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5 Things I learnt from my New York trip

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In this guest blog we’re delighted to introduce Beth Bate, a 2014/15 Clore Leadership Fellow and Director of Great North Run Culture in Newcastle upon Tyne. She’s also an Alumna of the National Arts Fundraising School run by =mc. Find out what she thought of the School in this NAFS video blog.

5 Things I learnt from my New York trip

Beth Bate

In the Spring of this year, I spent a week in New York meeting with some of the East coast’s most inventive entrepreneurial fundraisers from organisations large and small. The trip was funded partly through the Catalyst award made to Great North Run Culture, where I am Director, and through the generous training budget I receive as a current Fellow on the Clore Leadership Programme.

The States is a very different philanthropic environment, culturally and financially, but the fundraising and development skills practiced by arts and cultural leaders there are ones we can all learn from.

1. Know what assets you have

I was slightly surprised upon visiting the restroom at the New Museum of Contemporary Art to discover that it was sponsored by Jerome and Ellen Stern. Admittedly, this is one smart bathroom, all chrome and graphic mosaics, but this was naming rights taken to an extent I’d not seen before. Mr Stern said, “I’m 83… I thought it would be nice to see my name in a place where I’m going to spend a lot of time.” [1]

The people I met had a very clear sense of what valuable assets their organisations had, from spaces and places, from contacts to ideas, from archives to objects. Knowing your value and why what you do is important is a great first step.

2. If you don’t ask, the answer is always “no”

The arts professionals I met are good at asking for money, “Not because we’re special or different here,” one told me, ”but because we have to be. It’s how we survive.” They are upfront and clear from the start – potential supporters are fully aware that they are being courted and there is an honesty in their discussions. If you know your value, then you can discuss it. Reliance on state support and investment in the UK is going to become increasingly difficult over the coming years – if we want to survive, we have to learn how to ask for help.

3. “No” isn’t always a disaster

Getting turned down is part of life and if you are going to start asking people for money, you will have to get used to some of them saying “no”. This is neither the end of the world or the story. Being turned down allows you to look again at your offer, reconsider and refine it. Should you be doing something more? Or less? Or differently? A “no” can be the start of a much longer conversation that could eventually turn into a “yes”.

4. Successful donor relationships take time

Many people I spoke to couldn’t stress enough how much time it takes to seek out, foster and then maintain effective donor relationships. One director I spoke to estimated that nurturing these relationships took up to 75% of her day to day work.

This isn’t always a refined world of charity dinners and celebrity meet ups, though that certainly features for some, but instead consistent contact by email and phone, interesting articles sent through the post, invitations to small events. People don’t give to organisations, they give to people – and people like to be looked after.

5. Technology is changing philanthropy

Last year, the developers at Kickstarter changed how projects submitted to them are vetted and assessed with some smart algorithms instead of humans evaluating potential projects.

With staff freed up from simply checking proposals, they are now out in the world proactively soliciting projects from people and organisations they’d like to work with. (They’re looking for stuff that matches their brand.) The team are able to give more support to selected proposals, helping with tactical advice and communications campaigns. Technological advances means that instead of sitting as a purely responsive platform, Kickstarter will increasingly be able to create more curated content.

What’s next?

Visit the National Arts Fundraising School website for further info, more Alumni blogs and details on how to book or call us on 020 7978 1516.


[1] On the Bowery, A new home for New Art – New York Times article

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