Trustees and staff in a comprehensive and thoughtful investment strategy, which will culminate in a highly useable report product. The report should include specific recommendations toward developing and implementing new high-impact programs and initiatives that can help the Foundation advance the sector while achieving its own mission. The future programs and initiatives may include: organization-based investments; larger sector-wide investments (capacity building, artistic projects); and/or the development of specific tools, studies or other means to advance the sector’s needs.

The Foundation maintains regular contact with dozens of WNY’s performing arts organizations, primarily through grantor-grantee relationships, and maintains a basic database (general contact information, sub-discipline, etc.) of many additional nonprofit groups in the sector that may also benefit from future foundation investments.  A general landscape analysis of the sector is not necessitated; however, the consultant may seek input from sector members and leaders, community stakeholders and outside experts to inform its work. Locally, this may be through focus groups, interviews, surveys or other means; this component should be explored in the early phase of the work. 


Scope of Work

Work will be conducted over approximately three (3) months beginning early March 2018.  The project will include the following components:

  1. A review of internal resources to inform this work will be provided by the Foundation, including:
    1. Overview of the Foundation’s existing sector grants
    2. Current program evaluation methods (LOI, Application, Rubric, Progress and Final Report templates)
    3. Past sector member surveys (i.e. post grant cycle feedback)
    4. Sector database (both the general list and the Foundation’s grants database information)
    5. Notes from staff on sector leaders’ input to-date
    6. Other pertinent internal documents as needed and available
  1. Strategy sessions with Cullen staff and Trustees (three-to-four in-person sessions). This will include a kick-off meeting to work with Trustees and staff to build a common understanding around what Cullen’s deeper goals, mission, vision and outcomes for its performing arts focus area will be and how the foundation may act/invest to achieve them
  1. An assessment of and the integration of perspective/needs from WNY performing arts sector members. This may be conducted through surveys, focus groups, and/or select individual calls/meetings and should be used to align the goals, visions and missions of the performing arts organizations and Cullen Foundation. For example, convening the sector members through focus groups offered at the beginning of the process and then again at the mid-point as a check-in to further align the Foundation and sector members’ goals and vision. A list of sector members will be provided by the Foundation.
  1. A field scan of sector initiatives employed elsewhere that may be successful if replicated in WNY; analysis of which might work based on similar conditions. Note that those programs effective in mid-sized (“peer”) cities, and those supported by other foundations will be most relevant and useful to the Foundation
  1. Preparation of a final report or deck (see below)

Project Deliverables and Desired Outcomes

  1. Three or four in-person strategy sessions with Foundation Trustees and staff conducted at Cullen Foundation’s offices in Buffalo, NY (assume three to four in-person meetings)
    1. Facilitate the establishment of a common goal(s), mission and vision around Foundation’s work in the performing arts sector (i.e. internal goal)
    2. Review findings of relevant sector research (other foundations, peer cities, etc)
    3. Review and facilitate ideas to pursue further as part of Foundation’s investment strategy.
  1. Create input opportunities for WNY’s performing arts sector members to inform the work. This can be through surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
  1. Deliver a final product: a detailed summary report or deck, including but not limited to:
    1. An analysis outlining key needs and opportunities heard from each group of stakeholders (trustees, staff, sector members, other stakeholders, etc.). Assessment of common alignment in each potential opportunity or initiative among sector members’ perspective and Foundation’s
    2. Recommendations on improvements to current funding approach (LOI, application, site visits, rubric, reports, etc.)
    3. Specific recommendations for embedding new strategies into Cullen’s performing arts investments, including achievable short-term action steps and sustainable, long-term goals; will include a priority list and timeline for implementation
    4. Estimated costs for each program, initiative and approach vetted during the project work
    5. Compilation and brief summary of sector initiatives and programs of similar foundations, cities and other relevant organizations that were researched during the project work
    6. Separate (shortened) deck to deliver to sector members to effectively communicate the Foundation’s plan for its larger “performing arts investment strategy”


 Negotiable range aligned with project deliverables and outcomes

Estimated Timeline

  • RFP released
January 29, 2018
  • RFP responses due
February 20, 2018
  • Interviews with finalists*
Early March 2018
  • Begin project
Mid-March 2018
  • Project Completion
June 2018
*Interviews may take place by video conference


Proposal Instructions

The proposal should include the following and be no longer than five (5) pages:

  • A work plan describing methodologies, approaches, and roles and responsibilities for how the work will be accomplished
  • Description of deliverables and outcomes with adequate description to understand the consultants’ plan for leading the Foundation through the work
  • Timeline: note your start date availability and provide a short narrative on your proposed project timeline
  • Estimated costs: list travel budget separately so that you have a 1.) consulting budget cost; and 2.) a travel budget cost/estimate for three to four in-person meetings in Buffalo, NY
  • Experience providing consulting services, highlighting foundation clients; experiences working with the arts sector; and experiences with peer/mid-sized cities
  • Short bios of proposed project team members; list relevant project worked on by each team member; list role in this project
  • A sample list of past and current clients (include foundation and arts clients)
  • Contact information for a minimum of 3 relevant references (foundations preferred)


Proposal should be limited to 5 pages (excluding supplemental attachments) and emailed to by 5:00 PM (EST) on February 20, 2018. Receipt of proposal will be confirmed by February 21, 2018.


Any questions regarding this proposal should be directed to Florine Luhr at 716-800-4265 or .