East London Arts Fundraisers: Powerful Storytelling and Making Brave Asks

East London Arts Fundraisers: Powerful Storytelling and Making Brave Asks

This blog post was written by Pauline Redondo Etim, Partnerships and Development Manager at East London Dance.

A little investment goes a long way. Seed funding from Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy allowed East London Dance and Newham Music to set up the East London Arts Fundraisers network, with the aim of working alongside colleagues to develop resilience, responsiveness and agility in order to prepare for a future with limited public funds, increased competition for funds and greater need in the communities we work with. 

Being the sole fundraiser in an organisation can be lonely and sometimes overwhelming especially when faced with ambitious targets and limited time. So, seeing a gap in the support needed to meet the challenges of fundraising for small arts organisation, we realised that by pooling our resources we could bring in expertise that we couldn’t access on our own and work together to build our capacity. 

The network has to date engaged 36 people in total representing over 25 arts organisations. We have been able to deepen relationships between arts fundraising peers and test out new fundraising methods to move our practice forward. This community of fundraisers now regularly engage on an online forum to share experience and best practice, pool resources and encourage and support each other.

Our first session looked at developing corporate partnerships, diversifying income and GDPR, you can read more about these here. At our second training session: Powerful Storytelling and Making Brave Asks, delivered in September 2018, Alastair Creamer, one of the country’s leading figures in creative training and co-founder of coaching enterprise, Eyes Wide Opened, shared a variety of storytelling methods to build confidence and improve communication as fundraisers.

Here are some golden rules for storytelling that we learnt from the workshop:

  • Start with your own story and be yourself: We learnt the importance of writing something that we would like to read. By regularly reminding yourself of your own story and the difference you want to make as a fundraiser, you connect to the bigger story of your organisation. By embracing your personal strengths and unique communication style, instead of comparing yourself to others, you can articulate a passionate case for support with authenticity.
  • Use descriptive language that reflects all five senses: We were encouraged to tell stories that can take people on a journey and use pictures or songs to engage someone’s imagination - stories that make us feel something are the most moving and inspirational. As fundraisers in the arts, we have a wealth of creative expression at our fingertips. This enables us to use a range of visual, auditory, emotional and experiential descriptions to vividly describe the impact of our work. 
  • Simplify your story with less words: We learnt the importance of a focused, direct and simple message. Taking our lead from the flash fiction movement, which champions extremely short stories, we were challenged to translate our case for support into a compelling six word story.
  • Create a conversation, not a monologue: Storytelling is ultimately a dialogue with a range of audiences. Respecting the intelligence and limited time of potential funders and supporters is key. We practiced elite listening skills and describing our case for support as a metaphor to learn how to build trust and understanding with new audiences.

Building on what we have learnt to date about the importance of communication with potential supporters, for our next meeting we’ve asked award-winning relationship fundraiser Nikki Bell to lead a session on community fundraising. Nikki is a #SocialCEOs  Rising Star winner and international speaker who has worked with community, individual giving, and corporate fundraising teams for charities large and small. This responds to the needs of organisations who perhaps don’t have a network of high net-worth donors but deliver programmes that regularly engage with a passionate and loyal family of stakeholders who want to support the fundraising effort in different ways. 

Applications are now open for Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy’s next round of Network Funding - click here to find out if you could win £2,000 of funding for your next training event, conference or network meeting to help strengthen arts fundraising skills across the sector. 

Click here to join the East London Arts Fundraisers network for their upcoming event Building a Fundraising Community on 11 June.