Following our lead story last issue, David Dixon advises caution when considering the merits of a Friends’ scheme
It's great that the issue of individual philanthropy is now getting more attention (AP227) but with more than 20 years’ experience of raising money for arts organisations from individuals, I counsel great caution in following Arts & Business’s (A&B) full-on recommendation of Friends’ schemes. Some cultural organisations have successfully used the structure of ‘friends’, but there are several major issues to consider: once you set up a structured scheme with levels and benefits you automatically have more administration; many arts organisations already have a loyalty scheme (sometimes also called friends) which is run by the marketing department; there is research to show that many potential donors are not ‘joiners’, i.e. pitching some kind of ‘scheme’ to them will put off many people; and finally, there is no evidence that marketing individual philanthropy for the arts through a structured scheme actually raises any more money than simply asking for donations. If there is no convincing ‘return on investment’ argument for setting up a structured scheme, why go to the trouble?
A&B has ‘discovered’ individual philanthropy only within the past few years and, as an organisation, its practical experience is very limited. Fortunately, there are scores of very experienced fundraisers working in the arts, who can advise or offer case studies. I recommend ‘The Complete Membership Handbook’1 by your very own Liz Hill and Brian Whitehead and, above all, ‘Cultural Giving’2 by Theresa Lloyd, which is full of case studies, including cautionary tales. Big organisations in London do tend to raise most but this is because they are, well, big and they have the resources to invest in fundraising. But smaller organisations such as the Watermill in Newbury and the Pegasus Youth Theatre in Oxford, to name just two, show what can be achieved with a confident and professionally managed campaign.
Later in the same issue of AP, Nosheen Iqbal echoes A&B in wondering whether the market for individual donations is already saturated. The answer to that question is a resounding 'no'. The problem is that the arts in the UK, taken overall, have hardly begun to ask for gifts from all potential sources in a planned and consistent manner. Building a long-term individual philanthropy programme (not a ‘scheme’) is about development of long-term relationships. Friends’ schemes are neither here nor there – there is only one secret to getting more donations and that is to ask for them, assertively, clearly, politely and consistently. There is a lot of detail of course, which is where professionals can help, but my basic advice is to get asking!
David Dixon is Director of David Dixon Associates and The Phone Room.
1 The Complete Membership Handbook’ by Liz Hill and Brian Whitehead (2004, DSC)
2 ‘Cultural Giving’ by Theresa Lloyd (2006, DSC)
Editor’s note: the chapter on ‘Devising a Membership Scheme’ from The Complete Membership Handbook is available to subscribers as an exclusive free download at