In conversation with Chris Martin, Head of Development at Historic Royal Palaces

In conversation with Chris Martin, Head of Development at Historic Royal Palaces

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Sandie Mattioli, the Arts Fundraising Fellow for Whitechapel Gallery, attended the ‘In conversation with …’ event.

Last week we were fortunate to have Chris Martin, Head of Development at  Historic Royal Palaces come and speak at the Cause4 offices. Whilst Historic Royal Palaces manages some of the most historic buildings in England, including the Tower of London, Kensington Palace and Hampton Court, it receives no public subsidy and relies entirely on earned and contributed income. As such we were really interested to hear what Chris had to say about courting (if you will pardon the pun!) and keeping supporters.

Chris was at great pains to stress the independence of the Historic Royal Palaces – specifically their independence both from the Government and the Crown. Independence is a key part of their brand, allows them to experiment, and is what gives the organisation its voice. It became apparent that this independence shapes everything that Historic Royal Palaces does.

Historic Royal Palaces relies on both earned and contributed income to survive and importantly thrive; they operate a mixed economic model and an entrepreneurial approach to raising funds. Ticket sales are part of the business plan, and this year will see them welcome, they expect,  a record breaking 4 million visitors. Retail sales also line their purse – not least thanks to the sale of £12 million (yes million) worth of Beefeater teddies each year (and other enticing retail offerings of course!). Catering and entertaining also contributes to their income. This income allows them to open the doors every day,  but fundraising really comes to the fore to provide a firm foundation for the organisation and for the planning and realisation of large-scale projects.

The firm foundation element of their case for support is linked to coping with unexpected consequences, for example, visitor numbers dropped significantly during the foot and mouth outbreak and after the 7/7 bombings. The large-scale projects element of their fundraising is linked to specific projects at their properties; including recent work at Kensington Palace (a new £13million garden, visitor hub and Queen Victoria exhibition), the Tower of London (preparing the crown jewels for the Diamond Jubilee and improvements to the White Tower) and Kew Palace (the discovery and restoration of King George’s kitchens).

Not an organisation to rest on its laurels, and despite having some record years recently (helped along a little with the Queen’s Jubilee and a royal baby), Chris and his team are still hoping to achieve more. Their ambitions include expanding their digital presence, growing their domestic audience, increasing the performance element of visits, touring as well as more large-scale projects at different palaces.

But how will they do this? Historic Royal Palaces are forming a new project portfolio that they will fundraise for. And their new case for support will take them into the next five years of planning – everything they hope to achieve will be rigorously planned for in order to realise their ambitions. Their clearly articulated five-year plan is a work in progress – always informed by the cause and closely linked to the organisation’s mission.

As a fundraiser at the start of my journey, one of the messages of the evening that resonated with me was that it takes a whole team to deliver against such ambitious plans, and Chris had a lot of praise for his team. He also stressed that everyone across the organisation plays a role in fundraising – each and every one of the 750 members of staff at Historic Royal Palaces, in addition the Trustees and the Chairman. Regardless of our place in our organisation, we must all be fundraisers for our cause.

Chris was an inspirational speaker – honest about the challenges that he and Historic Royal Palaces face, but also motivated to overcome them. He was very enthusiastic about his job in the weeks, months and years ahead, an enthusiasm that was contagious.

Historic Royal Palace’s message to supporters is that there is something for everyone and everyone can join in. With a scheme of more than 70,000 members, in addition to corporate supporters, patrons, and US friends they clearly have something to boast about. Find out about their supporters here, an enviable list which gives us all something to aspire to when wooing benefactors to our cause.

I’ll finish with Chris’ top tips for fundraising:

  • Be resilient and tough it out – it is no easy task raising large sums of money
  • Be in it for the long run – have patience and stick it out because it takes time
  • Have a sense of fun about what you are doing – don’t take it all too seriously
  • Choosing to be a fundraiser is a good thing – it is a great way to meet millionaires!

If you have some fundraising tips to share, please do join the conversation.