Training has given many non-specialist fundraisers in the East of England the skills and confidence to make their case to potential funders, says Miranda Rowlands.

Photo of people at a conference
Tony O’Connor, Heritage and Culture Manager at Epping Forest District Museum and Lowewood Museum, at the Enterprise & Philanthropy Conference, March 2016

Paul Macro Photography

In an era of shrinking local authority budgets, for many museums the confidence to fundraise is fast becoming a necessity. In the East of England we've been working with museums of all shapes and sizes to address a shortfall in fundraising experience and knowledge, helping to build the sector's resilience and secure its future.

There are no magic wands when it comes to fundraising, but equally it’s not the dark art that some people think

SHARED Enterprise is one of nine Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Catalyst Umbrella projects, which aim to build fundraising and income generation capacity in the sector. It is operated by Norfolk Museums Service, an Arts Council England (ACE) Major Partner Museum, and works alongside the ACE-funded regional museum development programme for the East of England, SHARE Museums East.

Since it began in 2014, SHARED Enterprise has reached more than 400 people from over 70 museums, galleries and archives, and HLF has recently granted us additional funding to continue the project’s work until 2018, which will enable us to offer specific activities like attracting funding from individuals or fundraising for major capital developments.

Wide-ranging training

The project offers a combination of cohort-based training, consultancy, small grants, day workshops and seminars covering fundraising strategy, funding bid writing, individual giving, legacies, crowdfunding, friends groups, governance, marketing, commercial operations and business partnerships.

We work with all types and sizes of museum from large local authority services to small, volunteer-run organisations. Delegates work in a variety of museum roles, including paid staff, trustees and volunteers. Common to all is the need to raise money to replace local authority funding.

Another common theme is the general lack of capacity for fundraising. Most regional museums do not have a single dedicated fundraiser, let alone a fundraising team. Whether they employ paid staff or rely on volunteers, fundraising is usually one more responsibility on a very long list.

Consequently, fundraising knowledge and experience within the sector is generally quite limited. This is not unique to museums as other Catalyst Umbrella projects report similar challenges in the heritage sector.

I think there’s also a big gap in the provision of fundraising training and resources at a suitable level for regional museums. Professional fundraising training that is not sector-specific can be off-putting for people who don’t work in dedicated fundraising roles. They may perceive the training to be of a level that’s too high for them, and therefore not relevant or appropriate to their needs. Not least, some training can be prohibitively expensive, especially for smaller museums.

Understanding the challenges

SHARED Enterprise aims to be accessible to all museums in the East of England, not only by being completely free of charge, but also by understanding regional museums and the challenges they face. Knowing that our delegates are not professional fundraisers, we try to avoid jargon and use relevant case studies that demonstrate how fundraising activities can be scaled to fit different types and sizes of organisation.

As a measure of the project’s impact, fundraising success is just one part of a bigger picture. Our evaluation has revealed some interesting and unexpected changes. In the process of developing their fundraising skills and knowledge, attitudes to fundraising have shifted. Before SHARED Enterprise fundraising was an activity many delegates resisted and resented. It felt like something of a chore.

Shifting attitudes

The training has helped shift that attitude, with people beginning to embed a more positive organisational fundraising culture. For example, Rachel French at the University of Cambridge Museum of Zoology secured support from colleagues for fundraising events after presenting a clear case for support to internal stakeholders.

Arabella McKessar at Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury, Suffolk, said for her the most significant change was gaining the confidence to make presentations. She did this as part of a seminar, sharing her learning with other museums. Previously, Arabella had been too nervous to address a group of more than two or three familiar people. While we didn’t deliberately push her out of her comfort zone, it’s great to know that the training enabled her to feel confident enough to do this.

David Oelman at the Fry Art Gallery, Saffron Walden, Essex, has discovered his ability to attract donations from individuals and has raised a significant sum of money doing just that, securing the gallery’s future in the process. Before training he said he’d been too embarrassed to ask people for money. The training helped him develop the confidence and skills to successfully engage with major donors.

No magic wands

There are no magic wands when it comes to fundraising, but equally it’s not the dark art that some people think. A positive attitude and good communication skills are essential: you must speak positively for your organisation if you want others to listen and to donate. You need to be hard-working and persistent in order to succeed and you’ll need plenty of personal resilience to cope with the inevitable disappointments along the way.

But I can honestly say I’ve yet to meet a museum worker, paid or voluntary, who didn’t have all of those qualities.

Miranda Rowlands is SHARED Enterprise Project Officer at Norfolk Museums Service.

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