Inactive trustees could be the Achilles heel in arts sector efforts to attract individual giving

The two most important drivers of individual giving to cultural organisations – a clearly articulated need and strong fundraising leadership at board level – are missing in many organisations, suggests the latest report into the sector’s capacity for fundraising from private sources. The report, by agency Arts Quarter (AQ), draws on the findings from its two landmark research projects into individual giving, conducted with arts organisations from April 2010 to May 2012. It suggests that, while many organisations have the capacity to identify ‘giving prospects’ and aspire to engage with them, they face a number of critical barriers to gaining financial support from high-net-worth individuals.

This conclusion is based on data from a total of 126 arts organisations based in England. Senior staff in these organisations identified three prerequisites for an effective individual-giving campaign: a community of potential supporters from among their audiences or visitors, who have a financial capacity to give; a clear and overt narrative on which to base their requests for support; and, in the light of limited fundraising resources, an engaged community of senior volunteers and trustees to advocate for their organisations, endorse their work, solicit donations and become donors themselves.

But while the findings confirm there is clear potential for arts organisations to achieve high levels of philanthropy among their audience members or attenders, they will have to sharpen up their cases for support to achieve their fundraising goals with these people. Just a quarter of organisations feel they have expressed a persuasive case for support and a fifth admit to having no mechanism for stating their need. Furthermore, the magnitude of the task will require senior volunteers, especially trustees, to give more active support to staff members managing donor relations.

Overall, research respondents cited low levels of engagement by boards in fundraising. Fewer than a third feel that all their board members understand their organisation’s fundraising strategies, and only just over a third report that all trustees recognise the importance of fundraising to their business models. Only 10% report that all trustees in their organisations will engage in making fundraising approaches; this is something that, if it happens at all, is more likely to fall to just one or two board members. And in almost three-quarters of organisations, most board members neither give themselves, nor get their peers to do so. The picture varies across England, with the highest levels of board support for philanthropy recorded in the North East and Yorkshire, where four- or five-fold increases in individual giving are being forecast for the next three years.

John Nicholls, Founder and Managing Partner of AQ, said: “This report provides an opportunity for individual arts organisations, regardless of their location, artform or scale, to benchmark their positions against these important sector trends. It is vital that organisations consider how best to deploy their leaders and their fundraising stories if they are to achieve their aspirations for individual giving.”