Annelise Andersen, Fundraising Fellow at Opera North, considers the place and value of digital technology in philanthropy
A short time ago I attended the Arts Council conference ‘Digital Utopias’ at Hull Truck Theatre. It was as it sounds: a true cornucopia of all things digital. From presentations on digital technologies that benefit the arts, to rich discussions about how and where the arts and digital technologies intersect.
During the presentations, delegates were energetically tweeting, posting, commenting, coding, recording, sharing and debating about the virtual, not only amongst each other, but also with those connecting through the simultaneous conversation online.
On my way to Hull, I tried to imagine how such a conference, paradoxically in the physical, would work.
With smartphone and laptop fully charged, I was technologically equipped and looking forward to the insight that I would gain into what still feels like a relatively new innovation for the arts.
‘Digital technology’ comes with connotations of the modern and the progressive, the ‘yet-to-come’ as well as the here and now. We expect transformation of the familiar, and continuous creation of new possibilities. Yet technological development has been going on for some time, so what is really different about digital technologies?
One defining characteristic is pace. Welcoming rapid change and being prepared to adapt quickly will reap rewards; those who are able to spot and seize opportunities will prosper – and the passion demonstrated by those who spoke at Digital Utopias was the evidence.
Using digital technologies in the arts reaches a broad population and can prove a useful means of engaging attention and support. Social media is transforming how arts organisations and fundraisers engage externally. However, even in this digital age when there are multiple online communications, there is no replacement for the power of connecting with someone in-person.
Face-to-face interaction allows both parties to learn more about each other; to create and understand the dynamic; to create a more personal connection. In my opinion, the “follows”, “friends” and “connections” of social media don’t cut it by comparison.
That’s not to say that the likes of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook can’t play an important role in how fundraisers and philanthropists form and manage relationships. As I sat in Hull Truck’s impressive auditorium I couldn’t help but feel small victories when I saw someone retweet what I had said; and when my tweets appeared on the live Twitter feed projection. I was networking in both the traditional and digital sense.
So despite me believing that the in-person experience cannot be replaced, the digitisation of relationships undoubtedly offers new ways of communicating, experiencing and sharing.
I am curious to see how things will progress, and what opportunities digital technology will bring to enable the philanthropist and the fundraiser to better connect with artistic activity.