From the side to the centre

By Maria Thomas on

Amy Simcox is the Development Manager at Derby Museums and 2017 Professional Fellow on the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Fellowship Programme.

This past year of being a fellow has consolidated my belief, that fundraising needs to move from the side, to the centre of your organisation.

I have found that Arts fundraising still at times invokes negative narratives. I have heard fears that sponsorship will compromise artistic excellence, or that trust funding can lead to mission drift. I have also been in discussions where fundraising is still referred to as a “necessary evil”. I think it is these belief systems which sometimes push fundraising to happen in silo. Kind of like the tricky relative at Christmas, who has to be invited but, who you would really rather not be associated with.

I believe this approach does not only limit the potential of your fundraising activity (and probably demotivates your fundraising team- no one wants to be a social pariah), it also means you lose the added value that a fundraising perspective can bring across your organisation.

For example having a fundraising perspective at the inception of a project idea, can help interrogate the aims of the project. A fundraising perspective will ask whether the impact is strong enough, who the beneficiaries are and what more can be done to take the project up a level and ensure it stands out. Answering these questions should help focus a project, challenge whether it can do more and strengthen an existing idea. Rather than compromising excellence, it should actually enhance it. Having a fundraising perspective from the beginning will also ensure the end product is fundable, which is no bad thing.

To be clear this approach is not about becoming funding led (although I would argue unless you are completely self-sufficient you are always accountable to a funder – but that is for a different blog). It is about threading your fundraising through your organisation to help mould activity within your existing framework and in line with your mission, to give it the best chance of being funded.

This is also true when you are looking at shaping your mission and your vision. Integrating a fundraising perspective won’t railroad your mission statement, but it will help ensure that the most powerful, compelling message is communicated in the right way.

In addition by placing fundraising at the centre of your organisation, you will enable the wider staff and volunteers to contribute to fundraising. This will create shared ownership and hopefully excitement, as opposed to anxiety, across the organisation. It will also mean that every member of staff knows exactly why their organisation is brilliant and the impact it has. This has the positive effect of creating a collective pride, and being proud of what you do is great for both fundraising and general organisational wellbeing.

I am really proud of the fact that at Derby Museums fundraising is now represented in exhibition meetings, programming meetings, senior management meetings and at the Board. Our Development Team have been involved in shaping the mission and business aims and in planning how we communicate them both internally and externally. This approach has seen our contributed income significantly increase, which in turn has seen a further investment into the fundraising team, growing it from one person to three.

So when looking at your own organisation and where fundraising sits within it, perhaps the question to ask yourself is why you wouldn’t want your fundraising at the centre of the organisation?

Go on, embrace your tricky relative, I think it will make a difference.

Posted by Maria Thomas

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