I think it’s relatively safe to say that in the current climate, within our generation there is a growing sense of disillusionment – most identifiable through individual attitudes towards politics. With recent negative media coverage of malpractice by charities (including data protection issues and the tragic story of Olive Cooke), the climate is by no means straightforward for any charity or arts organisation. With intense governmental scrutiny likely to follow, this problem provides adequate moment to pause and reflect upon issues of governance within the third sector more generally.
The Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy Programme Year Three Fellows are quickly reaching the end of their first month within their host organisations. The important question to discern here at this early stage is: as 25 young professionals attempting to make our mark within the arts sector, what can we offer to the wider fundraising picture?
Northern and Midlands Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy Fellows, we have just returned from a training session at MediaCity in Manchester. The two-day event included a tour of the BBC Studios and The Lowry alongside discussion of structure within arts organisations and a debate on the future of statutory funding. It helped us to build on the knowledge gained at the National Arts Fundraising School earlier this month (see Nadja’s excellent blog on NAFS – here).
One of the personal highlights of the training session was a talk from Miriam O’Keeffe, Director of the BBC Performing Arts Fund. During the discussion, Miriam suggested that it is useful for us as professionals starting our careers in fundraising to get involved as a Trustee or Board Member for an arts organisation in the near future.
A Guardian report undertaken in 2013 found that 20% of trustees said that their charity board lacked a diverse range of skills. We often have typical perceptions of boards and Trustees within the third sector as being ‘male, pale and stale’. Indeed, charities and arts organisations alike have often faced criticism for a distinct lack of young trustees, with a 2010 Charity Commission publication titled ‘Breath of Fresh Air’ finding that only 0.5% of charity trustees were aged 18-24. Thus, any young professional wanting to become a board member may have an initial sense of trepidation before applying to become a Trustee.
However, there are numerous insights and connections to be gained both for the individual and the board through young people’s participation in governance. The immediate impact of governance training for a Fellow or individual with a passion for the arts are obvious: including a greater understanding of finance, funding, board dynamics and the legal structures, which help to underpin any arts organisation small or large. This can lead to enhanced knowledge of theoretical frameworks such as Stakeholder Management, alongside a greater general sense of strategic thinking and access to unparalleled networks.
For most of us Fundraising Fellows, our knowledge and experience of fundraising is relatively limited at this early stage. However, I think that there is still much that we can offer to a potential board or arts organisation’s governmental structure. As individuals with a passion for the arts sector as a whole – we can help to bring levels of enthusiasm; new skills acquired from studying and our intensive training programme, alongside a more general awareness of the requirements and perceptions of our age demographic. For example, we can potentially help to reach out to our peers to discern and try to understand why there are still high levels of disengagement with the arts, invaluable knowledge for arts organisations to help in developing their strategies.
Similarly, as Fundraisers, it is important to gain a sense of what it is like to be ‘on the other side of the fence’ – particularly if helping to review applications and commissioning proposals at a festival or similar type event.
The situation, in terms of young people becoming involved is slowly changing. However, the current climate calls for us to be proactive and get involved in governance to ensure that the arts accurately reflect the demographic of our customers and audience and to make sure our younger voices are heard in the wider debate.
You can follow Dav Williams on Twitter: @Dav_Williams
You can keep up to date with Dav’s Host Organisation Balbir Singh Dance Company here: @balbirdance or at www.balbirsinghdance.co.uk