Catalyst - key learning from our two-year philanthropy project

Two years ago, Create Gloucestershire embarked on an ambitious, Arts Council-funded programme called ‘Catalyst’.  

A consortium of seven arts organisations (plus CG), it aimed to make the partners better, more confident and more ambitious at raising money from individual donors. 

This week we got together to reflect on Catalyst and to ask ourselves: What went well?  And it would have been better if…? 

Here are our key conclusions, which we hope also offer some handy tips and examples for you to take away:

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What went well? 

·      Catalyst helped us to concentrate our minds, to set ourselves some goals for fundraising and to keep at it. We also made sure fundraising was more embedded into our wider business planning and made it a part of our everyday activity. So the good work will continue, even though Catalyst has finished. Example: Prema ran their ‘Raising the Roof’ appeal in 2014/15; their supporters thought it was such a great idea that rather than facing ‘donor fatigue’ they are now asking: “what next?” and looking forward to more capital improvements in 2016.

·      It enabled us to broaden responsibility for income generation so it’s not left to one or two people. Each organisation worked hard to get its whole ‘family’ of supporters involved – we realised that trustees, volunteers and staff want to help, they just need to know how. Example: GDance has helped to facilitate fundraising for their 20th Anniversary Appeal by setting up a volunteers’ committee and recruiting a volunteer coordinator (who is also a volunteer!) to help them organise sponsored runs, coffee mornings and collections.

·      It taught us the value of communications and PR. Key messages about the value of our work, the fact that we are charities, the good that we do for our local communities simply weren’y being shouted about. They are now! We realised that even though we may be well know within the arts world, we were often invisible to our local communities. Example: Artspace Cinderford realised they weren’t making it easy for people to give. Now they have a collections box (or, more accurately, a sheep named Rosemary!) in their foyer, are running interactive fundraising art projects, have a page of their brochure dedicated to ‘how to support us’ and are planning a series of local business events.

·      It coincided with the Creative Employment Programme, (another CG programme) which brought in bright, enthusiastic interns and apprentices.  This not only brought in people with new ideas and skills but helped to free up CEO/Director time to get out and about more. Example: New Brewery Arts used their apprentice to free up CEO Ali Russell’s time so she could focus on major donors and corporate supporters of their capital campaign, for The Barrel Store.

·      It showed us that fundraising is an output, not an input.  If you start by talking about money, you won’t get very far.  But if you build your ‘social capital’ by being valued within your local community or bringing together likeminded people then raising money becomes easier. Example: SVA’s expanded Membership offer now includes ‘supper clubs’, informal get-togethers to eat, chat, meet other creative people and, more subtly, stay up-to-date and engaged with SVA.

It would have been better if…

·      We’d had more time to bring in financial returns. It takes time to identify potential donors, involve them in your work, build their confidence in your organisation and to donate. Two years feels like a long time, but the financial benefits are only just starting to be felt.

·      We’d had a better understanding of the groundwork required to be successful fundraisers.  Our advice would be: make sure you have a good marketing and communications strategy in place so that there is awareness of your work; do regular checks of your database to see how up-to-date it is and to make sure all your team are collecting data whenever they can. Again, this harks back to the point that fundraising is an ‘output’ and cannot be done in isolation.

·      Each organisation could have broadened its group of fundraisers even more, by including even more Board members and other high level volunteers. This would help ease the time pressure on CEOs/Directors and help to widen the family of supporters.  That said, this is a process we’ve started with Catalyst and there’s no going back now!