Is shouting about our charity status a good thing?

By Amanda Rigali on

Jodie Marsden Profile

Jodie Marsden was Arts Fundraising Fellow for Artswork until September 2016, and is now Trusts Officer at Battersea Cats & Dogs Home.

Something which I am hearing increasingly often on my arts fundraising training, and something which I too am an advocate for, is that Arts and Cultural organisations need to start acting more like charities, or at least talking about the fact that they are charities. Many of us have been in discussion about the need to display a donate button on our website front page, and to begin talking more openly about our charity status and about fundraising for the arts.

However, with the charity sector once again in the wake of public and media backlash, this time against fundraising methods, I have decided to play the devil’s advocate. Should we shout about our charity status, if that means potentially opening ourselves up to criticism?

Source: UK Fundraising

At the moment it seems widely recognised amongst the Arts Fundraising Fellows, and the arts sector as a whole, that many organisations are still often not considered ‘real’ charities, or aren’t often recognised as being not-for-profit. This of course becomes a huge disadvantage when it comes to attracting donors but, with the current controversy circling the media about charities and fundraising strategies – could the lack of awareness of some of our arts organisations’ charitable status be a good thing?

If someone were to profess ‘I work for a theatre’ I am sure nobody’s first response would be to ask if they were paid, and how much. Yet, when I first started as an Arts Fundraising Fellow and responded ‘I work for an arts charity’ to a shop assistant casually asking what I do for work, the immediate response (said with quite extreme surprise) was: ‘Do you get paid for that?’

The public are becoming increasingly concerned with salaries, fundraising methods, and charity spending. Some charities, like Save the Children, have even started dedicating a page on their website to Accountability and ‘How we pay our staff‘ in order to gain back public trust. If we begin more prominently displaying the charity status of our arts organisations, will questions around our jobs become less about the art we fundraise for, and more interested in how much we are getting paid?

For now, I am all for shouting about my arts organisation’s charity status. I proudly tell people that I work for a charity. I think a donate button should be on every arts organisations front page and the word charity should feature in everyone’s ‘elevator pitch’ or USP. I am continually on the lookout for ways to ensure that Artswork is engaging in charity campaigns , such as by signing up for dedicated events like #GivingTuesday, which happened earlier this month (you can read more about it in Cat’s blog post here).

However, I do all of this with an air of caution. I have thought about and am prepared if I ever face questions about my work and pay, and I am always checking to see when charities hit the headlines. I would advise all fundraisers (and everyone else at your organisation) to do the same, and to think about some of the following:

  • Keep updated with everything going on not just in arts fundraising and the arts sector, but in the wider charity sector. What are the latest trends? What are the latest scandals?
  • Are you up to date with fundraising regulations? Are you following the newly worded Code of Fundraising guidelines? Are you aware of the changes to Gift Aid?
  • Know about your finances. How is every £1 donated to your cause divided in to charitable activity, governance and generating funds? Is your annual report available on your website? Do you have very large financial reserves, and if so, why?
  • Know your impact, both in terms of quantifiable finances and number of people helped, as well as the less easily measured artistic and emotional impact. Know the figures and be prepared to talk about it.

There are of course so many differences to consider when thinking about arts charities compared to health or international aid charities for example; what some might term general charities. Yet, I continue to wonder whether there will be a time in the future when it is necessary for us as arts fundraisers to actively display the salaries of our staff online and defend paying staff at all. Perhaps for the creative sector it will never be necessary. Or perhaps transparency isn’t a bad thing and we should be doing this a little more already to avoid the questions ever being asked.

What do you think? We’d Iove to hear.

Posted by Amanda Rigali

Amanda is Director of Strategic Development at Cause4, and Head of the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Programme. As well as running the Programme, Amanda runs fundraising training sessions for cultural professionals across England and offers intensive strategy support to a range of charities.

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