An Arts Professional Feature in partnership with Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy

As arts fundraisers continue to put heart and soul into securing their organisations' financial future, we share four fundraising experts' advice on the key challenges they are facing, from communications and digital fundraising to data analysis and entrepreneurship.

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Howard Lake runs a training session for Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy

We all know that we want our digital fundraising and communications campaigns to be seen by the right people at the right time. But how do we achieve that? For Howard Lake, conciseness is the answer. Given limited attention spans, competition from other marketing messages and lack of time, development messages are going to have to be shorter and more compact. If you write a paragraph for your Facebook status update, then cut it to a sentence – and test the results. Make sure that your appeal messages include sub-headings and bullet points, as readers need to be able to scan content quickly. And don’t be afraid to be less reliant on words. Good images can convey far more information, more quickly and with higher impact. Test out visual messages for your Twitter and Facebook channels and see what happens. Words matter of course but getting to the point faster is now the name of the game – and that takes practice.

Where are our role models who are living and breathing entrepreneurial thinking and who are visibly turning their organisation around?

Sarah Gee recently undertook a quick, very unscientific poll (a show of hands of development directors at a recent conference). The poll revealed some frightening facts. Just over half of them had never used Facebook, only a third had Twitter accounts, while the mention of Pinterest, Instagram and others were met with blank stares. While not everyone may spend as much time glued to their Smartphone as Sarah, it is a fact that a working knowledge of basic platforms is vital if we are to understand how some people might engage with our organisation. Digital fundraising, which can range from simple things like JustGiving or a Twitter account, right through to more elaborate initiatives such as Omaze, is not a dark art. Nor is it “something that the youngest member of the team can lead on”. It is a way for people of all ages to have a dialogue with your organisation, to build a stronger relationship which could lead to financial support, and which might also be transacted online. This should be part of any fundraising strategy, rather than a standalone, as it is rare for a campaign to be conducted solely online. So if you are not confident with digital fundraising, how about playing with it a little? We promise you won’t break the internet.

David Dixon reminded us that the first CRM-based ticketing systems were introduced in the UK about 25 years ago. For some organisations that means literally 25 years of capturing personal data and transactional information, and for most organisations it’s at least ten years. Non-ticketing organisations have other kinds of databases of members, donors, workshop attenders and mailing lists. And many ticketing organisations have those as well as the ticketing data. Can you imagine how many yottaflops of data that might be? And that data can be enhanced by postcode checking, phone number look-ups, wealth screening data, lifestyle flags and so on. The number of combinations of data for cross-analysis may not be infinite, but it might as well be. Thank goodness for meta-analysis services such as Audience Finder or Purple Seven which can help sort out the knowledge-wheat from the data-chaff, at least at a sector, region or partner level. Having so much data can seem so overwhelming that the temptation is to stick it at the back of a hard disk and let it gather cobwebs. But this data is also a gold mine and the process of finding the nuggets in data mining is essential to good fundraising. Hiring people or training your own people to do some crunching is not too expensive, but you have to know what questions to ask and from the outset know what you will do when you have the answers.

What is clear to Michelle Wright is that our hard-working development directors are sick to death of being told to be more entrepreneurial or more innovative. The hackneyed overuse of those phrases is exhausting in itself. It seems that what we are lacking are case studies from both big and small organisations doing innovation brilliantly. Similarly, where are our role models who are living and breathing entrepreneurial thinking and who are visibly turning their organisation around? The entrepreneurship community respects and celebrates its innovators and leaders and puts them on a pedestal. We know that this sort of gratification is counter-cultural to the arts sector, but do we get change without it? Michelle thinks it might be time for our development directors to take a bow, enjoy the ride and be proud to share their achievements. It is a tough environment for arts fundraising, so let’s not be shy to do this.

Howard Lake is the Founder of Fundraising UK, Sarah Gee is the Managing Partner of Indigo Ltd, David Dixon is Director of David Dixon Associates and Michelle Wright is the Founder and CEO of fundraising and development enterprise Cause4 and Programme Director for Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy.

If you are a fundraiser/development director please share your achievements with the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy (AFP) team. We would like to hear from any of you who are successfully campaigning, digital fundraising, analysing data…or yes that final bugbear, innovating. You can contact us by email: artsfundraising@cause4.co.uk or via our LinkedIn Group.

This article is the third in a series of articles on the theme ‘Fundraising for the future’, sponsored and contributed by Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy.

Between October 2014 and March 2015, Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy is running more than 50 fundraising training courses on a wide range of topics. Find out more at artsfundraising.org.uk.