This guest blog is written by National Arts Fundraising School Alumna Deborah Parker, Chief Executive Officer at Cinema For All. We caught up with Deborah at a recent Alumni event and asked her to share her story since attending the School seven years ago:
In 2009 I was working for one of the old Regional Screen Agencies in Manchester as their Head of Audience Development managing film exhibition and heritage investment projects across North West England. I love film; I always have had a passion for cinema, even as a young kid and I was proud to have found a role in the industry I loved.
Talking to colleagues in other regions, we were keen to put together ideas to do a joint project across the north of England and as the then government department Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) had just a launched a fund, we decided to apply.
The three of us had some bid writing experience. I offered to take the lead and after a few perilous weeks of project development, proposal writing and frankly a bit of crying over budgets, we submitted an ambitious £98.5k bid to teach digital skills to older people across the North. To our amazement we were successful and only a few weeks later I found myself on the National Arts Fundraising School (NAFS) in beautiful Alfriston in East Sussex, a residential course I had heard lots about and wanted to try. I definitely wasn’t going to be a fundraiser though, oh no, but I had enjoyed the BIS bid and thought it would be good to develop some additional skills. And it might be good fun.
Little did I know what I had let myself in for. Eating too much, sleeping too little – and one of the most enjoyable, demanding and rewarding courses I have ever had the pleasure to attend. The sessions were challenging, often eye opening, surprisingly physical, and never, ever dull. At the end of the exhausting week I left, bidding a fond farewell to my fellow delegates. We had bonded, like battle weary soldiers departing a strenuous, but well fought campaign. I went back to my Screen Agency energised and eager to develop more projects. The next bid I worked on was with the North West Film Archive to secure almost £250K to preserve film heritage materials in the region. It was a complex bid and I learnt a lot from the team I worked with, but NAFS and what I had learnt there, was never far from my mind. To our delight and relief the bid was a success.
“The fundraising skills I gained at NAFS has in no small way helped me take this organisation in new directions.”
Then things started to fall apart. In 2010 there was a change of Government and many NGOs were soon to face the axe in the infamous ‘bonfire of the quangos,’ of which Vision + Media, my employer, was one. I took the plunge and took voluntary redundancy with a view of taking that film studies MA I’d always coveted. But then a job appeared that peaked my interest: Managing Director of the British Federation of Film Societies, a prestigious organisation with a long history, that I had heard of and offered support to in my previous role at the Screen Agency. They were looking for people with a proven track record of fundraising. I dug out my NAFS certificate. After a gruelling, but enjoyable three hour interview I was happy I’d done my best – and unsure I’d got the job. Later that day I found out: I had.
And that really was the start of my fundraising story, from annual £50K to £100K bids to our major funder, the British Film Institute, to six figure projects funded through a variety of trusts and foundations, to smaller direct asks. As a result I’m pleased to say I tripled grant income over the next couple of years and grew the business from two to seven staff. The skills and knowledge gained at NAFS had given me the confidence and tools I needed to secure this funding. Now rebranded as Cinema For All, we are able to continue supporting hundreds of volunteer-led community film groups across the country, bringing the joy of British, independent, documentary and world cinema to local communities and launch brand new projects from Redruth in Cornwall, to Burnley in Lancashire, to Inverness.
“We’re creating what I hope really will be a Cinema For All: communities coming together, supporting each other and enjoying the magic of cinema.”
In 2015 I reached my first £million – not bad for someone who doesn’t think she’s a fundraiser. It’s not easy though. Anyone who has ever worked flat out on a campaign, or sweated to get that crucial bid in by the deadline, knows how hard it is. As you grow as an organisation, so does the pressure to keep the momentum going. So now, in our 70th anniversary year, I’m trying new things and venturing into new territory, always deferring to what I learnt at NAFS. Growing individual and group donations will help fund the work we’re doing to support disadvantaged communities. Through our projects we’ve seen just how much watching films as a community can help tackle issues like social isolation and loneliness. From helping set up LGBT run film clubs in Lancashire to training young care leavers in Cornwall to put on their own film screenings, to supporting Muslim women’s groups in Glasgow to see films together, the fundraising skills I gained at NAFS has in no small way helped me take this organisation in new directions. We’re creating what I hope really will be a Cinema For All: communities coming together, supporting each other and enjoying the magic of cinema. Thank you NAFS.