One of the most valuable opportunities I have had as an Arts Fundraising Fellow so far has been experiencing the sector in two very different organisational contexts. Fundraising, I am discovering, is a varied profession. A profession where replicating strategies doesn’t always work…
The transferring technique
It can be very tempting to transfer the fundraising methods of one organisation to another. After all, if it worked for them, why couldn’t it work for us? And sometimes it does. However, the arts sector in particular will struggle with ‘the transferring technique’ as organisations tend to grow quite organically and often unpredictably (likely due to the creative nature of the field) meaning that the structure and values of each can vary enormously. Factors such as the size, scale and capacity, and the company’s mission and vision will naturally have an effect on the way that they raise funds, because the needs, threats and opportunities will always be different.
This has been laid bare to me over of the past couple of months – I have had the opportunity to fundraise for the world’s largest arts brand, Tate, which has a main Development team comprises of over sixty people (!) whilst also fundraising for DaDaFest, a disability arts organisation which has a structure which includes just six permanent staff, with no one exclusively dedicated to fundraising. Contrary to what you might expect, it seems that neither model is more or less efficient than the other: their strengths and weaknesses differ and therefore so does their approach to fundraising.
For example, Tate’s large Development team provides a resilient structure, offering thorough processes and a wealth of fundraising knowledge and expertise. However, the strength of DaDaFest’s model is that it cuts out the middle man – the project manager (who inevitably knows their project inside out) is responsible for their own fundraising, speeding up processes which can become quite lengthy in a larger organisation. DaDaFest’s approach to fundraising is therefore quite reactive, whereas Tate adopts a more strategic approach. Both strategies work, but specific to each organisation.
So how do we assess the context of an organisation to inform our fundraising strategy?
Example 1: a strength of Tate is that it is a globally recognised brand, therefore it is subject to major government decision-making around funding; a weakness is that its internal decision-making processes can be quite complex due to its size and scale across different UK and international sites.
Example 2: a strength for DaDaFest is its unique social standing on disability combined with a pioneering Disability Arts programme, which is often attractive to funders; a weakness is its limited resources to capture data which can impact on relationship management processes.
The key lesson then is that there are no right or wrong answers. Yes, there may be best practice, knowledge and approaches that are proven to be effective and can be shared across organisations, but I think the fundamentals of being a fundraiser stretch beyond this: if we can be creative, entrepreneurial, adaptable and active in addressing differing needs then I am confident we will be able to succeed.
Could this be true of all sectors? Food for thought…