To replace events previously run by Lincoln City Council, former member of the arts team Sara Bullimore founded the Lincoln Inspired festival. She tells the story so far.

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Adrian Fretwell

Lincoln Inspired, a not-for-profit, community-focused arts festival, began as audiences, venues and artists wanted something to replace the activities that had previously been organised and funded by the city council. In March 2012, the steering group – volunteers and professionals active in literature and arts development for more than a decade – began planning a festival that would aim to inspire and celebrate place and communities using arts, music, literature and performance. This would be done by engaging emerging and professional artists, nurturing new talent, offering a fringe education and outreach programme, involving the community and creating legacy projects working year-round to engage audiences.

The festival is currently managed by a team of volunteers and a board of directors – a strength in terms of the range of skills and experiences but a challenge in terms of capacity. Developing partnerships was crucial, so we signed up 11 genre patrons (including author Simon Scarrow), venues across the city and partners such as Waterstones.

We focused on philanthropic methods and traditional grassroots fundraising to build a sustainable business model

Our fundraising needed to reflect the income-generation landscape in the twenty-first century so we focused on philanthropic methods and traditional grassroots fundraising. This was to build a sustainable business model, involving communities and increasing ownership. We kept the overall year one budget achievable, with the idea that the target would grow each year to aid sustainability. So we initially relied upon goodwill, volunteers, partnerships and in-kind support.

The festival was launched in November 2012, when social media, fundraising campaigns and the website went live. An article in the Lincolnshire Echo, an Inspired-themed Siren FM breakfast show and interviews on BBC Radio Lincolnshire meant we had raised £350 in donations by 10am. An individual and corporate giving campaign was designed to reach potential funders and audience members and a bespoke sponsorship package was developed. We ran a successful 30-day crowdfunder UK campaign with a £1,000 target featuring a creative pitch video. We needed time and an aligned marketing and social media strategy to make sure we reached potential funders. We held pledge days at Lincoln Drill Hall Arts Centre where people could make donations, pick up donation rewards like signed books and join the mailing list. Other fundraising events included open mics, quizzes and donation jars at supporting venues.

Partnerships were key to our viability. Over the past few years there have been many changes to the arts teams within local authorities in the county, meaning that new ways of working and delivering projects was essential. Engaging with local authorities meant building partnerships with LA-funded or managed venues such as our local libraries, The Collection Museum, Lincoln Drill Hall and the Museum of Lincolnshire Life. We planned events to help promote their artistic programmes and develop audiences through cross-marketing and partnership work. Lincolnshire County Council’s Bookstart team is also a festival partner, helping us to develop our under fives literacy and engagement programme.

The first Lincoln Inspired took place in May 2013 and reached more than 5,000 people with a 96% success rate and over 60 events. But success brings challenges. Our volunteers and partners have big ambitions but capacity is limited and finding new, proactive staff can be difficult. Our income target for 2014 has doubled to include infrastructure costs to build sustainability. Our stage two fundraising campaign hopes to engage new networks, audiences and donors. The individual and corporate campaign includes community schemes such as Skipton Building Society’s Grass Roots Giving appeal. We're planning a second crowdfunding campaign, the launch of a new three-tiered Friends scheme, and sponsorship packages covering the legacy projects ‘Lincoln Inspired Presents’ and ‘Inspired on Tour’. Other online donation methods will be explored and the open mics, quizzes and pledge days will continue. Exploring these new fundraising methods is very time-consuming and we needed a strong brand and concept in order to sell our product and feel strong in championing the fundraising. But for us the journey was very rewarding and it is the generosity and support of those we know, and strangers in the streets, which continues to energise and enthuse the team and festival to continue to grow and develop.

Sara Bullimore is a freelance arts consultant and founder and chair of Lincoln Inspired.

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