What can we learn from recipients of Arts Council England’s Catalyst Evolve funding? AMA’s Associate Editor, Sara Lock, captured some of the key points from the first Catalyst learning day of 2017.
Arts Council England launched Catalyst Evolve to support organisations with a limited track record in fundraising to attract more private giving. The fund is part of a wider ambition to create a more sustainable and resilient arts and culture sector.
During the learning day, led by BOP Consulting, funding recipients shared stories of challenges and positive change. While each story was unique, there were a number of recurring themes and steps that could be applied to any organisation.
Take a step back
Taking a step backwards can feel counter-intuitive when trying to achieve progress but for many recipients it was an essential part of the process. As one aptly put it: “How can we expect people to fund us when we don’t know who we are or what we stand for?”
This first step wasn’t about grantees reinventing their organisations. It was a case of them finding the right language to clearly and concisely articulate what they do and why. It was about telling their story in a distinctive way that would enable them to stand out.
Vision statements are widely used by cause-led charities to boldly articulate the difference they want to make in the world. The use of ‘Vision’ statements in the arts and cultural sector is far less prominent. Some organisations articulate business-orientated ambitions, such as becoming the leading organisation of their type. Some have a mission but not a vision and others simply choose not to share these statements with the world.
For many Catalyst Evolve recipients, developing a compelling vision statement was the first step in embedding fundraising in their organisations. Several said they felt they were now communicating more like cause-led charities. Some had taken it further by learning to speak clearly and concisely about the impact of their work.
One of my favourite stories of the day was from the CEO of South Asian Arts UK (SAA), Keran Virdee. She ensured every member of her team had a slick ‘elevator pitch’ by making them describe SAA to a member of the public in a one-floor elevator ride. The literal interpretation of an ‘elevator pitch’ meant her team had no choice but to get immediately to the point of SAA’s work.
Involve the whole team
Funding recipients from previous Catalyst rounds have stressed the importance of embedding fundraising across the whole organisation. Those who’ve been particularly successful have reported strong top-down leadership and support from the board. Others have referenced the importance of front of house staff feeling confident asking for donations.
Catalyst Evolve recipients are already achieving success by bringing marketing and fundraising staff together. A more consistent tone of voice and more engaging messaging were just two of the benefits reported. Often, part of the battle is making people aware that your organisation needs financial support; taking a joint marketing and fundraising approach to communication is helping recipients achieve that shift in perception.
Grantees have also highlighted success in working with board members to access new networks and engage potential supporters. Catalyst has provided a focus for organisations to involve board members in fundraising. While not all organisations have that opportunity, arranging a staff and board away day dedicated to fundraising could provide a similar focus.
Build processes and consistency
It’s still relatively early days for Catalyst Evolve participants but they are already beginning to establish new processes and a more consistent approach. Many of the participants talked about having previously done a bit of fundraising here and there when they could fit it in around other tasks. They talked about making a transition from one-off campaigns or fundraising events to a more consistent and connected approach.
If you are putting all your fundraising energy into one-off campaigns or fundraising activities, think about how you could connect giving opportunities. Catalyst grantees are beginning to build ladders of giving to encourage higher level gifts from previous donors. Focusing on donor care and keeping accurate records of donations has enabled them to start building private giving and streamline their processes.
Be kind to yourself
The final point I took from the day was the importance of being kind to yourself. Perhaps the overriding feeling in the room was one of reassurance. Several grantees aired frustrations at not having achieved as much as they’d hoped, only to find they were certainly not alone.
Until you see those big cheques coming in, fundraising may feel like a thankless task. Building strong foundations for fundraising can take time but, as stories from previous grantees revealed, it pays dividends in the long-term.
The day ended with an important reminder that you don’t have to get everything right from the start. If your fundraising campaign isn’t working, you haven’t failed. Take a step back, tweak it and carry on. Every mistake you learn from brings you a little bit closer to a successful campaign.
Image: Phoenix Dance Theatre, photo credit Richard Moran.