A New Look at Developing Major Donors

A New Look at Developing Major Donors

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Last Wednesday saw the first in a range of training sessions run by the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Programme, focusing on fundraising for people working in arts organisations, be it specialists within a department or managers who look after lots of things including fundraising.

In the beautiful setting of the River Terrace at the Baltic, Gateshead, Patricia Castanha led 13 attendees, who were eager and ready to learn about the ins and outs of Developing Strong Donor Relationships, from the individual case for support to how to manage a donor relationship and everything in between.

The attendees were from a variety of very different organisations, from the very large to the very small and interestingly three organisations had strong links to Universities, a relationship that can have many challenges as well as strong benefits.

Patricia Castanha very expertly and supportively took us through how to write a case for support for major donors, a concept I’ve never even considered, assuming that a case for support was only useful for applications or as part of the organisations’ wider business plan.

Patricia suggested that every organisation should have a specific case for support for donors, and if at all possible an additional case for support for each individual prospect. The document should include the organisation’s mission and values, history and credibility, and specific objectives, quite usual for a case for support, but also the importance and urgency of the need, what would happen if the organisation/project failed, and how the donor can help. These last two points very specifically bring the donor into the picture, and make it clear that they are really needed by the organisation, and that the project will fail if they do not help. This draws the donor in so that they feel compelled to give.

Of course, some donors can be very put off by such clear pressure, which leads me on nicely to the next major point from the session…

Research, research, research!

Just like every arts organisation is different, so too is every donor. Some will want recognition for their donations, some will not. Some will want to donate to a specific project close to their heart, some will be happy to donate to the general running of an organisation. Whilst it would be very helpful if someone could say ‘this is the way to deal with every donor’, unfortunately it doesn’t work like that, and the only real answer is research. Every prospect should be researched in as much detail as possible, and in the day and age of Google this can be much easier than it used to be. However, Google doesn’t find everything, and so the value of a specialist researcher is still worth remembering (and not completely unaffordable for organisations on a tight budget). Donors are humans, so they should be treated that way, and we should find out as much about them as possible before asking them to donate to our cause. You can be sure they will do the same.

One of the aims of the Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy Programme is to create a network of arts fundraisers who can share stories, ideas and best practise. In this, our first fundraising training, it felt like we have started a great journey towards sharing. There was a very positive and supportive feeling in the room where everyone felt they could share, and as a result we realised that the same themes are popping up across different organisations (despite size and resource), including a lack of resources for fundraising and a lack of willingness to create these resources, and a feeling for the need to be yourself when communicating with donors.

Another common theme was a lack of time for strategy planning; fundraisers feel they are only ever ‘fire fighting’ for specific projects and activities that need funding, and don’t have time to plan a fundraising strategy for the future. In a future where Arts Council England cuts are looming, and other areas of funding are so unreliable, this is incredibly important in order to create resilience in our arts.

We are running more training courses in Developing Donor Relationships, but also in other areas such as planning income generation for Education programmes, and digital fundraising. If you would like to attend one of these sessions please go to our website artsfundraising.org.uk/training.