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July 24, 2017

Caroline Savage Interview 2. Arts and Heritage

Caroline Savage talks about Arts and Heritage fundraising.

Arts/Heritage Fundraising

What are the biggest differences (or similarities) between fundraising for charities and fundraising for arts/heritage organisations?

Irrespective of sector, there are a lot of causes today. I think we have an issue in the third sector with too many charities, which appear to be doing the same thing. We have lost a certain element of public respect because people rightly expect more collaboration across these areas. They don’t want to see us diluting impact by being in competition for funding for similar causes. That's just an overarching view.

In this world - arts and heritage - high value individuals, companies, and trusts and foundations are where the largest portion of the income comes from. Capital campaigns are very high value and the nature of what you want to do appeals very much to the type of people who want a physical legacy and representation.

The one thing I would say is that if it's the regular money in the till that motivates you, this is a very different world to be in We don't have money coming in week in week out - that's not how it works. Whereas in my previous life, we used to bring in £75-100k a week and I would see that money churn through all the time - it's very visual. That was a very target driven world. There are relationships everywhere, but in this world, it is highly relationship related and it takes time to establish and develop those relationships. Therefore, it does take a long time to see the results. When you do see them, they are usually big value and that's very exciting as well.

You need to be out there in front of people a lot more; it's not a passive role. Sometimes in fundraising you can be passive to a certain extent. Within high volume, regular giving programmes donors have pretty much made the choice that they don't want to talk to you - that's why they do regular giving. They can actually get quite offended if you try to talk to them, despite what people might think.

Community fundraising can be more campaign driven and things turn over much more quickly. Events come and go. The impact that you are working to have in the arts/heritage world is much longer term and it can take some time to get to the point where you understand that clearly enough to match that with the motivations and impact that a donor wishes to have. The exploratory conversations and subsequent touchpoints all combine to understand how a relationship or partnership can work and develop to the point where an ask can be made which has a high potential to be successful.

Throughout your career you have successfully made the transition between arts, health, international development and now heritage. What advice could you give to fundraisers looking to make the transition into arts/heritage (or vice versa)?

You need to find the organisation that really inspires you and that you really have a connection to yourself. You really need to believe in what the sector does. You need to able to be very flexible in terms of how you position that because, sometimes, it’s not the museum per-se that encourages donor support. People can come on board because they think the collections are great – and they are absolutely fabulous! – but it’s not always about the collections themselves. It’s about what we’re doing with them. It’s about who we’re talking to through them. It’s about the associated learning and outreach programmes. It’s about how connecting the past to the future.

You have to be a good storyteller. You need to find those people who have stories and would be willing to tell them. You need to get experience of that to really understand it. You also need to be able to create a picture of the future to demonstrate how the museum can support education, skills development, future employment needs for example, particularly for us in terms of science, technology and engineering.

You won’t necessarily get a quick turnaround, so you need to be prepared to give yourself some time to come and bed into it - and then see the results. If you are someone who needs quick wins, this is probably not the place for you. Museums can be very complex organisations; there are facets here, there and everywhere. It might not be that they are multi-site like the Science Museum Group, but there will be lots of different departments. They are often places where fundraising and development are not well understood, so you will probably have an education message to share as well as raising the money. You’re probably going to have an education piece to do in terms of building the internal relationships; people seeing how and why they need to be part of the development programme and development activity because it’s not always clear.

Museums, in many cases, are still traditional organisations in terms of the way they work and the way that they’re structured. You’ve got to be prepared for that. It is highly unlikely you will go into an organisation that is fundraising or development led. You’re highly unlikely to have a Director with that background, so you need to be part of the influencing programme, as well as the delivery programme. However, that is all part of the untapped opportunity and potential which is waiting to be unlocked and that’s what makes it an exciting environment.

What are the biggest challenges and/or opportunities facing fundraisers in the arts/heritage world right now?

In the North, I think we have an issue with the availability of talent. There are definitely good people, but there are far more good causes than there are good people. We also need to be a bit more honest about what we are expecting and asking of our people. Everyone wants to make a role attractive, but we also have to be realistic about our position. If your prospect pool is small, be honest and say so. Otherwise, you can’t criticize someone for not achieving if they come in thinking they have a pipeline of fifty prospects and they turn up and find five people! They will just say ‘this isn’t what I signed up to’ and they will leave. I think we need to be a bit more honest about where things are now and positive about where we want them to be in the future.

In the arts/heritage world, I think we have traditionally approached things with a very product-led focus. ‘Hello there, we’ve got this exhibition; we’ve got this programme – which one would you like to support?’ When actually we should be starting from what potential partners are particularly interested in, so we’ve had to flip this around. This is very normal in other parts of the charity sector; starting from ‘what do you want’ and ‘what will help you achieve your objectives and impact?’ and then building a tailored partnership offer. In arts/heritage, we’ve not been sufficiently donor-led or donor centric, so I think that’s a big opportunity for us.

It’s a big opportunity and I think people want to take it, but again this is where it comes back to the rest of the organisation being part of the solution. You can’t just deliver in development or fundraising because most of the partnerships require support and input from other parts of the business to be successful. You need something from learning or volunteering or marketing to make the partnership what a funder or donor wants it to be. Those are some really interesting conversations that I’ve been having recently internally and they will continue as its about embedding into more parts of a partner’s organisation, not just the departments where we’ve always worked around one particular project. We’re now starting to do that. Yes, it takes more time, but the results are that partners now want to work with us for two to three years. We are a true partner; not just a project they are associated with and then move on from. That’s what we need more of and other parts of the charity sector have been much better at this for longer than we have.

Strategic partnerships and mission-led fundraising is a big opportunity, but it will only be for two or three partnerships. It’s not for all partnerships and it is going to take time to embed. And we are a little bit behind the rest of the charity sector in terms of the strategic partnership approach. The big challenge that we have is long-term future planning and preparation versus in-year delivery. It’s not easy in this sector because you don’t have those programmes, which are generating regular income. There is always pressure on your in-year activity.

Another big challenge for us is the changing fundraising landscape, particularly from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is a major player – always has been, always will be. However, the number of applications to the Fund is increasing, whether at regional or national level, and the funding pot is not growing. So, the likelihood is that even though we have a very good track record (they are very happy working with us and the quality of our applications is strong), a time will come where we will not be awarded the levels of investment we’re asking for because it just won’t be available. In fact, we almost have to raise the bar higher each time to continue to secure investment. In terms of risk, that’s a real challenge. What is the contingency plan? How are we building our prospect pool and opportunities to be able to fill those gaps? What timeframe do we need to make this happen? What does it mean in terms of our forward programme planning?

In terms of the issue of talent, what should we be doing as a sector to combat the problem?

Outside the very large organisations (be that arts or charity) there often isn’t the possibility to invest in people and people development. I don’t think it is necessarily a lack of willingness; there just isn’t the money available to do it. Many people have a very unstructured career and it’s not necessarily always the fundraising skills or abilities that aren’t the best; it’s the people skills, the time management and the prioritisation.

If you want to progress, it’s highly likely that you will have to manage people and lead a team. We have this expectation that if you’ve been a good fundraiser, you’ll suddenly be able to do all the management and organisational work as well. People can’t necessarily do that. And the more you progress, the less important your fundraising specialism becomes and the more important the management and leadership activities become. We’re never going to have the necessary levels of professional development investment, so I do think there could be some conversations with the larger organisations that do have the ability to invest. We can find some way of sharing some of that experience more widely; within a region, within a specific field, whatever that might be.

Using corporate partners as an example, they may be willing to give some of their time to come in and support. Even if that is just a session every six months with their learning and development team or through mentoring and coaching. Can we look at that as part of a corporate partnership when we’re working with a company? We know that the big challenge is raising money, but we can also suggest, ‘would some of your team be willing to work alongside some of our senior leadership team?’ ‘Could we have someone come in and run a session on senior stakeholder engagement?’ ‘Can we bring some of your expertise in to support?’ If they are going to work with us as a partner, surely they will want to help us build our expertise and capacity to work with multiple partners to achieve our goals?’

I think sometimes, we’re not very creative in our thinking and approach. We need to say to our partners: ‘come and talk to us about some of these organisational challenges, please; help us unpick them because you’ve experienced them too.’ You can be quite candid with a true partner and explore different ways to address the challenges. It doesn’t all have to be courses and theory.

I don’t criticise any of the learning programmes, but I think we are too insular sometimes. We have this perspective that we’re different and a lot of the time, the issues that we are dealing with are not so different. The purpose is different but everything else is the same and we run complex and demanding businesses. The money we generate is to do some good, so why would we not want to learn from the best examples in terms of governance, strategic management, forward planning, wherever they may be? Why would be not want to be the best we possibly can be? It’s hard to do that purely within the sector.

I don’t subscribe to the view that the sector is where all the knowledge is and that’s why I don’t go to conferences very often, because I hear a lot of the same things each time. I’ll happily sign up to a business conference. I might not get an immediate return, but I will hear something useful. I’ll pick something up where I think that’s absolutely what I need to be talking about or be able to evidence in terms of impact. Or ‘that’s the language you are using; that’s the language I need to be using’ to demonstrate the value of partnering with us. Especially for our corporate partners, who want to hear us speak specifically and clearly when we’re operating on a partner level.

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