Knowledge Centre Blog

Helium – For Impact Learning

Helene Hugel, Artistic Director, Helium, and Gilles de Decker, Chief Executive Officer, BNP Paribas Ireland

As part of the New Stream Programme, a number of Irish arts organisations have participated in For Impact Fundraising Training run by the Suddes Group in cooperation with Business to Arts. The programme  changes people’s approach to fundraising. In the first of a series of interviews with organisations that are applying the For Impact principles in their work, we catch up with Artistic Director and CEO of Helium Arts, Helene Hugel, three years after participation to discuss how the training has led to new funding options. |Interview by Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan

Helium is an arts and health organisation fostering a culture of creativity within Irish healthcare for children and young people, through the development of participatory arts programmes in community, primary, and acute healthcare environments.  Helium’s mission is to create positive experiences of hospital and healthcare settings for young people, to support a child-centred model of healthcare through the arts, and to innovate models of arts practice which give a creative voice to young people living with illness.

Over the three years since Helene took part in the For Impact Fundraising Training, Helium has been able to create new funding relationships, with their most important being a €60,000 investment over 3 years from the BNP Paribas Foundation for the Cloudlands Dublin project. Cloudlands is a flagship project taking place in Cork, Galway and Dublin. Helene and her team aimed to secure sponsorship investment in each of these three locations and with the help of their For Impact Training have succeeded. For the Dublin location they have recieved an investment from The Ireland Funds, and have received sponsorship from The Metronic Foundation in Galway and PepsiCo Ireland  in Cork for the projects locally. As Helene says, “these were major achievements because we never really received money from corporate sources before.”

One of the challenges that Helene experienced is getting out of the ‘small organisation’ mindset and realising the potential, even if it takes a little bit more time with less staff and resources. “Because we’re small, it took a while to see the fruit of it coming to bear” she says, “It takes a while to build things up”. However the For Impact training did demonstrate that an organisation does not need a large fundraising team in order to see results, which Helene found very motivating; and taking the time to understand the impact of the organisation helped her adjust her thinking. Her advice to similarly-sized organisations is: “You should recognise that you might be small but you make a bigger impact than you might think, and a bigger network of people who care about what you do”.

One of the main learnings from the For Impact programme that encouraged Helene to actively pursue investors is their ‘Act Now’ mantra. She believes that you should “act now, as opposed to taking your time to do loads of research which you can get bogged down in, and you end up not doing anything.” Her initiative, supported by recommendations from Business to Arts, helped secure the three-year funding from the BNP Paribas foundation.

Helene and the team have made an effort to improve communications and ‘simplify the message’. They hired communicating consultants to help them with messaging, and get it out effectively. In hospitals that Helium work with, there is now a laminated sheet outlining the key messages about Helium, which staff can refer to. This way, Helium aims to ensure that the same message is being delivered from all angles of the organisation and the places they deliver services. One objective of this tactic is also to encourage parents of children benefiting from the programme to make a donation to Helium, which this year happened for the first time. This tactic has been very effective for approaching potential investors.

The process behind acquiring the past sponsorships for Cloudlands was surprisingly simple. “It seemed terribly easy,” says Helene, “but you have to realise that a relationship builds up over time and the outcomes of projects over time build your reputation.” She believes that an organisation should have initiative about approaching funders, but it is also worth developing a long-term relationship with partners and supporters. “I’m constantly trying to act, even if it’s a little thing in terms of fundraising” says Helene, “like constantly following up with those who we already have relationships and looking at our existing circles, and looking at what we can build from that.”

Additionally, following the For Impact tagline of ‘Just Ask’, Helene encourages organisations to ‘Think Big’ with their asks.  Additionally, when making an ask, Helene recommends following the For Impact rule of ‘Spend more time with better prospects’ by trying to bring people in to see the work.

Give existing or potential investors the experience, let them experience the work. Helene Hugel

In a time where organisations are changing their funding model to be less reliant on government funding, Helene feels like it is “really important to be thinking outside of the box when it comes to diversifying funding… money brings in money, if you can diversify it can only be good.” Helene found that the ability to secure corporate funding to be very empowering, and has “brought a sense of independence to our organisation”.

We need to think about the different ways that the arts bring value to society and the economy, and we can sell ourselves to investors that way, and the programme really helps to do that. Helene Hugel


Helene has provided some tips for small organisations that are starting to fundraise.

  • When making an ask to a potential investor, don’t be afraid to ask for more than you think.
  • When fundraising, get your Board involved. They are in an excellent position to bring in new investors.
  • Thing Big, even when you’re a small organisation. An enormous amount can be achieved with the right strategy.
  • When looking for new prospects, use your existing contacts. If they can’t donate, they might know someone who can.
  • When you have identified a prospect and have your material prepared, take action as soon as possible and make the ask.

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