Dafydd Williams was Arts Fundraising Fellow for Phoenix Dance Theatre until September 2016, and is now Development and Alumni Relations Co-ordinator at Leeds College of Music.
As Tony Blair infamously once stated about ‘education’ in setting out his priorities for office – could the same be said for ‘evaluation’ within the arts sector in helping to defend and explain fundraising practice?
It is relatively obvious that evaluation is a prerequisite and integral part of any funding team, strategy or project. However, often as fundraisers we see evaluation as an after-thought, a bureaucratic necessity that is tied to a project or funding request – or as some form of necessary evil, rather than as a useful tool to measure and justify our charitable activity.
In a difficult funding climate in which MPs have backed calls for tighter fundraising rules and regulations, the need for justification and transparency is greater than ever before. As Peter Drucker says, ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’. Certainly, there is no denial that data generated through evaluation is important. But there needs to be a multifaceted approach within the cultural sector, bespoke to each individual organisation – that places the process of evaluation in line with artistic ambition and most importantly, value. (See Sophie’s excellent blog for more on creative evaluation).
By having a proactive approach to evaluation and data more generally we may be able to perceive evaluation as a useful asset for fundraising, rather than something which has to be completed, simply because the funders asked for it. Similarly, the role of the independent evaluator has also become professionalised, occasionally adopting and superimposing business frameworks on a sector that needs to perhaps more clearly define its attitude towards evaluation.
However, it is important to note that there is no point evaluating if we don’t do anything with it. At an Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy training session delivered at Dance City by Leo Sharrock from the Audience Agency in November 2015, we considered the focal role that data plays in any arts organisation, alongside the importance of becoming a data-driven decision making organisation.
Leo mentioned the three stages of the Data Maturity Spectrum, which are included in NESTA’s report Counting What Counts: What Big Data Can Do for the Cultural Sector:
- Data 1.0 – organisations hold some customer data, but use it in relatively unsophisticated ways and mainly for marketing and sales.
- Data 2.0 – organisations that are starting to recognise the latent value in the different kinds of data that they capture, and are starting to make steps in applying it, but most often not in very integrated ways (digital data is treated separately from everything else) and in ways that are often inconsistent both internally and externally, e.g. in comparison to the way peer organisations are working.
- Data 3.0 – those organisations that are really starting to embrace some of the potential that they recognise as latent in their customer data. From both the physical and digital domains – to create insights that are greater than the sum of those parts and where data is used to measure and inform impacts more than activities or outputs. These organisations truly embrace a data-driven decision-making approach in their management and in their governance.
This model could be applied to the process of evaluation in terms of an arts organisation’s approach and stage of conducting and utilising the information gathered. Arguably, as fundraisers we should be seizing the opportunities provided by evaluating a project to speak to our funders. This could demonstrate the transparency required within the current climate – making both qualitative and quantitative data that has been harnessed work as part of this, through innovative and creative-led methods.
Crucially, organisations need to unite and bring together the somewhat disparate processes of evaluation and gathering data in order to fully become a data-driven decision-making arts organisation. This would translate into increased confidence to articulate the organisation’s own unique message of artistic and cultural value to funders and supporters, alongside the ability to adapt and transform as required by the funding landscape and climate.
By striving to conduct more effective value-led and creative evaluation (see this <a href=”http://www.artsprofessional cialis generique pharmacie.co.uk/magazine/253/feature/creative-evaluation” target=”_blank”>Arts Professional article on CIC Light Box) as opposed to seeing it as an arduous, bureaucratic headache – arts organisations could perceive evaluation and data as the catalyst by which to achieve greater fundraising possibilities. This in turn could make the information resonate more effectively with funders and supporters rather than collecting it due to a sense of obligation.
How do you believe arts organisations could put value back into evaluation? We’d love to hear your views.