TaitMail Arts funding? Forgot to ask…

The arts and creative industries have been lauded for the inventiveness, entrepreneurship, partnership and pragmatism they have brought to survival against the storm of subsidy cuts over the last seven or eight years, and rightly so.

Arts organisations have learned new ways of earning cash, dismantled barriers between them and other set-ups to share experiences and contacts, and rethought their governance to cut out waste. It’s been painful, sometimes requiring heroic surgery that some have not survived. But by appealing to individuals in new audiences we’ve got culture under the skin of Britain so that a quarter of us have participated in creativity in the last year, and two thirds – most - of us have been to an exhibition, concert or play. But we can’t ask these newly switched on individuals for the cash we need to survive.

And creative sector is turning to fundraising, some organisations building whole new departments dedicated to sourcing charitable funding, and that has usually meant resorting to charities and trusts such as the hugely oversubscribed the Esmé Fairbairn, the Paul Hamlyn or the Clore whose funds are finite and extremely cautiously administered.

But personal giving - “philanthropy” is an outdated word, there is so much more to it than patrician kindness – is the gold seam that has not been broached by the arts.

Here are the figures, from the Charities Aid Foundation’s latest annual survey: the British donated a whacking £9.7 billion of which the arts got just 2%, and that’s double what they got the year before.

“The arts sector is just not very good at making the case for charitable investment” says Michelle Wright, who runs the charities support organisation Cause4 which has set up a consortium to create a crash online course, bursting on the sector on Monday advance.cause4.co.uk. It has joined up with the Arts Marketing Association and Leeds University’s FutureLearn department which has made a speciality of teaching effective fundraising.

I haven’t tried the site, it doesn’t go live until Monday so there’s no knowing how uyseful it will be. Cause4 ran a year-long pilot with 500 participants who recorded 70% completion rates and 90% satisfaction, but to what extent those cultured mendicants have been able to put what they learned to good effect we’re not told. Nor is there any impulse from the government, whose cry of “philanthropy!” in 2010 set the whole thing going, and the funding has come from the Arts Council (despite rather lukewarm support from Nick Serota who talks a bit pompously about “being pleased to support the development of these materials”, perhaps snot expecting much to come from it).  

But this is urgent, and there’s no culture of learning about fundraising in the arts, Wright says – there are no budgets to pay for it, no squeezable time to travel to seminars. “It’s not prioritised”.

So there are three modules on offer from Monday. Over two hours you can learn how to ask for money – make a strategy, cultivate strategic contacts and manage events. Getting rid of the dead wood on arts boards has been a major exercise over the last five years, and over 90 minutes those now installed as trustees can find out what their responsibilities are, how to butter-up donors and what the rules are. And for another hour-and-a-half CEOs and senior fundraisers can find out about the ethics of fundraising, how to implement a practical and ethical strategy and how to ensure the organisations artistic integrity is protected. Also from Monday, Leeds has a two week leaders’ online course on diversifying income streams and organisational resilience.

The government is getting meaner, local authorities are getting poorer, the lottery is losing its impact. But 10% of £9.7 billion is almost a billion pounds of new money, there for the asking by the fastest growing sector in the British economy. We just don’t know how to ask for it.

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