Business mentoring is arts' new sponsorship

A new report on Prosper, the Arts Council-funded business support programme, says it shows that specialist one-to-one mentoring, rather that cash grants, which drive increased confidence in business planning and enterprise are already helping arts organisations.

Prosper provided business support for the arts, museums and libraries in England to improve resilience, income diversification, enterprise and investment readiness. 

The report finds a high level of demand for business support from organisations across England’s creative and cultural sectors. It recommends continued investment to meet business support demand; recognition of the effectiveness of tailored support; and business support that reflects the culture, values, organisational diversity and languages of the creative and cultural sectors.

During the programme, 70 creative and cultural organisations had access to up to 12 hours each of free one-to-one advice, and masterclasses, workshops and webinars covering a range of business support topics.

“The process of exploring the viability and feasibility of our ideas, and thinking through our potential for growth, has been extremely productive… It has made me realise how we need to reconfigure our business model and working practices and, most importantly, the barriers that are preventing this from happening…” said one supported programme, while another said, “…[the] advice has given us a framework to better understand our audience, a way to evaluate our services and a more robust, measurable business plan.”

The evaluation report has been published by Creative United and the Centre for Business in Society (CBiS) at Coventry University, and its findings are being shared with policy makers and leaders from the creative and cultural sector.

It shows the high level of demand for business support from the spectrum of creative and cultural enterprises – from freelance designers to library services, and including Soul Labels (pictured) https://soullabels.com. Nearly six times the number of organisations registered an interest in the programme than the 70 that could be supported. Two-thirds of those completing an application had not accessed business support for at least two years.

 Surveys and interview data was used to assess the outcomes and impacts for the supported cohort revealing that, after only nine months of support, tangible, positive change had occurred in around two-thirds of the cohort in terms of confidence towards business planning, the strength of their business plans going forward, and the likely implementation of new income diversification strategies.

The evaluation found evidence of “what works” when it comes to the provision of business support for the creative and cultural sectors. Continuous participation throughout the programme was high, and 86% of the cohort remarked that the one-to-one support was useful or extremely useful for their advancement.

The evaluators of the programme used surveys and interview data to assess the outcomes and impacts for the supported cohort. This revealed that, after only nine months of support, tangible, positive change had occurred in around two-thirds of the cohort in terms of confidence towards business planning, the strength of their business plans going forward, and the likely implementation of new income diversification strategies 

Prosper has had widespread support with funding from Access – The Foundation for Social Investment, AMA, CBiS, Creative Scotland, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The report has been co-funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

The Arts Marketing Association (AMA), partners in the programme, created a dedicated digital hub (www.culturehive.co.uk/prosper) offering online business support resources.

“We are extremely grateful to ACE and our other funding partners for their investment in the Prosper programme which has given us the opportunity to take an objective look at the impact of tailored business support as a means of enabling growth and development across a wide range of arts and cultural organisations” said Mary-Alice Slack, CEO of entrepreneurial community interest company Creative United http://www.creativeunited.org.uk.

“As a result of that investment, we now have a strong evidence base for both the demand and effectiveness of this kind of intervention. We hope that the report will be influential in helping funders and policy makers across the sector to invest further in business support, giving arts and cultural organisations access to the specialist advice and guidance they need to achieve their ambitions for growth.”

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