Mary Jane Edwards & Andy Hamflett are co-directors of research agency and consultancy AAM Associates. This post follows their presentation on Digital Philanthropy in the Arts at our 2014 conference in Bristol.
Photo by @Doug88888 used under Creative Commons
My colleague and I went to see The Valley of Astonishment at the Young Vic a few weeks ago and on our seats was a little bit of paper telling us how the work of artists in France was under threat due to proposed changes to their unemployment benefits. We turned the note over and were surprised to find there was no ‘ask’ not least to spread the word to raise awareness, but even to give funds to support their campaign.
Now, this example isn’t even so close to home but aside from membership offers, adding a donation to my ticket purchase and popping a few pounds into a Perspex box we rarely get asked for money.
Crowd funding aside (although there a few new platforms to note: Art Happens, Patreon, Tocyn,) – examples of digital philanthropy in the arts are still thin on the ground. So we started to explore why that might be, placing the arts in the broader context of the charitable sector, and the broader importance that engaging with digital philanthropy will have.
The total amount of money raised from individuals by arts organisations 2011/12 was £372m1, which equates to the same as for one social sector charity, Cancer Research UK. Whilst on the face of it this may seem crude comparison, it made us think.
There have been numerous calls for the Arts to shout louder about its charitable status, and we don’t doubt that the numerous reports and debates highlighting the case for, and value of, Arts and Culture are doing their job, especially in relation to their contribution to the economy. But we can’t help feeling like the sector is missing a trick.
We believe investing in digital approaches and learning from social sector charities can help organisations develop the right articulation of their social value that will resonate emotionally with individual donors.
The Digital Landscape
71% of UK phone users have a smart phone, 86% of UK charities accept donations online, mobile in-app spending is predicted to rise to $16,9bn by 2018 and the UK is currently 2nd in the global monetary giving league.
There are numerous community and tech led examples of online giving utilising mobile phone functionality from: Donors Choose to Charity Miles, to Watsi. All of which focus on specific asks, building relationship, emotional resonance, social sharing – and even some of them feel behind the curve!
What’s clear is we can learn and experiment with specific digital giving platforms – and that is in many ways a sensible starting point – but the real debate is much broader than that.
Digital Touch Points
With the rise in mobile use and an increasingly data-driven economy, the potential for knowing more about supporters is only going to grow, and exponentially. Who are they? Where are they? What are they doing? What do they like? The range of digital touch points to gather this knowledge is expanding by the day, aside from more traditional modes of communication like websites, e-mails, gift shops, points of sale, people are able to attract attention through Gaming Apps, Wearables, Wi-fi pings, etc.
Thinking digitally, what are the users’ needs at all of those points? Where will they experience emotional impact? Where, when and how is the right time to ask for a donation? Or to sell? Listen? Broadcast? Joke? Consult? Co-create?
The potential for user-based modeling in philanthropy is tentatively being explored. The Science Museum recently tracked the walking movements of visitors and noted that their pathways meant that many bypassed the fundraising desk and the information point. By redesigning the space they increased donations by 80%. How might that be extended into the digital realm?
What potential does the future hold when there are so many digital engagement and tracking tools? Cities and shopping malls are even experimenting with anonymised data capture from smartphones, so they can see the routes citizens and shoppers take, where they linger and what that might reveal. At least a dozen UK shopping centres use this technology, by tracking how phones interact with their wifi signals. How soon before some of the larger arts organisations buy into this?
Arts & Tech Incubators
The cross pollination between art and digital technology is nothing new, but the rise of the modern day ‘maker’ movement and interest in digital tech labs have seen an array of traditional institutions and other actors come together to create new programmes for art and technology, to cite a few:
- New Inc, a museum led incubator/studio come tech lab in New York
- Mozilla Labs, a New York-based learning lab that engages youth around innovation, digital media and web-making
- Fish Island Labs, a new incubation programme for emerging talent in technology and the arts in Hackney Wick in London
- Bristol Museum’s digital lab, an open space for sharing emerging digital approaches
- The Johns Hopkins University & Maryland Institute College of Art have collaborated to create a new centre that will serve as an incubator for technology in the arts
In comparison with such spaces there’s little talk about how advances in tech are driving changes in business models or fundraising in the Arts. Furthermore, there’s a distinct lack of leadership from funding bodies in the sector around Digital Philanthropy in general.
The National Funding Scheme launched in March 2013, was a step in the right direction, but as the initial figures suggest the project will inevitably take time to embed and grow. However, following on from great projects such as Happenstance a technologist-in-residence programme (they also nail the argument organisaitons need to be ‘digital by default’) – Nesta’s Digital R&D fund recently announced funding for a series of projects investigating the potential of big data.
Which pertinent since it is undeniable is that the arts organisation of the future will have to have a strong handle on its data, and have robust systems in place to handle it. Within that, and as part of a considered digital framework, there will be ample opportunity – in simple, old school terms – to ask your supporters for help.
The Sliding Scale
As cited above, no one is going to crack digital philanthropy without cracking digital itself. There’s inevitably a sliding scale of views within charities about what ‘going digital’ means, from: getting the database sorted, hiring a social media intern, to having a mobile optimised site to thinking digital, and thinking mobile first. But what is worrying is that the philanthropy angle seems to be at the bottom of the pile in discussions about technology and the arts.
We believe digital philanthropy should become a far more prominent part of those conversations.
Mary Jane Edwards & Andy Hamflett are co-directors of AAM Associates, a research agency & consultancy. They are conducting research into data driven business models and digital fundraising and would love to hear from people interested in this space, or with case studies to share. If you want to get in touch, please contact Mary directly.