Age and Opportunity – DeVos Programme Learning
Age and Opportunity’s Director of Development Ciaran McKinney and National Co-ordinator of Bealtaine Festival Rebecca McLaughlin talk about how the DeVos Programme has led to a restructuring of Age and Opportunity’s annual programme and maximising the relationships the company already fosters. | Interview by Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan
Age and Opportunity is an organisation that encourages older people to become more active and engaged. The three strands of the organisation are Physical Activity & Sport, Art & Culture, and Education & Engagement. Age and Opportunity’s biggest event is Bealtaine, an annual arts festival during the month of may. In addition to the festival, Age and Opportunity runs a variety of other events and programmes, and redefining and restructuring these is a large part of Rebecca and Ciaran’s DeVos Programme implementation goals.
“The biggest thing that’s come out of the DeVos Programme is taking a step back and having a really good overview of the work we’re doing so that we can be more introspective and work on how to restructure and reframe what we do,” says Rebecca, “and what has emerged is a move towards a larger arts and culture programme which is a year-long programme for older people”. Rebecca and Ciaran found that after the Bealtaine festival held in May, there was a lack of artistic programming that could continue to engage their audience until the following year. “People attending asked about what happens outside of May,” says Rebecca. “And once it’s over, we need to go and find those opportunities ourselves: We know there is a demand for it.”
The initial restructuring involved streamlining projects that fell under the Age and Opportunity umbrella, and rebranding the many trademarks that were associated with the organisation. “I think our brand has become more cohesive,” says Ciaran. “We have about 20 trademarks now, for each programme, and now we will be marketing 3 at the most, so Age and Opportunity, Bealtaine and Go for Life will continue, but we wont be advertising the other brands.” In addition to their rebranding, Rebecca and Ciaran are finding other ways to implement institutional marketing in their organisation, particularly through programmatic spikes. “We have an anniversary coming up, and as DeVos says, if there is an opportunity to celebrate something use it,” says Rebecca. Additionally they will also be using their upcoming Senior Games as a marketing spike.
Collaborating with other arts organisations is something that Age and Opportunity are known for, and through their DeVos training Ciaran and Rebecca are now finding ways to capitalise on their capacity to broker relationships. Ciaran thinks that “one of the best parts of the process was when we were talking to Brett Egan about capitalising on our brokering, because we broker relationships with about 3000 events, and there may well be 120,000 people participating in the festival but we don’t have direct access to them.” For example, The Bealtaine festival works with over 750 partners every year, which include many arts and cultural organisations around Ireland. “We have always been good at brokering deals and partnering with people, and even increasing footfall with some organisations,” says Rebecca. “Our reach in terms of the art and culture industries is huge, and we have access to this huge demographic.”
There is this sense of ambition, which is critical. What is happening is a sense of networking and growing together, which needs nurturing so that there is more exchange and collaboration. Ciaran McKinney
The way in which Rebecca and Ciaran aim to monetise these partnerships in a mutually beneficial way is the creation of a membership programme, which will involve inviting other arts organisations to work with Age and Opportunity to develop culture clubs. According to Rebecca, this will be a reciprocal membership scheme. “People want to be part of it; it is embedded in the cultural landscape at this point”. “This where we can be selling unique experiences to older people through membership,” says Ciaran, “this was probably one of the most crystal clear development opportunities for us. We always seem to be very blurred at the edges, and this was a really good way of developing on that.” Working with Brett, their DeVos mentor, Rebecca and Ciaran have been working on the practical implementation of a membership programme, and working out how to make this programme unique and attractive to their prospective members.
Regarding the DeVos Programme itself, Ciaran and Rebecca feel that the programme has helped with communicating their message within their organisation, as well as to partner organisations. “One of the strengths is that it acts as a platform for bringing other colleagues from other sections of the organisation on board in a very clear way,’ says Ciaran. Previously Ciaran also took part in another New Stream programme, For Impact Fundraising Training, and feels that the two programmes have complemented each other: “I learnt from the For Impact Training to provide a menu for sponsors to get involved, and DeVos has built on that,” Says Ciaran. “Looking back over 3 years of New Stream, at programmes including For Impact, there is no doubt about the increase in skills and in confidence about approaching funders.” Rebecca agrees, feeling that “on all organisational and strategic levels, you can practically see real change happening, and that’s really significant.”
It’s very easy to become institutionalised and it’s really healthy to engage with people outside Ireland, to be informed by global trends and new information and new research. Being able to tap into that is great. Rebecca McLaughlin