Taking on a Fundraising Challenge

By Amanda Rigali on

Cat Palmer Profile

Cat Palmer was Arts Fundraising Fellow for Wiltshire Music Centre until September 2016, and has remained at the organisation as Development Assistant.

Back in December 2015, I wrote about using Giving Tuesday to launch Wiltshire Music Centre’s Vitality Bath Half Marathon campaign. Now I’d like to talk about something broader: why I think arts organisations should consider including challenge events as part of their fundraising strategy.

They’re risky. They’re time-intensive. They can be difficult to convert one-time donors into regular supporters. In short, they’re not the most effective way to spend our time as fundraisers when we already have so many competing demands on our time.

However, although these things are true – and are probably why the Sage Gateshead’s Grade-1-athon and the Hallé Orchestra’s participation in the Manchester 10k are relatively unique amongst arts charities – I believe that the overall benefits to arts organisations are worth it. In addition, research has shown that 92% of people who have participated in challenge events to fundraise for charities would do it again – and although this is across the whole not-for-profit sector and arts charities are only a very small part of this wider reach, hopefully their participation will grow in the future.

My experience from managing the Wiltshire Music Centre’s Vitality Bath Half Marathon team demonstrated the following benefits of participating in challenge events:

    1. 2016 was the first year that the Wiltshire Music Centre participated in a challenge event, and our team raised £4,307.50 in total. This took our average amount raised per runner to £430.75, exceeding the £380 average for the event, and despite having the average 10% of runners not raising any funds. Financially, it was an important part of our fundraising, and an exciting new way of further diversifying our fundraising activity. Like any event, we invested time and money, but the return on investment was worth it.
Members of the Royal Northern Sinfonia who took on the challenge of learning a new instrument to raise funds for the Sage Gateshead

Members of the Royal Northern Sinfonia who took on the challenge of learning a new instrument to raise funds for the Sage Gateshead.

  1. It was an effective way to raise the profile of the Wiltshire Music Centre; both as an organisation that some people are still unaware of, and as a charity worthy of support. Arts charities are still rarely in the forefront of people’s minds to support compared to other causes, and this is still an important perception to change (for more on this, read Nick Jackman’s thoughts). On race day, we had a stand with photos and information about what we do, but we were creative beyond this – our runners t-shirts and banners for our supporters all attracted positive attention, and increased our visibility around Bath.
  1. As a result of our increased visibility on race day, combined with social media activity, new donors supported us. Although it can be difficult to retain new supporters from challenge events because they are often donating towards their family or friends efforts and may have less connection to the charity, it is something that we should work on developing further so that these supporters are more likely to remain engaged with the Centre after the event.
  1. The Vitality Bath half marathon also brought the staff team at the Centre together, as three members of staff were running it, resulting in some healthy competition over race times and fundraising success! This has been important in helping to encourage everyone in the office to be a fundraiser – not just the Development Department.

So, getting your arts organisation involved in a challenge event can provide additional income, raise awareness about your charity and help more staff feel like fundraisers – and with so many challenge events on offer, from 5ks to marathons, walks to triathlons, there will be something to suit every arts charity!

Has your arts organisation participated in a challenge event before, or are you thinking about doing so? We’d love to hear your thoughts, please comment below.

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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