FUNDING Making it with the crowd


A new Nesta study has found that matched crowdfunding presents an option beyond grant-giving for funders for smaller arts organisations. Nesta’s Jonathan Bone and Sam Mitchell explain

Arts organisations, ranging from immersive opera in South London to a pop-up creative venue on Exeter’s quayside, are constantly in need of cash for their next venture. In a field where ideas and ambition sometimes outstrip the ability to fundraise or earn, new platforms and funding mechanisms will have an increasingly important role in getting projects off the ground. Matched crowdfunding - when institutional grant funding is combined with individual donations from the public via online platforms – is a new opportunity for artists and arts organisations who have struggled to tap into conventional grant funds.

[Caption: Picasso's Women,  picture by Jess Chappenden]

Nesta recently published the findings of our own matched crowdfunding pilot for arts and heritage projects in the UK, run in partnership with Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Arts Council England and Heritage Lottery Fund. Through two simultaneous funds, the £125,000 Artist+ the Crowd (provided by ACE) and the £126,500 Heritage+ the Crowd (provided by HLF), the pilot leveraged an additional £405,941 of public donations to fund 59 Arts and Heritage projects using the Crowdfunder platform.


Colette Redgrave, producer at Picasso’s Women

Our decision to crowdfund the initial stages of this performance project was purely organic.  It quickly developed into a reality as the crowdfunding campaign started to attract attention earlier this year.  This caught the eye of the Arts Council's Match Fund programme via Crowdfunder ( a project with possible eligibility for +Funding.

We decided to try and raise our first investment stage via crowdfunding for Picasso's Women not only to find financial support but also to gain a real 'family' of supporters willing to see this production right the way through from design conception to performance.

The +Funding has not only helped us gain the initial investment we require to keep developing the project for performances in 2018, but it has shown recognition for the credibility of Picasso's Women and continues to sustain publicity as we venture into the second stage of funding and development.

Performances are set to be featured in art galleries across the UK in 2018 and since conception has attracted support from members of the public and the likes of singer and actress Toyah Wilcox and sculptor Guy Portelli who join the project as Patrons.  We are also in talks with gallery owners in the USA and Europe and hope to take Picasso's Women to an international audience. This is all with thanks to our initial investors who we recognise as #ArtsAngels and the match funding grant from Arts Council England.

Importantly, we found the offer of match-funding from ACE helped attract first-time donors to the arts sectors. A survey of the individual givers found that 86 per cent of donors had never financially supported the organisations before, and one in five had never backed any arts or heritage project before. Crowdfunding is a way to energise people interested in creative work, into supporting it in a meaningful way. What’s more, the match fund nudged 57 per cent of project owners to start crowdfunding in the first place - giving them the opportunity to tap into this new donor base.

Matched crowdfunding presents a unique opportunity for organisations to both raise funds and test the market for their idea. Brian McAvera's play Picasso's Women, for example, raised £6,030 from 37 supporters (including a £1,500 matched grant from ACE) to bring its production of three monologues, featuring three influential women in Picasso's life, to art galleries across the UK. The Birmingham Art Map, meanwhile, raised £7,567 from 106 supporters (including a £3,000 matched grant from ACE) to help fund a free printed art map which lists key exhibitions and events on offer in Birmingham.


Manuel Fajardo, co-founder and executive director at The Opera Story, which commissions and produces new opera by young artists who’s immersive opera Snow, written by three young composers, had its world premiere in Peckham this year

Our experience with matched crowdfunding was very positive. We saw crowdfunding as a great way to test our idea for a new opera, but, being our first production, and our first time raising funds from the public, there was a lot of risk involved.  The backing of Arts Council England reduced this risk, both for us, for them and for our other backers, by reassuring all that this was a collective effort that had support from many stakeholders. In the end, the campaign and the production itself were a big success, and a great example of how a collaborative approach can make good ideas become a reality.

While the pilot helped these projects to raise the funding needed to get their ideas off the ground, they told us that matched crowdfunding is about much more than just the money. Eighty-eight per cent of funded projects said they received some form of non-financial contribution from their donors. These included help promoting their campaign, introductions to potential collaborators and offers of help and volunteering.

In addition, more than two in three project owners reported that running the crowdfunding campaign significantly improved their pitching and fundraising skills, including film creation, image creation and media skills. Alongside the funding they receive, these non-financial benefits can help build the resilience of arts organisations, this being particularly important in light of the cuts to the arts sector made since 2010.

Crowdfunding is often built up as a way for fundraisers to reach a global audience online. In our pilot we found it was predominately used as a tool to connect and engage with local people and their money. Eighty-two per cent of donors reported that “supporting a local project” was an important motivation for donating to the project they supported. Over half of donors lived within 20 miles of the project that they supported, revealing the importance of local networks. This was especially important for arts projects, with backers of heritage projects on average living nearly twice as far away from projects they backed as donors of ACE funded projects.

The importance of locality shows that matched crowdfunding can be used as a method of increasing activity in a specific area or region. For example, since 2014 the Greater London Authority, in partnership with the Spacehive crowdfunding platform, has been providing match funding to crowdfunding civic projects within the city. Similarly, matched crowdfunding can be used to drive support for a particular thematic area or art form, such as the Creative England iShorts match fund, aimed specifically at encouraging the production of short films.

It looks like the combination of crowd and institution working together is here to stay, as matched crowdfunding is growing in popularity with local authorities, corporate CSR programmes, trusts and foundations experimenting with platforms. Benefits to the projects are the real reward though. Arts organisations can now tap into new donor groups, develop digital and fundraising skills and test the demand for projects, at the same time receiving a seal of approval from funding bodies. We’d say that’s a good enough reason to give it a go.



Jonathan Bone is a quantitative researcher at Nesta and Sam Mitchell is its programme manager, digital arts and media


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