ArtsRaise Conference – lifting the curtain on fundraising for arts and cultural organisations

ArtsRaise Conference – lifting the curtain on fundraising for arts and cultural organisations

What a treat it was to attend F & P’s inaugural ArtsRaise conference in Melbourne last week, a two-day immersion in fundraising case studies, presentations and storytelling from the world of arts and culture. But, of course, the thinking, trends and approaches explored during the sixteen or so sessions are also relevant to other sectors.

What makes a great fundraiser?
Special guest Pamela Besnard, Chief Advancement Officer at the Whitney Museum of American Art, tackled this question.  The key attributes she considers make a good fundraiser include: emotional intelligence, good judgement, strong storytelling and writing skills, courage, the ability to take risks, and knowing how and when to close the gift. And as we all know listening is important, listening and being curious about donors’ lives and interests.  And for anyone uncomfortable about making the ask, Pamela pointed out that:

  • Asking for money is only bad if done badly
  • It takes time to build relationships
  • People are generally flattered to be asked
  • People can be offended NOT to be asked

In a separate session she outlined some of the trends in US giving. Like in Australia and the UK, smaller numbers of donors are making larger gifts. In fact, individuals account for 70% of giving at the Whitney. Giving to arts and culture in the US is 5% of the overall pie – less than 1% coming from Government.

Current Giving Trends in Australia
Looking at Australian trends, John McLeod of JB Were gave us a snapshot of where philanthropy is at, and what the implications are for arts and culture. Overall giving to the arts is 3.6% with arts well supported by Public Ancillary Foundations (PAFs) giving 10% to arts and culture. Pamela noted that giving from foundations, corporates and bequests were growth areas in the US. Again, a similar picture in Australia. John flagged the two fastest areas of growing community support as High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) and corporates.

Bequests and the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Philanthropy
He also outlined some of the possible changes being promoted by the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Philanthropy (with submissions due by 5th May, 2023). With the estimated intergenerational wealth transfer of $2.6 Trillion over the next 20 years, one of the proposals to the Commission is to introduce a ‘living bequest’ structure as in the US, and to boost philanthropic giving by incentivising giving from Super.

Helen Beeby, Include a Charity Campaign Director at the FIA, delivered an excellent lunchtime session on Gifts in Wills. Did you know that Gifts in Wills represents 24% of all charitable giving? I didn’t! Another thing that surprised me is that 52% of realised gifts are from unknown supporters, which makes it all the more important that we keep reminding donors about leaving a gift in their Wills, and how they can perpetuate giving after their lifetime. And, as Helen pointed out, arts organisations have lots of opportunities to engage with donors in bequest circles through taking them on tours and inviting them to special events etc.

Endowments and Case for Supports
Paula McLean from the McLean Foundation and Melissa Smith from Noble Ambition took us through their journey of securing a $3M endowment for the Stella Prize, acknowledging that endowments, while transformative, “are tough to raise money for.”  Endowments are a long game. Paula McLean (then Deputy Chair of the Sella Prize) gave $1M with a matching challenge, and it took four years to secure the other $1M (2016-2020), and involved around 40 one on one meetings with donors, dinners hosted by donors and a lot of time and patience. Key tips around endowment fundraising from Paula and Melissa are to:

  • Make the endowment campaign a strategic priority for your Board and organisation
  • Have a really good Case for Support
  • Test the Case for Support on your closest donors and gauge their appetite to give – get them involved
  • Make the endowment campaign time bound
  • Clearly demonstrate the impact of a donor’s gift and why it needs to be in perpetuity

Connor McCarthy, Director of Philanthropy at the National Library of Australia, also shared some very useful insights into developing a good Case for Support including: the importance of having a succinct vision statement which, in the Library’s case, was “to transform public access to Australian history and culture.” The major campaign was to raise money to digitise more of the collection, 90% is still off-line. And I made a note to self to visit the Library next time in Canberrra; the collection includes not just books but maps, historical objects such as badges of women’s suffrage groups, newspapers and manuscripts. Fascinating stuff.  Again, like with the Stella Prize, the Case for Support involved much testing and different iterations. Here, Connor paid tribute to Frankie Airey, Director and Founder of Philanthropy Squared, and her description – which is very fitting here – that a Case for Support is a library not a book! It needs to be a living document, that can be adapted for different donors.

Outcomes measurement for cultural organisations
John Smithies, Executive Officer of the Cultural Development Network and Penny Harpham, CEO of Western Edge Youth Arts, presented a terrific session focussing on outcomes measurement for cultural projects, looking across a range of indicators: cultural, economic, social, environmental and governance and unpacking what sits under each of these. John has devised an eight-stage system known as Aerodynamics (eight stages that make our activities fly or not) and shared a couple of case studies, one of them from Western Edge Youth Arts. I loved his advice around how to respond to funders equating impact to quantity and wanting to see greater participant numbers: “Keep focussed on the outcomes, they are wider than participant numbers.”

Donor Stewardship
Rupert Sherwood, Director of Development at Melbourne Theatre Company, shared MTC’s donor stewardship matrix and exemplary processes and strategies. Personalisation is the key and his spreadsheets and multiple letter variations talked to this, as well as the different offerings and experiences for donors from preferential seating to a priority subscription line.

Fringe fundraising with flair
Last up but by no means least was Simon Abrahams, Creative Director and CEO of the Melbourne Fringe, who led us on a merry song and dance through Fringe’s appeals, many of them cleverly crafted and hilarious YouTube videos featuring Simon himself such as:  Give us Your Money (please) with the strapline: ‘If it made you laugh, give a donation.” Treat yourself, readers, and check it out here:

Despite Simon’s protestations to the contrary, he is a fundraiser even if he hasn’t been schooled in the formal way. He understands the Fringe brand (unorthodox and quirky like his fundraising videos), lives it and breathes it, develops innovative ways to engage with donors, is passionate and persistent, and spends time bringing them close to the organisation whether it’s through personalised letters and hand-written notes or hosting dinner parties in the homes of Board members.  His jazzy and upbeat presentation was a wonderful way to bring down the final curtain on a very enriching conference.