A Tale of Three Cities: Corporate Fundraising in the North

A Tale of Three Cities: Corporate Fundraising in the North

Sarah-Johnston-Opera-North

Six months into my Arts Fundraising fellowship experience, I’ve gained knowledge and insight which will undoubtedly inform the rest of my arts fundraising career. It’s been challenging and transformational both professionally and personally. I’ve learned what it takes to work at a large, successful arts organisation such as Opera North and the need to push yourself beyond your comfort zone to achieve the best results. Moving city from Liverpool to Leeds has also been a great chance to experience another regional arts sector and gain a completely different perspective.

Coming from Liverpool, I see the Capital of Culture celebrations as a case in point. The arts has transformed this city, galvanised investment and, increased funding opportunities. Although investment has yet to reach some of the more deprived areas of the city, I still look back at the Capital of Culture period as a success story that inspired community pride and provided space for cultural understanding to thrive in my home city.

Liverpool celebrated its Capital of Culture status in 2008
Liverpool celebrated its Capital of Culture status in 2008

As a member of Opera North’s Development team, I’ve engaged with the civic and business communities in Leeds and Hull recently and, from an outsider’s perspective, have seen how two cities have connected with the arts and the narrative they’ve woven around this journey. The arts inspire civic pride but more importantly to a city council they make a significant economic contribution, attracting tourism and investment to a city. The Leeds Grand Depart 100 Day Cultural Festival and Hull’s UK City of Culture status will surely aim to achieve just this.

Liverpool, Leeds and Hull demonstrate, as Glasgow did in 1990, that it’s crucial for the civic and business communities to link support for the arts with their ability to establish a world-class city reputation and a prosperous economy.

Learning how Opera North has approached the civic and business communities in Leeds and Hull, seven key areas will continue to inform my thinking on corporate fundraising:

  • Research is everything – leave no stone unturned in researching potential corporate partners. Gathering information is not enough, analysing and interpreting it for insight is essential
  • Synergy – identifying all common interests, values and motivations that indicate potential interest in supporting your organisation is fundamental before making any approach, as is anticipating why they might not support you
  • Think partnership – recognising and articulating the mutual benefits your organisations might share through working together and communicating that convincingly with potential corporate partners can be the first steps of a long-term partnership arrangement
  • Keep it short – corporates don’t have time to waste. Emails, invitations and proposals need to be concise, to the point and directly relevant to them
  • Engage widely – targeting one company is great short-term but engaging widely across the civic and business community is vital for long-term corporate fundraising success
  • Have purpose – inviting councillors and business people to hear about your next big project and network over lunch is a good start. Giving the civic and corporate community a call to action that is relevant to their own ambitions and a reason to engage with your proposal can be a catalyst to further communication and potential financial support.
  • Follow up – thanking people promptly for attending your event and inviting them individually to discuss your plans and their own priorities in more detail is crucial. The cultivation of a personal relationship enables a greater understanding of their motivations and an opportunity to tailor the approach more persuasively.

I’m half way through the fellowship now and already feel a better equipped and more confident fundraiser…now for more corporate fundraising….!