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Fit to Fundraise

On 12th December ASPIRE hosted its second knowledge sharing event for museum professionals, Doing the best you can: an introduction to the ASPIRE fundraising series.

Delegates – from Bedfordshire, Birmingham, Cambridgeshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Milton Keynes, Oxfordshire, Reading, Warwickshire and Worcestershire – were taken through the day by Judy Niner from Development Partners, a consultancy working with over 80 different organisations on areas such as fundraising strategy, trust applications, corporate fundraising and sponsorship, individual giving and development communications.

Selection from the Crondall Hoard (c) Ashmolean Museum

The day was designed to provide a brief overview of various areas of fundraising to act as a baseline for more detailed sessions on specific topics that ASPIRE will be holding over the next year.  

Some of the topics discussed included: grants from HLF, trusts, foundation and government; the potential and problems of European funding; capital campaigns; corporate support; and individual giving through donation boxes, friends schemes and legacies.

Is your organisation fit to fundraise?

Judy kicked off and ended the discussion with a question she says organisations must ask themselves before engaging in fundraising “are you fit to fundraise?”  Responsibility for fundraising is not just about the individual who may be working on their own in a fundraising capacity – it is about the whole organisation.  To help answer this question Judy listed the key things that an organisation must have in place in order to fundraise successfully.

  • Leadership: is your leadership committed to the development campaign, do they have contacts to help you find donors, and do they have the charisma and determination to make the important ‘asks’?

  • Organisation mission/plan: do you have a clear vision of why you’re raising funds and where you want to take your organisation?

  • Business plan: do you have a detailed plan of how any funds raised will be used to reach your organisational goals?

  • Financial strength: does you organisation have the capacity to reach its goals?  Funders do not want to sponsor work/organisations that are likely to fail.

  • Fundraising expertise: do you have access to the expertise to power your campaign?

  • Staff and volunteer support: do you have buy in from across the organisation?

  • Committed supporters: who are your other supporters?  How are they supporting you?

  • Proof of delivery: have you delivered projects in the past?  How healthy is your organisational CV?

  • Strong case for support: can you show why the work you’re doing is important - not just to you, but to others.

  • Communications networks and vehicles: do you have the capacity to raise awareness of your organisation’s mission?

  • Stewardship resources: do you have the capacity to maintain positive relationships with your supporters?

Case Study: Ashmolean Transformation

Many of the areas of development discussed throughout the day were brought together by a case study provided by the Ashmolean Museum.

The Ashmolean reopened in November 2009 after major building works which saw 70% of the museum knocked down to make space for 39 new galleries redisplaying the museum’s collections in innovative new ways.  The museum now also has extensive dedicated education facilities, a state of the art conservation studio, a fantastic new restaurant and much more.  As well as seeing visitor numbers quadruple to 1m a year, this building conversion represented a major transformation for the entire organisation: its brand, ethos and mission.  To find out more about the Ashmolean transformation click here.

Tess McCormick, Head of Development at the Ashmolean, explained how the Ashmolean raised £50m for the building redevelopment..  The Ashmolean also raised £5m to open 6 new Egypt Galleries just two years later, and this year has raised £7.83m to purchase Manet’s portrait of Mademoiselle Claus for the public, and £1.3m just to keep the doors open.

Of the £50m raised for the Ashmolean redevelopment to date 30% has come from HLF, 20% from the Linbury Trust, 40% from individuals, 5% from trusts, 4% from the University of Oxford, 0.5% from donations of less than £1k and 0.4% from Corporate sponsorship.  The Ashmolean names galleries in honour of its highest level benefactors. Tess explained how the museum’s director and ‘campaign committee’ are integral in both approaching donors to inform them of the Ashmolean’s campaign and request support, but also for sourcing prospects from their own networks.

To raise the regular running costs of the museums the Ashmolean relies on a friends scheme, patrons scheme and corporate membership scheme as well as donation boxes and an annual mail appeal.  Tess talked about the legacy leaflet and breakfast they held to celebrate Legacy10, which was released in April 2012 to encourage charitable giving.

The Ashmolean redevelopment campaign has also supported further projects at the museum.  Many individuals who were not inclined to fund bricks and mortar funded other areas of work at the museum, such as the digitisation of the Ashmolean’s Eastern Art Collection.  Through maintaining good relations with previous donors, and attracting new supporters, the museum was also able to raise the £5m needed for the Egypt Galleries entirely from individual philanthropic gifts.

Egypt Galleries (c) Ashmolean Museum

Philanthropy outside London

Although the Ashmolean was highly successful in securing philanthropic support for their transformation, the group discussed the difficulties organisations face with philanthropic giving if they are based outside London.

Of all the funds donated to culture by individuals, 36% (approximately £245.7m) goes to heritage.  Of that money, 89% goes to organisations within London, and just over 1% to the South East. Outside of London corporate support for heritage organisations is also extremely low, with museums raising an average of £5k a year in corporate funds, as opposed to an average of £25k from Friends organisations.

These statistics send the clear message that it is difficult for museums to raise funds from individuals if they are outside London; but there are things organisations can do to ensure that they ‘do the best they can’.

Top Tips

  • Donation boxes: should always be transparent (people don’t like sending their money into a black hole), and staff and volunteers should be confident in prompting visitors to donate.  

  • Individual Giving: when looking to individuals for support it is important to target those with both the capacity and the inclination to support your organisation.  Appropriate sponsors need to be carefully researched – and Richard Branson should never be on the list!!

  • Patrons: it’s important to maintain good relations with the patrons who support your museum, but there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.  For large organisations with a significant number of patrons, schemes including dinners and events can work well, but for smaller organisations with only a dozen patrons, bespoke engagement can work better.

  • Appeals: it’s important to link fundraising with specific appeals, people like to know what their money supports.

  • Prioritise: be strategic about what you choose to do and what you decide not to do.  Ask yourself, “what is the single thing you could do now that would have the best impact?”

  • Communicating a positive message: people want to invest in success.  Messages such as “if you don’t support us we may have to close” are not going to help your campaign.

  • Useful websites

What can your organisation do today to improve its fundraising prospects?

At the end of the day Judy asked the delegates what was the one thing they thought they could do immediately to improve their fundraising activities.  Top response: “take care of our previous donors better to ensure their continued support for the museum”.

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