Christie Johnson was Arts Fundraising Fellow for Writers’ Centre Norwich. Christie raised funds from Trusts & Foundations and helped to develop new communications and fundraising strategies for the organisation, particularly for individual giving and digital campaigns.
Uncertainty, unpredictability and loss are universal truths that the arts and culture sector have been facing for a number of years now. The sector has been extremely fortunate and benefited from a substantial level of public funding however that has now declined due to the economic downturn. Arts organisations have had to undertake some serious reorganisation of their entire way of working; establishing a more outward, commercial focus and implementing strategies that incorporate a diverse funding model.
Graham Leicester reports on the current condition of modernity and the environment arts organisations must contend with:
‘We are citizens of a global society, living unprecedented conditions of boundless complexity, rapid change and radical interconnectedness – the defining features of globalisation.’
It is clear that arts and culture must evolve and adapt to a changing modern landscape. We must be susceptible to our external situation and form strong connections to ensure sustainability. This particularly rings true after the EU referendum, with current EU funding and important relationships and alliances under threat and scrutiny. Perhaps now is the time for arts organisations to form and strengthen relationships closer to home, investing in commercially viable funding streams, like corporate partnerships, to ensure resilience as uncertainty approaches.
For corporations, the current external landscape is also far from secure. A study by CPI representing the views of 190,000 businesses on the EU referendum (which together employ over 7 million people, one third of the private sector) found that 80% believed that remaining in the EU is best for their business stating harsh economic realities (reduced UK living standards, GDP and employment) if the UK were to leave. Although there is talk of negotiations of preserving a free trade deal, there is still concern that:
‘The EU will want to make life hard for Britain in order to discourage further breakaways.’ (The Week)
It seems that businesses, like arts organisations, are under similar pressures presenting possible opportunities and synergy between the sectors.
- Treat them as partners, not philanthropists!
Although purely philanthropic gifts do happen when seeking corporate support, the likelihood of being successful when securing funds pitched from just a needs perspective is slim. For engagement to be successful, charities need to stress the idea of partnership, a proposal that makes commercial sense to that business. Mandy Johnson, UK Director of Partnerships at change.org, in her blog states that most businesses are not aware of how profitable a partnership with a charity can be. When talking to corporates, arts organisations need to make the professional case highlighting the ‘very high levels of public trust, loyalty and brand recognition’ we can offer rather than simply being ‘nice organisations’ that do ‘good things’.
- Know your prospect
Corporates are like Trusts and Foundations – you must do your research before making the approach. Sending a generic proposal to a long, and uninformed, list of businesses is bad practice and won’t get you very far. Go on their company website, look at their ‘About us’, their values and CSR policies. What are their priorities? What language are they using? What organisations have they previously sponsored? Timing is everything. Make sure you are aware of their corporate timeline and when they are making important decisions about their budget e.g. who to sponsor that year. Budget decisions will be different for all organisations, and some will have 5-year time-frames.
- Create synergy
It is important that when putting together your proposal that you tailor your package highlighting return on investment for your corporate prospect. Is your organisation reaching audiences that your prospect might want to tap into? What unique opportunities for brand recognition can you offer? What about experiences for their staff? Create a package that is unique and appropriate to their business. The clearer the brand alignment, the more successful you will be. However don’t forget that it is a partnership, so meeting needs on both sides is crucial.
And finally, corporates, like the rest of us, are run by human beings (with emotions!) so try to ensure that your first point of call is personal (e.g. over the phone or at a networking event) and that you make a connection that is memorable.
What do you think? We’d love to know your tips for forging corporate connections in this much changed operating environment for arts organisations.