The first few weeks of a new job are defined by introductions: introductions to colleagues, to work, to schedules, to forbidding looking pieces of office technology and, importantly, to where the coffee is kept. The induction process is a daunting one, make no mistake, even if the organisation is superb at arranging meetings for you with all the right people and makes you feel entirely welcome. Opera North has been brilliant and the knowledge that hot beverages are free to all staff is, of course, also an added bonus.
As an Arts Fundraising Fellow, as well as there being the challenge of absorbing large amounts of key information you are given by others, the introductory phase also involves a large amount of self-presentation and self-reflection. With each new encounter I have had during my first weeks as a Fundraising Fellow I have found myself thinking critically about my role. In fact it has been no easy feat responding to seemingly straight-forward questions such as “what will you be doing throughout the year?” and, even more frankly, “what exactly is a fundraising fellow?” This is not, I think it’s important to add, because I am unaware of what is expected of me, or what the Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy programme entails. Rather, I think my often complex and ever developing answers to these questions reflect the vast amount of opportunities and experiences that I know that we Fellows are going to encounter over the coming year.
Our role as Fundraising Fellows involves multi-tasking first and foremost: we are working in a number of arts fundraising contexts and looking to gain a breadth of inter-disciplinary skills in the process. Though we will spend the majority of our time working in and for our host organisations, learning about all the practical, essential skills that are necessary for a career in arts fundraising, we are also expected to reflect upon what we see, what we do and what we hear. We do this partly in support of our Postgraduate Certificates in Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy Practice accredited by Leeds University, but I get the impression it will also be an invaluable habit to get into as we go on to progress in careers in Development.
As a result, we then not only gain a comprehensive view of what it takes to be an arts fundraising professional in pragmatic terms, but also an understanding of the thought behind our work, to form our own opinions about what it is we’re doing and to recognise the impact of our actions on the arts as a whole.
We have been presented with the framework in which to do this successfully by DARE, the collaboration between Opera North and the University of Leeds, and Cause4, who together deliver the Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy Fellowship scheme.
DARE is part of a growing and now national movement in the UK to explore the potential value of partnerships between universities and arts and culture organisations. On a broader scale it corresponds with an increasing interest in, and some would argue need for, more developed relationships between universities and philanthropy as both an academic subject and fundamental element in securing future revenue streams. In a sense therefore, exploration of the possible relationships between universities, cultural organisations and philanthropy, can only serve to strengthen all the parties involved through triangulation for a number of reasons:
- Outward looking partnerships from universities provide students with valuable insights into the inner workings of an organisation and possible avenues where they might be able to use their degree.
- Arts/cultural organisations as both businesses and producers can provide platforms for academic research across a number of fields from business, to the humanities and social sciences.
- Both universities and arts/culture organisations are in need of new forms of financial support and new tools to discover and capture them. Encouraging further interaction between universities and arts/culture organisations is therefore promising, maybe even essential in strengthening combined economic futures.
So, what exactly is a fundraising fellow and what will we be doing throughout the year I hear you ask? The answer will never be a short one and I am excited that it’s not. We are practitioner-theorists in training and with that role comes a lot to explore, a lot to learn and a lot to practice.