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Continuing our series looking at the role of philanthropy in the arts, Tessitura’s Kate Watson and Rebecca Herberson explore whether a US model of philanthropy might provide a viable alternative funding stream in these straitened times.

Three masked women at a drinks party

Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

As we know too well, the arts and culture sector is under significant strain. In the UK, cultural attractions, arts venues and performing artists depend heavily on four primary funding sources: earned income from tickets, goods and services; national public investment; local public investment; and sponsorships or donations. 

However, since 2010, funding from local authorities in England has plummeted by 43% as councils grapple with severe budget constraints. The rising cost of living and stagnant national public investment are compounding financial pressures.

To attract and retain the funding necessary to survive and thrive, UK arts and culture organisations must convincingly demonstrate both economic and social value. Earned revenue is inherently limited by factors such as seating capacity, operational costs and community needs. Increasingly, new philanthropic opportunities are needed to sustain your offerings.

US depends on a culture of community responsibility

In the United States, on the other hand, philanthropy is deeply ingrained in the arts and culture landscape. Unlike the UK, where government funding is a significant contributor, American arts organisations can’t rely on consistent government support. Instead, they depend on a culture of community responsibility and, with it, strong individual giving and philanthropic membership programmes. 

Yet, the sheer diversity and number of worthy causes, ranging from local grassroots initiatives to large-scale international nonprofits, creates a highly competitive environment. It’s challenging for any single message to stand out. Plus, arts and cultural organisations are often viewed as luxuries rather than as institutions making a deep impact on their communities and local economies. 

To navigate this crowded landscape, US teams have been forced to develop creative individual giving approaches. These five strategies provide a common foundation for the most effective programmes. 

1 Clearly articulate your mission and impact 

It may seem obvious, but clearly communicating your organisation's unique mission and community impact is critical to ensuring your message appeals to potential donors. 

What are the core values and vision that drive your programs and services? Use language that evokes emotion and underscores the importance of your work.

2 Leverage storytelling

Storytelling connects donors with the real-life experiences of those benefiting from their gifts. Show your supporters the direct results of their contributions. The more tangible and personal your examples, the more deeply they’re likely to resonate. 

3 Innovate your fundraising tactics

Embrace fresh fundraising methods. If you’re not already doing so, leverage social media, host engaging events or collaborate with complementary organisations to crowdfund together. 

Your technology should support your efforts, too. Does your digital fundraising platform make it easy to give? How can your emails and other communication journeys keep supporters engaged?

4 Demonstrate transparency and accountability 

Build trust by showing transparency and accountability in financial management. Publishing annual impact reports can showcase both your achievements and future goals, especially when they’re backed by data and success stories.

5 Personalise communication

Tailor your interactions with donors to show genuine appreciation and stewardship for their support, enhancing their donor experience. Let them see how their contributions align not only with their personal values but also with a collective vision for the future. 

Personalisation strategies executed at scale let you create strong connections between specific donors and your offerings. Track donor preferences, ticket purchases, past interactions, interests and giving history. You can then use that data to create tailored fundraising messages that stand out. 

Understanding key relationships and connections within donor networks—be they families, households, organisations, or businesses—opens further opportunities for relationship building. The more you know about individuals, the better you can connect them with programmes, genres, classes, and events that have a meaningful impact on their lives.

Segmentation of donors as well as audiences

Philanthropic giving should be treated as an integral part of your customer engagement journey, not just as a revenue stream. For example, grouping your supporters based on demographics or behaviours lets you tailor communications that enhance their engagement and increase giving. 

Your organisation likely excels at categorising earned revenue by show, genre or artform. You can apply the same meticulous care to philanthropic support. When you segment donors similarly to audiences, you’ll recognise where you have opportunities to build loyalty. When donors see the tangible impact of their contributions, they’ll become more deeply invested in the relationship. 

Adopting a strategic approach to individual giving is crucial for success, especially as disposable incomes shrink. By leveraging your customer data, you can enhance your fundraising efforts immediately to better navigate financial challenges and enrich your communities. 

UK and US fundraisers have much to learn from each other. The cross-pollination of ideas and insights can help arts administrators on both sides of the pond refine strategies and build more effective, resilient philanthropy programmes. 

Kate Watson is a UK-based Senior Consultant and Rebecca Herberson is the US-based Vice President of Solutions and Strategic Partnerships at Tessitura. 

Link to Author(s): 
Headshot of Kate Watson
Headshot of Rebecca Herberson