Making the case for the arts with stories: because we’re worth it

Making the case for the arts with stories: because we’re worth it

Is the key to successful arts fundraising story-telling?

Utilising individual stories to encourage charitable donations is common practice, and it certainly seems to be at the forefront of many news stories concerning giving at the moment.

Most of us will have read the heart-warming story of 21 year old beautician Katie Cutler, who set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise £500 for disabled pensioner Alan Barnes, who was mugged outside of his home. Donations poured in from across the world, raising £330,000 which will enable him to buy his first home, in an area where he feels safe.

Another example of the story of an individual motivating a large, global response came from ‘Humans of New York’, a popular online project which documents the day-to-day encounters with people in the city. Following a story from 12 year-old Kamal, who noted his head teacher as the most inspirational person in his life, an Indiegogo campaign for his school raised nearly $1.5 million from over 51,000 people.

It is clear that by identifying that money can truly change the life of an individual, people are motivated to give. Shouldn’t logic dictate that the opposite would be true? Surely donors would be motivated by facts and figures, indicating their money goes towards helping as many people as possible? However, there are several factors that indicate that this is not the case:

- We are empathic creatures: we are psychologically hardwired to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

- Big numbers can feel overwhelming: often when faced with a global or national problem, we feel that our money, especially a small donation, can’t possibly help the situation.

- We like to feel that we’re making a real difference: whilst we know £5 cannot, on its own, run a charity, we want to understand the impact that this amount might have on one person’s life.

At a recent conference, a participant argued that the arts really suffer from the ‘L’Oreal effect’: we feel the need to tell people that ‘we’re worth it’ as a charitable cause. Perhaps we need to stop telling people that we’re worth it (we are!) and start showing people our value by using stories and individual case studies, demonstrating that lives have been changed through engagement with the arts and culture.

So – how can arts fundraisers harness the power of stories to secure donations?

- Talk to your organisation’s beneficiaries: audiences, children, artists. Ask them questions. How has your work impacted them? What is their most memorable experience with your organisation? If you weren’t there, what would change for them?

- Combine any big figures with individual stories: if you can demonstrate that your organisation has changed one person’s life, but that you also reach 250,000 people every year, you can communicate your true impact effectively.

- Use a wide range of media to create a bank of case studies: interviews, films, photography. Be reactive as well as proactive – a ‘thank you’ card or an image posted on social media could be a powerful fundraising tool.

The idea of using stories arose again a few weeks later at an Arts Fundraising training session on Donor Networking and Relationship Development. Delegates shared experiences of struggling to communicate the unique selling point of their organisation during a short conversation. Our trainer, Frances Tipper, emphasised the effectiveness of highlighting one exciting example of work, rather than trying to list every single achievement. I found this incredibly helpful, as my host organisation, Drake Music, delivers a huge range of different projects which can be hard to convey in an engaging or relatable way. So I gave it a go:

‘Drake Music works to ensure that disabled people can make music. If you consider traditional instruments, like a piano or a guitar – these are designed with an able bodied person in mind, so many people can’t use them. So we use technology to create accessible instruments. For example, we work with a young man called Bram, who experiences locked-in syndrome. With the help of Drake Music, he is now able to make his own music completely independently, using a computer which responds to the movement of his eyes. He has recently been featured on a BBC radio show!’

The arts exist to impact on people’s lives: whether that is to uplift, to connect individuals or to give someone a voice. We are in a fantastic position to use these inspiring stories to ensure that the industry continues to thrive and provide life-changing experiences for those involved.

Katie Cutler raised £330,000 by sharing the story of Alan Barnes' mugging
Katie Cutler raised £330,000 by sharing the story of Alan Barnes' mugging