What I’ve Learnt About Arts Fundraising from an Artist

By Amanda Rigali on

Amanda RigaliI recently ran a fundraising training session for the Lincoln Cultural and Arts Partnership.  During the session, the 15 participants and I explored ways in which all kinds of arts and cultural organisations could benefit from establishing some very straightforward fundraising processes.  Of course, a very important goal of fundraising is to raise money, but fundamentally it is about developing relationships, and building a network of supporters who value an organisation and are willing to support it in a number of ways, including, but not limited to, giving money.

I invited along the inimitable David Byrne, Artistic and Executive Director of the New Diorama Theatre in London, to talk about his experiences of fundraising for his own organisation.  New Diorama specializes in presenting work by emerging theatre companies, and attracts a relatively young audience-base.   David speaks candidly and humorously about how he practically sets about fundraising in a small theatre company that only employs three permanent members of staff – and none are fundraising specialists.

new diorama theatre 3

© New Diorama Theatre. Photograph by Richard Davenport.

There are some key points of learning from David’s work at New Diorama which I think are relevant to anyone trying to raise funds for arts and culture, whatever the scale of their company, and wherever they are based.

  • Firstly, fundraising is everyone’s responsibility. David is first and foremost an artist; what motivates him is running his own company, supporting artists whose work he passionately believes in, and writing.  David isn’t particularly excited about fundraising, but he understands its importance for the organisation and steps up to his responsibility to lead on all fundraising activity.
  • Secondly, make it really easy for people to support your organisation, and for you to administer their support. New Diorama has recently launched a Supporters’ Scheme.  For £50 a year Supporters receive an invitation to all artists’ parties and events, a Newsletter, and eligibility for concessionary tickets.  That’s it – very straightforward to join and for the small team at New Diorama to manage.
  • Thirdly, offer everyone who is passionate about your organisation the opportunity to support you. Too often, companies make untested assumptions about their supporters, along the lines of ‘we can’t ask them for money, they’re too young / too old / artists/ parents, etc …’  Rather than pre-judging who may want to support you, just give people the opportunity to do so and let them make the choice. New Diorama offers their artists the opportunity to join their Supporters’ Scheme at the special rate of £30, and offers everyone booking tickets for their shows the chance to add a donation of £1 or £3 with their booking.  They found that two-thirds of people booking tickets for a recent Festival of new work also made a donation of at least £1, which is quite an achievement as tickets themselves had been priced at £5 to make them as accessible as possible to young audiences.

The participants at the Lincoln training session all enjoyed talking with David, precisely because he didn’t make fundraising seem easy or ‘fun’, but he did make it seem important and achievable.  And, whilst it will always be a daunting proposition, that’s surely enough of a reason for any artist to give it a try.

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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