How many of us have sat watching The Apprentice and thought, ‘come on, I could do that’ or ‘if selling isn’t your strong point - why are you on the Apprentice?!’ This brings up a couple of things:
- Business seems to speak to all of us, we all have skills and qualities that we could apply to the situation, and
- There might be more to this than selling… and I think the same can be said for fundraising.
I believe that fundraising can, and in many instances should, be approached with your business hat on.
The first document that I was given when starting at New Art Exchange was a copy of the business plan. This plan has fast become my bible; it fully captures what the organisation’s mission and key principles are, but most importantly, it sets out a clear vision of where they want to be in five years, and how they are going to get there. This is exactly the outlook that fundraisers need- being new to the game, and this gave me a comprehensive view of why I’m here, and where the work I do fits into the plan.
Arts Council England describes business plans as ‘a necessary component to healthy visual arts ecology and essential for most publicly funded organisations’, and I believe key business practices needs to underpin everything that we do.
It also pays to remember that what we are really looking for as fundraisers is investment. The Sunday Time Rich List observed that in 1989 75% on the list had inherited their wealth, 25% were self-made. By 2005 those figures were reversed. This certainly shows that versing ourselves in business terms may be a diligent line of approach. Business and fundraising can cross over in so many ways, but my learnings so far are:
- Gift Aid and tax – knowing about tax is integral to business people, and those who want to make the most of their money. I suggest reading up on, and implementing, tax efficient giving methods as good practice when preparing to work with individual donations, so often fundraisers don’t have a detailed working knowledge of the implications of tax.
- Fundraising performs an economic function – our roles are about income generation as opposed to just fundraising, so it’s useful to take an overall view of income diversification, and where it goes. I found having a look at the organisational accounts gives a lot of context for new fundraisers.
- When planning income generation events or schemes, it pays to spend time checking if it makes good business sense. I have found it is easy to come up with an amazing set of benefits for a membership scheme, but if it costs more than the price of membership, is it worth it as a donation? We must remember to consider staff time in our costings too!
In artistic organisations we have to apply a different combination of the same skills used in business, in the context that usually as fundraisers we are the project manager, the brand team, the events management and the accountant all in one. I have come to realise that this is all part and parcel of the job, and we do it because the end result is something we believe in.
We are also somewhat like the 12 apprentices in Lord Sugar’s competition- we are all trying to secure investment. We are required to use our skills to reveal the unique selling points of our organisations, and make good business sense while doing so.
Not to forget too, that donors have their own reasons and motivations: Lord Sugar invested in a candidate who retailed a wavy nail file!?… so if there’s a cause out there worth investing in, try and make the business case, and who knows who might answer the call!