Fundraising in the arts during a cost of living/giving crisis

Fundraising in the arts during a cost of living/giving crisis

Nov 08, 2023
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A blog by Helen Jenkins, Fundraising Consultant and AFP Associate Trainer.

September is a month of reflection and returns – returning to school and work after the summer break and reflecting on how much you enjoyed your annual 2 weeks in the sun. That is if you are lucky  enough to have had a holiday this year.  

For many families, the ongoing cost of living crisis has meant that holidays have become luxuries they cannot afford. Days out from home armed with a packed lunch and a day travel ticket for the family have become part of the summer holiday routine. For some, even that is too far a stretch.

The North East Family Arts Network recently held a day-long conference, funded by Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy, 'MEETING THE NEED: How can the North East culture sector help families during the cost of living crisis?' It was a jam-packed day of creativity, sharing, and learning. I am a Fundraising Consultant specialising in heritage and arts, and I was invited along to talk about how the cost of living crisis has affected fundraising for arts and heritage organisations.  

So, when thinking of fundraising, who exactly is the cost of living crisis impacting? Charities put the people they work for at the heart of what they do. For arts charities, this can mean offering more free sessions, including a free or subsidised meal for children in their offer, and taking the offer to the community rather than assuming families can travel to a venue. 

During the current cost of living crisis, it is important to also think about other people who are affected; staff, volunteers, and donors. Your supporters and donors enable you to carry out the work you do with families, but they too may be struggling. Research by ENTHUSE tells us that the cost of living is becoming a cost of giving-crisis, with 58% of people saying they are worse off financially than six months ago. 

55% of the public stated that their financial situation makes it harder to donate; 1 in 5 have stopped making donations altogether and 61% are being more selective and giving to few causes. Among these dismaying statistics, there is some good news – 74% of the public has donated in the last 3 months – the highest rate since COVID.

How can you build on this glimmer of positivity and support your organisation, your fundraising staff and your donors?  

Let’s start with the basics. Say a great big thank you to your current donors. They have stuck with you and they are your top team of supporters. So make sure that you give them the credit they deserve and find a way to say thank you. 

It doesn't need to be costly; it can be as simple as an email that focuses on saying thanks. Or you could get the whole team involved and do a telephone thank-a-thon. Don’t use this to ask for more support, just use it as a way to tell your donors that they are the best and you appreciate them. Don’t forget to include anyone who has recently stopped donating – when they are ready to give again you will be at the top of their list.

Remember – the best donors are the ones you already have.  Show them some love.

Now you’ve done the fun stuff it’s time to move on to an audit of your fundraising (and some people even find this bit fun!).  

It is hard when funds are tight to justify time spent on looking backward instead of frantically writing funding applications. But it is time well spent. An audit of your fundraising can help you understand what you are good at and where are your fundraising gaps. 

Have a look back at the last 5 years of fundraised income. What was your best income stream?  Where are the gaps? Map this against your resources and your needs; do you have the time to develop a new income stream? What do you need funding for? Should you be focussing on improving something you are already good at or is it time to diversify?

Whatever your next step in fundraising you must stand out from the crowd.  Fundraising has always been tough and it is getting tougher. So your communications need to stand out.  Revisit (or write) your case for support. Talk about your impact and make sure that your communications are all about how the supporter is enabling your organisation to deliver work – it must be all about them and not you!  

Funders love partnerships, it is a great way to make sure that work isn’t being duplicated and that the best people are working together. So you may find yourself fundraising for a partnership.  Having a few simple rules in place can make the process much smoother.  

Choose a lead person for the project and if possible all pitch in some money to pay for this person’s time. This not only makes it fair but also gives a level of accountability. Share your files via a shared drive and set out a timeframe (and stick to it!). 

Finally, ask for open and honest communication. If something isn’t going to work for one partner then you all have to listen. And if one partner is joining another consortium (this happens in competitive tenders) then you have to agree to share that information so you can decide if you want to work with them. 

The cost of living/giving is having a real impact. These are some simple tips to help you navigate this challenging time.  

Above all though, don’t burn out. Put positive systems in place to make sure that the whole team is sharing the fundraising burden. Be flexible, offer support, and send your team on training days like this one. And don’t cut fundraising!