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Where to focus in arts fundraising: Start, Stop, Consider

The Management Centre

Last month 29 arts and culture fundraisers came together for the intensive, immersive – and hugely enjoyable – experience that is the National Arts Fundraising School.

Three days into the 6-day programme, we asked them to reflect on three clusters of action:

  • things they wanted to start doing
  • things they wanted to stop doing
  • things they wanted to consider further

We’ve clustered and distilled the dozens of ideas and below suggest a couple in each cluster. Next week we’ll share other reflections for you to consider.

2 things to START doing


Success involves trying to think and act in new ways.

1. START developing a robust fundraising strategy

As core subsidy continues to fall and competition for funding increases, all organisations need to be more planned and more professional in their approach – which means having a robust and realistic fundraising strategy. It’s the ‘realistic’ part where many organisations fall down. To avoid this pitfall you need to consider the internal and external factors that impact on your fundraising. This should include a PEST analysis (the external factors – what are the rules for the game you are playing and the league you are in? For example, are you in the museum game, or the education game? Are you in a national league or local league?) It should also include a SWOT analysis (the internal factors – how good is your team?)

2. START identifying your organisation’s distinctive Case for Support

With an increasing number of organisations fundraising it’s vital that you can clearly communicate why people should support your organisation rather than another. Your Case for Support needs to articulate why your organisation is best placed to meet a specific need. You may want to populate your case with some USPs- Unique Selling Propositions. One simple way to help define these is by gathering information about who you are and what you do into three clusters:

  • what are the important facts, figures and statistics that define your organisation and its success- number of people reached, impact on audiences, number of awards etc?
  • who can endorse your work to other potential supporters – users, respected commentators, other donors? What can they say with credibility that you can’t?
  • what are the values and beliefs that underpin your organisation? Is it your commitment to access, to women, or to a specific art form that stands out?

2 Things to STOP Doing


Success also involves trying to stop repeating the same old behaviour.

1. STOP peacocking

‘Peacocking’ is using meaningless, unsubstantiated soundbites to boast about the organisation in a bid to make our work sound impressive to potential supporters. Frequent examples of such phrases include ‘world class,’ ‘leading edge,’ and ‘innovative.’ In practice these phrases sound hollow and self regarding. After all you are going to say good things about your work.

To avoid peacocking, consult a couple of your books in the second START above. What facts and figures can you use to substantiate your claim? Who can you get to endorse your work with credibility?

2. STOP talking about ourselves

Good fundraising is about telling the potential supporter what they need to hear, not what we want to tell them. Yet, when someone asks ‘Why should I give you the money?’ what most fundraisers hear is ‘What will you do with the money?’

Donors don’t give to an organisation. They give through an organisation to address a problem or need or personal passion. Poor fundraising communication talks about the work the organisation does. Strong fundraising communication focuses on the need, the donor, and their motivations.

2 Things to CONSIDER doing


Sometimes there isn’t a ‘right’ answer, and you need to make a judgement call.

1. CONSIDER thinking about playing a different game…

This links to the first START above – your strategy. Arts and culture organisations often focus on… explicit arts and culture funders. However, other clusters of donors- playing other ‘games’- may offer access to different budgets at a different scale. For example, a museum could play the ‘education’ game, or the ‘regeneration’ game. Both games have more money. But they also have different rules – different language, different motivations and different expectations.

You might want to consider how your work could contribute to achieving the aims of funders in other fields, and so give yourself wider access to funds

2. CONSIDER changing your structure

Many arts and culture organisations are set up as charities, others as Community Interest Companies (CIC) or Charitable Incorporated Organisations (CIO), and yet others as trusts, or private partnerships. Different structures bring access to different funds and offer different protection.

Let’s be clear, you don’t have to be a charity to fundraise – but it helps a lot. Traditional fundraising streams and donors provide far greater opportunities for agencies with registered charity status. For example:

  • Most trusts and foundations are only able to give grants to registered charities
  • Supporters by and large trust the regulation processes for charities
  • Individuals and businesses receive tax benefits not available for gifts to non-charities

If you have a significant fundraising target, you really should consider having a charitable vehicle through which to drive this.

But note that there are other grants and tax breaks available to organisations registered as trading organisations. Could you operate through both, and have, say, some of your activities- a big tour, an expensive publication- done through a business arm and your main programme through a charity? The extra admin might just be worth it.

What’s next?

Your second instalment of START, STOP, CONSIDER – reflections from the National Arts Fundraising School is due out next week.

In the mean time, if you have any questions about how we can help you reach your fundraising goals, contact us online or call us on on 020 7978 1516.

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Bernard Ross

About Bernard Ross

Bernard is an internationally regarded expert in strategic thinking, organisational change and personal effectiveness. He works in Europe, USA, Africa and South America. His assignments have involved a wide range...