A little over four months ago the Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy programme announced its first cohort of graduate fundraisers, with the newly-appointed Fundraising Fellows beginning their placements at leading arts and cultural organisations in London and the North of England in late September.
Having successfully completed my first three months as a Fellow, it seems appropriate to reflect on what I have learnt so far, how this relates to my expectations of the Fellowship, and what I’m looking forward to in the New Year.
New ways of communicating: At the establishment of the Arts Fundraising Fellowships, Sir Peter Bazalgette commented on the need for arts organisations to “get better at asking”. Humorously described by the Management Centre’s charismatic trainers as “bad first date syndrome” arts organisations’ fundraising ask often focuses more upon themselves and their past relationships, rather than the interests of their prospective partners and donors. Fundraising isn’t about talking about yourself and your organisation in a more interesting way, it is about talking about the funder, showing what you know about them, and listening. I have found this way of thinking extremely useful when writing funding bids and approaching prospective funders.
Diversification of skills: Prior to the Fellowship the bulk of my fundraising experience came in the shape of writing bids to trusts and foundations. This is a fairly accessible entry point for graduates looking to work in the third sector – having many skills in line with research and persuasive writing skills used in university essay writing. However, the Fellowship has improved my knowledge and access to practical experience of alternative income sources including how to build relationships with major donors and fundraising through social media.
The key highlights for me have been learning the following:
Resources available: As Fellows we have been privileged to attend talks and informal get-togethers with leaders in England’s arts and cultural sector. These have provided a rich forum for learning and discussion, with plenty of “top tips” scribbled and distributed at every session. The Fellowship has also provided a great opportunity for peer learning. Each Fellow is placed in a different organisation, with different art forms and strategic priorities, providing a useful way to access learning from across the sector. Being part of a cohort allows these experiences and learning to be shared, and we are fortunate that our group of peers is growing – with 4 Fellows based in the South-West appointed in November 2013.
Making a vital contribution: a key objective of the programme is that all Fellows make a clear and tangible contribution to their host organisations. This is made possible through training provided by Cause4 to build our fundraising knowledge and skills-base, and by our host organisations, which provide mentoring, support and the opportunity to practically apply our learning. My learning has been supported by my host organisation, A New Direction, through their emphasis upon treating fundraising as an integral element of business development, rather than simply an “add-on” to an existing job role. By integrating my fundraising work with that of the programme and marketing teams, my work is supported and I am able to make a hands on contribution to A New Direction’s development.
Looking forward to 2014, I am keen to extend my understanding of the role of the board and trustees in fundraising. I am excited to attend a Cause4 training session on this topic, led by Cause4 chair Sir Thomas Hughes Hallett in January 2014, and also to meet again with my mentor to discuss my first three months of learning as a Fundraising Fellow and key skills for development in 2014.