Fundraising Ethics: The BP debate continues

Fundraising Ethics: The BP debate continues

Jodie Marsden Profile

Jodie Marsden was Arts Fundraising Fellow for Artswork until September 2016, and is now Trusts Officer at Battersea Cats & Dogs Home.

Fundraising ethics have hit the headlines once again. Most recently, the debate surrounding ethical corporate sponsorship has resurfaced with the news that BP is to end its sponsorship of Tate Britain after almost 30 years.

Is this the beginning of the end for arts sponsorship from oil companies?

Tate must say goodbye to BP

With the Tate galleries total annual income of £221,494,000, the loss of BP’s sponsorship - which was revealed to have been an average of £224,000 a year - hardly seems to make a dent. However, as those of us who work in fundraising know, funding is almost always specific to certain programmes or projects. With BP and Tate having worked together on BP Family Festivals, BP Art Exchange, BP Spotlights and BP Displays, whilst it may not seem like a huge loss of money, the loss of sponsorship could prove detrimental to the Tate and its activities.

However, the Tate has until 2017 to explore new options, which leads the industry to speculate as to whether they will be announcing a new corporate sponsor, or to make up the amount in other ways. Is brainstorming taking place for a new key sponsor or multiple sponsors – or are discussions with interested parties already in the making? With a strong 26 year relationship, its safe to assume that conversations were being had between BP and the Tate before the end of sponsorship was announced, and that the Tate were kept in the loop and were making contingency plans. So we could be hearing rumours of a new name alongside Tate’s displays sooner rather than later.

And will the Tate be looking to avoid similarly ‘risky’ sponsors and opt for a ‘safe’ new partner that won’t see protesters at their doors again? Throughout the controversy the Tate defended their relationship with BP, and now with it coming to an end a spokeswoman for the Tate described it as an “outstanding example of patronage and collaboration over nearly 30 years.” 

TATE BP Protest

Oil, Arms, Tobacco – does it matter?

The ethics of fundraising are perhaps to become even more muddied in the future. With the fundraising climate becoming increasingly difficult and organisations turning to private giving and corporate sponsorship as a means to replace the potential loss of public funding, perhaps it may become easier for organisations to justify taking money from controversial companies like BP.

As the Arts Fundraising Fellows heard in a recent talk about Corporate Sponsorship held at the Science Museum – who also are partnered with BP and have previously been sponsored by Shell – there are multiple things to consider in sponsorship. These sponsorship deals make whole exhibitions or festivals possible. Some people may say that as long as partnerships are visible to the public, and as long as the monetary benefit outweighs the reputational risk, then the relationships should continue.

But the public is becoming increasingly aware of and concerned about fundraising practices across the board. Attention is being drawn to how charities and cultural institutions are fundraising, and who or where the money is coming from. Protests by groups like Platform and Liberate Tate have been heavily publicised since the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. Platform state on their website after ‘6 years of intense campaigning and performances from Liberate Tate, Platform and Art not Oil’ they are pleased to see the Tate’s sponsorship deal come to an end.

BP claims that the end of sponsorship is not related to the protests but instead due to an “extremely challenging business environment.” Liberate Tate however say that the collective protests of groups, artists, and the public were a significant part of creating that difficult environment. With these groups continuing on their mission to end such partnerships, we could be seeing an end to oil company sponsorship altogether.

Ethical Fundraising Policies: One size fits all?

Ultimately, what is deemed an ethical sponsor will change according to each organisation, their beneficiaries, audiences, balance of risks and gains. There is no ‘one size fits all’ policy. For example, in discussions about the type of sponsors that my organisation Artswork might seek, it was agreed that due to our work being entirely centred on children and young people we would not accept money from breweries. This isn’t an entirely uncommon opinion across the sector, but many theatres and venues do accept donations, sponsorship or in-kind support from breweries and alcohol providers and for the majority there are no problems encountered from regulators or the public.

Ethical fundraising is an extremely interesting and complicated subject, as Lindsay Harrod also highlighted in her blog as a Fellow last year here. With comments on the BP/Tate news articles ranging from praise and relief, to criticism of the protesters themselves, it seems that Ethical Fundraising is an area which we will be debating… possibly forever.

What do you think? Is this be the beginning of the end for oil company sponsorship? Is public pressure enough to stop similar partnerships in the future? We’d love to hear from you.