Why arts fundraisers should seek learning outside of the Arts & Culture sector

: Husne Begum

Husne Begum, Development Manager at Birmingham Museums Trust, looks at five of the key struggles that arts fundraisers can face, and why learning opportunities such as Fundraising Convention offer such value.

After 14 years of fundraising to help save lives, cure diseases, prevent gang violence and support people fleeing from war torn countries, I made a move to a charity where I raised money for Contemporary Dance and then a museum. An unlikely move some may say.  It’s not as if money was an incentive, so why then? Well... why not? It’s still fundraising right?

In my first month, I engaged with the art, talked to artists and audiences, and tried to understand why the art was so important. Pretty similar to working for a ‘normal charity’ except for the fact that, to most, it’s very clear why the work is so important. Curing cancer, housing the homeless or supporting mental health is all evidently important but my point is, that a need doesn't stop being a need, because there are bigger needs. We are all working towards providing public benefit. 

In March the Association for Leading Visitor Attractions published figures showing visitor figures to UK attractions has increased by 8.68% in 2017. 138,823,297 visits were made to the top 249 ALVA sites in the UK and the most visited attraction was the Tate Modern with 5,868,562 visits. This is evidence that art and culture is valued by many and provides a source of nourishment to life that has countless benefits for those who engage.

The skills I have picked up working in both arts and non-arts charities have complemented one another. It’s clear we have much to share and learn from the wider charity sector so why aren’t more arts fundraisers attending mainstream fundraising events like the Fundraising Convention? 

My personal experience is that we tend to focus on sector specific training and whenever I attend events such as my local first Thursday with the Regional groups, I rarely meet anyone else from Arts groups. I was intrigued as to why that could be so I did some digging. 

1. Arts organisations are guilty of working in silo

I can see outrage pouring out at this – but hang on let me explain… My team and I did some small scale qualitative research asking arts fundraisers if and why they would consider accessing more mainstream support/information to help with their fundraising, the answer was overwhelmingly yes (which is great) BUT, it either didn’t occur to them to attend something that didn’t have a direct focus on arts or they felt that it wasn’t accessible and that their organisation wouldn’t see the benefit. 

The arts and culture sector want the general public to access its work and is often trying to fight the associated stigma of elitism, yet we isolate ourselves from the rest of the charity sector. However, it’s not all bad news, the sector is definitely making strides to break out of this but more needs to happen – fundraising directors should set aside budget and encourage their teams to engage with fundraising practices from the wider sector. We can learn just by sharing and hearing stories and what better place to do that, than at Fundraising Convention where there are thousands of fellow fundraisers all on the same journey. 

2. Arts organisations are bad at demonstrating their ‘charitable cause’ and ‘public benefit’

I am a prime example of someone who thought that the ‘arts’ wasn’t for them and viewed myself as disengaged. I felt that I would be out of place in what I thought as being traditional arts & culture, such as ballet, the opera, museums and galleries and classical music. Of course I know better now but it wasn’t so long ago that I held these views – and this only changed because of my job. 

What about everyone else like me, who don’t work in the sector, how do we effectively let them know that the arts deserves a bigger piece of the pie because we are doing some amazing work? 

Despite this common perception of arts engagement being for the ‘few’, 24% of British adults have watched or participated in a production or arts programme run by a charity in their lives and 64% have visited a charity-run gallery, museum or stately home. More and more doctors are now social prescribing to patients which has proven to make significant impact to lives. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock gave a speech last year on a report carried out by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, saying “what the arts and social activities do is life-enhancing. You might get by in a world without the arts, but it isn’t a world that any of us would choose to live in”. 

Despite all this, the arts is the least commonly supported cause in the charity sector. According to the Charities Aid Foundation UK Giving report, arts-based charities only receive 2% of all donations made to charities. 

We need to be better at shouting about the benefits of art and culture by becoming one with the wider sector; embed ourselves as part of it and learn from what it is doing and how it shares its charitable message. 


3. The workforce and environment are what makes art inaccessible, not the art itself

An article written in 2014 talks about how the ‘custodians’ of art are what make art inaccessible because how can an inanimate object, which isn’t capable of independent thought or emotion, be elitist. What the article is referring to is the directors and curators who enforce their artistic opinion on all of us in terms of what we should or should not see as art. In my experience of working in the arts, this is somewhat true but it is also true that things have come on a long way since then. A lot of work is being done to listen to the public and deliver art that is of relevance to more than small elite groups. 

This of course has a direct impact on fundraising. A common challenge that arts fundraisers face when it comes to low level giving or corporate giving or indeed other forms of fundraising is that there is still a response of ‘it’s not for me’ from donors and the only way we are going to change that is by broadening our horizons and learning to then influence our organisations to make progressive changes.

4. Organisational priorities – the art itself can be a stumbling block

When working in the wider charity sector, fundraising was very much at the forefront and embedded everywhere within the organisation. Non-fundraising staff always understood the value of committing time for fundraising. However, arts fundraisers often face the challenge of organisational priorities where fundraising isn’t necessarily one of the first things that is considered. 

It usually comes up as an afterthought once key decisions are made. When putting together a fundraising campaign or proposal, arts fundraisers have to find a very delicate balance between a great campaign, considering various audiences, the art, the artist and the wider organisational needs and more often than not, the ‘great campaign ‘ loses out and we end up with something mediocre.If we as fundraisers want to see a change, we absolutely have to champion it by coming together as a collective where we educate ourselves and push for fundraising to be a top priority which is combined with the right level of investment. It has to start somewhere and we owe it to ourselves to do what we can.  

5. Do arts fundraisers feel unworthy?

To be a successful fundraiser, you need to be confident and passionate about your cause. But that can be hard when we limit ourselves by thinking that we aren’t good enough to be up there with the likes of cancer charities or child poverty or animal charities. Is there a feeling that our case for support just isn’t as powerful or worthy even? I think so, but I’m not convinced that other charities look at the arts in that way. 

The IoF is doing a lot of work through an initiative called Raise which is a programme of support for fundraising and development professionals in the art, culture and heritage sector. You can find out more about Raise here and bursaries are available to help cover costs to attend Fundraising Convention this year. I would also recommend checking out sessions on personal effectiveness – they offer insight into how you can gain that confidence to know that we are all worthy! 

These are some of the reasons why my team and I will be attending Fundraising Convention 2019. I hope to see more of my fellow arts and culture fundraisers there!

See the full programme here.

Husne Begum is Development Manager at Birmingham Museums Trust and sits on the Fundraising Convention Board.

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