On Friday 21st February I participated in David Dixon’s training course for the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Programme, which took place in the sophisticated environs of the Whitechapel Gallery – to my mind, one of the best examples of sympathetic capital renovation of an historic arts space.
David Dixon, entrepreneur and management consultant, has a huge amount of expertise in marketing and fundraising, making him confident to share what he knew, and to be open to different opinions and ideas from participants. He covered a lot of material, but also adapted his session to allow for discussions about tricky issues which participants were struggling with. The participants, from organisations of all scales based across England, all contributed their own experience and expertise. They made new connections, and these, as well as the knowledge and confidence they gained from the training session, will help them put what they learnt into practice.
David’s intensive training session was to help participants improve their approach to income generation. The main focus was on fundraising, but other kinds of income generation were also discussed. David’s message was that we must have a strategy, because we don’t have limitless staff or financial resources to deploy – so we must create a plan to use what resources we do have to best effect. This is why leadership is crucial, because fundamentally a strategy is defined by what you say ‘no’ to, and saying ‘no’ to ideas that other staff members, or trustees, want to adopt, requires strong leadership.
David’s description of the multi-faceted role of an arts organisation struck a chord with all of us. Arts organisations very often operate as charities, limited companies, and public service providers. They are unusual in being able to generate commercial, public and contributed income. Whilst in theory this presents a fantastic range of income opportunities, in practice these numerous hats can prove difficult to juggle.
We spent a lot of time considering the issue of what arts organisations have which could be of value to other people. Very often arts leaders know what they value about their organisation and assume that their customers and stakeholders share their views. But organisations can sometimes over-value some of their assets, and under-value others. Arts leaders can also be unconfident about ‘selling’ their products, and will often think in terms of obstacles that face them with income-generation instead of focussing on opportunities. All arts organisations will have a rich source of both tangible and intangible good of value which they can commoditise.
The key question David posed to all of us was ‘have you asked people what they value about your organisation?’ Some of us had done so, but we acknowledged that we could all ask a wider range of people, and really listen to their responses even if they don’t always tally with what we want to hear.
The key steps to fundraising and income-generation success we explored were:
– The organisation’s case for support – an essential document, setting out why anyone should give you money
– Relationships – people give money to people, not organisations
– Viewing fundraising as a professional skill – organisations must gain appropriate expertise through core staff or freelancers
– Taking a long-term view – it can take at least a year for new fundraising income strands to make a return
– Invest to earn – fundraising requires staff and financial resources. Invest to earn ratios can vary from investing £1 to raise £2 through a fundraising event, to investing £1 to raise £4 in a well-oiled fundraising operation.
– ‘Ask for money’ – do it with skill, be prepared for some ‘no’s, but there will also be ‘yes’s
My own addition to this list would be ‘say thank you’. The main reason why donors don’t give a first time is that they aren’t asked. The main reasons why donors don’t give a second time is that they are not asked, and no one said ‘thank you’ after their first donation.
This was an intensive training session, with lots for participants to take away with them, whatever their role in their organisation. I’d like to say a big ‘thank you’ to David for putting so much effort and expertise into his training session, and to my fellow participants for making it such an enjoyable day of learning.
David Dixon will be leading a training course in ‘Strategic Leadership in Fundraising and Income Generation’ in London on the 30th Sept. You can find more information and booking details here.