Future Arts Centres (FAC) is a network of over 90 arts venues across the UK led by 9 founding members. The network was established by The Albany and Stratford Circus, who invited co-founders ARC Stockton, artsdepot, mac Birmingham, Brewery Arts Centre, Cambridge Junction, Rich Mix and Lincoln Drill Hall to engage in knowledge sharing and advocacy. Written by Tim Burley for artsdepot. Supported by Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy’s Funding Network Projects 2017.
The day began with introductions from 14 participating multi artform venues, all explaining their unique qualities, fundraising plans and challenges. Those attending came from Belfast, Stockton, the Lake District, London and elsewhere, with turnovers from 650k to over £4Million - but all with one thing in common, an ambition to generate more funding in a climate of declining statutory support. A benefit of the varying scales of organisations attending was a mix of CEO’s, development specialists ranging from one part-timer to those with a small team. The different perspectives provided a 360 view on fundraising across our sector, and then in reflection to our own circumstances and questions.
Each venue has a unique business model and their own fundraising challenges. Whilst the diversity of approaches to fundraising was intriguing, cross cutting themes emerged around Return on Investment, covering core costs and generating unrestricted income, and how we interpret new data protection rules coming into force from May 2018. A key theme was how to create a compelling case for support, let our audiences know we are charities, let our boards know it's ok to ask - without undermining our audiences or beneficiaries at the same time.
The presentations revealed that return on investment is key to fundraising decisions and investment, and it was commonly agreed that development needs to be at the heart of the decision making/ ideas process to be effective. At the smaller end of the scale, organisations are working hard to engage funders in stories and projects, so target planning should be informed by the content and credentials of the work and ideas in reference to the scope of funders, rather than a random number plucked from the air, or budget hole that needs filling. Effective development plays to the unique landscape of our geography and history - several organisations had one major donor who was the only big name in their area.
A short presentation was given by Karen Napier who led the Southbank Centre’s Capital Transformation Campaign and is now Chief Executive of Wac Arts. Karen set the mantra that our stories are our Case for Support, that we must tell anyone that will listen, our story of the future. She said Development needed to be at the heart of the organisation with every team buying into the fundraising messages, and that this has the potential to put real impact into any Campaign, regardless of size or scale. Karen noted that if we put in place the systems, structures, policies and procedures to build a strong Development function, this will make a significant difference as we build our plans and steward relationships. Some elements of the journey will be unexpected, but if we have the framework and systems to work effectively, our job will be easier. Karen finished by saying Development should be judged not only on Return on Investment, but also Return on Involvement - the process of engaging stakeholders on a journey of transformation where everyone plays a role in the change we want to see.
For the final part of the day, kindly hosted by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, we split into four groups and attended a series of break out discussions. One group looked at resources & strategy beginning with the notion of hiring the first fundraiser and what can be expected. This is where success is clearly about individuals, their organisational fit and the relationships they can build both internally and externally. Another group looked at charitable messaging - defining our breadth and yet condensing it into a clearer message. What is our USP? and can we have multiple USPs? In a world where homelessness, health and creativity are all trying to grab the attention of donors perhaps we should concentrate on our projects and sub-brands that are most compelling to our donors. Certainly, we all need to communicate our impact. The third group looked at partnerships, how can FAC’s 90+ partners work together to attract supporters to buy into national initiatives that meet hundreds of thousands or millions of people. It was agreed that mapping work needs to done looking at commonality and links between our programmes, and we also need to better understand our demographics and reach. The final group looked at specific issues and interests within the fundraising mix sharing opportunities that are available to all, and pitfalls to avoid.
As a whole, the day established and developed relationships and started a new fundraising network within the Future Arts Centres network. The potential is huge for future collaborations which could help with national messaging that raises the stakes of all of us as fundraising entities. The consensus was, there is much potential to explore what we can achieve with our shared voice, but there is ground work to do first.
Thanks to Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy and Rebecca Kendall of Rosendale Partnerships for facilitating.