(Picture – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Opera Holland Park, 2015)
Philly Graham (=mc Consultant) and I have just come back from an inspiring four days, delivering the Powys Arts Fundraising School for fundraisers from 20 arts organisations from across Mid Wales. Interestingly, at the beginning of the week most of them wouldn’t describe themselves as fundraisers – like many in the arts and culture sector they juggle a huge number of roles and fundraising is one part of their job description.
For me, one of the most fascinating things about these courses is listening to creative people talk about their artistic plans. Over the four days I’ve heard stories of circus troupes performing on trampolines floating on estuaries. I’ve watched a group create a convincing outline plan for a samba-inspired production of Hamlet in under 3 minutes, sparked by one throw-away comment. I’ve been fascinated by how organisations are finding ways of using the latest technology to make their work available to more people.
I’ve also seen how creative we can be at thinking around certain problems, particularly when we work together. Over dinner, I listened quietly as the Directors of two organisations, realising they could help each other overcome a mutual problem, worked to overturn every obstacle that arose.
Which is why one thing has been bugging me a lot recently. Why does the ability to think in a creative, entrepreneurial way often abandon us when it comes to fundraising? Why do we stop being able to think around challenges and instead see them as impenetrable walls that we can’t see a way past? Why do our creative juices run dry when it comes to thinking about the financial side of our work, rather than just the artistic?
Is it because we are scared to try something different? Is it that we don’t feel fundraising is the place to be creative? Is it that we don’t have the time or the resource to commit to thinking creatively? Is it that we don’t involve other creative members of our teams when we are planning? Is it just that we become lazy? Is it a mixture of all of the above?
I will be the first to confess I have been guilty of this more than once – writing this my thoughts are dogged by the times I let the perceived challenges and barriers stop me from trying something new. And while there is something to be said for listening to your gut feeling there is a lot more to be said for thinking strategically about potential challenges and finding creative ways to overcome them.
I don’t know why this “fundraiser’s block” affects us. What I do know is that thinking creatively can help us see the impossible challenge as an exciting new opportunity. Thinking creatively can help us increase awareness of our need to fundraise – the first step on a donor journey. Thinking creatively can help us find interesting ways to engage donors, matching their needs and motivations to our organisation. Thinking creatively can help us find that simple yet effective way to show our donors how special they are and how much we care.
That is not to say there aren’t creative things happening out there. SOFII (Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration) often share stories of creative ideas that have changed the face of fundraising. They even run an annual event called “I Wish I’d Thought of That”. One of my favourite examples to come out of that was this example from Portugese Red Cross. Perhaps we need a similar event for the arts – if we had one, which examples would you bring? (That’s not a rhetorical question, send me a message with your favourite examples using the details below.)
As we were packing up at the end of the Powys Arts Fundraising School, I cast my eye back over the list of aims we had asked the group to write on the first day, and one post-it caught my eye:
I really hope we have helped this person to achieve this aim by the end of the course. I hope that they have been inspired to adopt the mantra of finding creative solutions to every challenge that arises because the challenges aren’t likely to get any easier any time soon. Because I am convinced that as the need to diversify our funding continues to build it is invariably going to be the creative thinkers that thrive.
Or, as Darwin (may or may not have) said:
You may also find this related blog by =mc L&D consultant Yvette Gyles interesting:
Want to find out more? Visit =mc‘s creativity and innovation toolkit page to find out how we can help you.