Northern Lights

COMMUNITY | Northern Lights puts spotlight on arts organisations in the north

Northern Lights, March 2019

In March a group of arts leaders including Chair of Arts Council England, Sir Nicholas Serota, met in Manchester to discuss the future of philanthropy in the arts. MICHELLE WRIGHT, Programme Director for Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy reports on some of the findings.

The arts in the UK has the lowest number of donors, with just 2% of all charitable donations going each year to arts and culture, according to the latest Charities Aid Foundation report. 

Manchester’s Northern Lights event, sponsored by Arts Council England North, addressed the key question, ‘What does a radical future for philanthropy look like for arts and culture in the North?’ And it was clear that something radical was required. 

Although the event was positive about the potential of philanthropy in the north, it also highlighted the relatively small number of supporters for arts in the region, whether individuals like Sir Norman Stoller and Carole Nash or corporate partners like the Manchester Airport Group.  Such donors are in high demand, and there doesn’t seem to be a younger generation coming through to champion the arts in the region. 

Charities and arts organisations revealed there is work to be done to improve the understanding of tax incentives for giving, with too few currently able to benefit from mechanisms like Gift Aid to bump up bottom lines. Many fundraisers also recognised that too often they were ‘staying safe,’ rather than considering innovative models of fundraising. 

Five organisations (Z-Arts, Red Eye, Museums Sheffield, Music in the Round and New Writing North) took part in a pitching workshop and demonstrated the importance of crafting stories and building a healthy dialogue between the philanthropic community and the arts and culture sector. These techniques from the entrepreneurial sector can be invaluable to help arts organisations stand out.

Closing Q&A with Michelle Wright

Michelle Wright at Northern Lights, March 2019

A radical future for philanthropy requires some big, bold ideas; lessons can be learned from around the world, or from other charities or not-for-profit organisations about how to collaborate and develop partnerships that could better encourage philanthropists to invest. 

There have been some wonderfully innovative fundraising partnerships and initiatives in recent months that arts organisations in the north can learn from.  One example is Bristol’s Gromit Unleashed 2 which last summer became the first charity arts trail to incorporate Contactless donation points.

The second sculpture trail from Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Appeal partnered with Creditcall and Payter to boost donations on the annual trail, raised a total of £1.62 million for Bristol Children’s Hospital and St Michael’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. 

Technology partnership was also critical in the See Now campaign from the Fred Hollows Foundation, dedicated to ending avoidable blindness.  Excellent storytelling in the campaign made use of augmented reality on Google Street View to demonstrate the experience of being blind, enabling millions to understand sight loss and providing a visual connection between online donors and the issue of preventable blindness.

Inspired by the conversations, it was clear that a dialogue between the philanthropic community and the arts and culture sector about the importance of investment is long overdue.  The Warwick Commission and AHRC Cultural Value Project makes clear the value of the arts and culture to our communities. This needs to be translated into how value is created so that it can be easily recognised by philanthropists and corporate partners.

And the more we work together – rather than protectively guarding the donors we have because it feels like there are too few of them to share around – the more we can learn from each other, overcome hurdles and maximise fundraising success. 

The north has a distinct pride and identity, and we need to build on that as a powerful rationale for engaging with philanthropists.

Michelle Wright is Programme Director for Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy.

Interview with Michelle Wright on The Culture Vulture