Reflections on Seven Years of New Stream
Perhaps the most impressive numbers in the New Stream Report for 2016 are not those relating to funds raised but those that convey the accumulating impact of Business to Arts as a network organisation. Table 1 shows that each year between 2010 and 2016 Business to Arts has engaged with an average of 237 people from the cultural sector, and that 2016 was its best year so far, with 362 people availing of its services. This tells us that Business to Arts has established itself as a valuable networking organisation in the Irish cultural sector, capable of providing sustained and cumulative learning opportunities for individuals and organisations.
While the ostensible purpose of all this work is to build fundraising capacity in organisations, it is worth reflecting on the immense value that resides in bringing sector professionals, board members and volunteers together in communal learning experiences. As participants in the various programmes build up their fundraising skills, a number of other positive benefits arise incidentally: feelings of professional isolation and silo thinking and behaviour are ameliorated; idiosyncratic practices are identified and addressed; convergence around good professional practice is instilled; trust, peer-learning and lasting networks of mutual support are forged. It is easy to overlook these network effects when looking at more granular outcomes relating specifically to fundraising, but they are just as important and deserve to be highlighted. These values can also inform the strategic direction of Business to Arts as it seeks, in building upon seed-training initiatives like its partnership with DeVos, to embed professional skills and sustainable fundraising know-how in Irish organisations by means of mentoring and other processes.
Similar effects can be attributed to the Heritage Council’s Museums Standards Programme for Ireland, a training programme now in its eleventh year and dedicated to improving professional curatorial standards in Irish museums. I mention this because one of my goals in writing this reflection on the 2016 report is to stand back and take a more holistic view of where Business to Arts stands in the broader context of cultural services and policies. Against that background, it is surely evident that both operations could benefit from comparing and sharing experience as providers of professional training within the broader cultural sector. The institutionalised separation of the fields of ‘arts and ‘heritage’ has been a bugbear of mine throughout my professional career. One way of making this boundary within the field of culture more porous is, so to speak, by networking the networks that span the divide, a process which could also include the Arts Council’s RAISE scheme, as Martin Drury suggested in his report for 2015. I note, for example, that in the breakdown by background of participants in Business to Arts’ 2016 programmes, only one is listed under ‘Museum/heritage’. Though the bias in favour of the creative arts is inscribed in the identity of Business to Arts, there is no reason why it cannot more effectively broaden its appeal to provide fundraising skills in the heritage sector where these skills are just as badly needed.
In responding to the assessment of 2016 activities as presented in the preceding body of this report, my overall impression is that it is not necessary to accentuate the positive for a convincingly positive picture of Business to Arts’ work to emerge. In practical terms, this means that in carrying out the annual review of operations a more concerted effort might be made clearly to identify challenges, weaknesses and perhaps the odd failure to provide a more credible and analytical basis for learning and improved performance.
Methodologically, a better insight into variations in performance might be afforded if, instead of presenting aggregate statistics or converting a limited range of data into percentage form, the actual numbers were given instead. Is it genuinely useful, for example, given that only 9 organisations participated in the DeVos programme, to learn that full-time employee levels ranged from 1 to 90, and averaged of 21.6 FTE per organisation? Or that 13% of organisations (is that one or two?) reported an increase of 1 FTE dedicated to marketing? Likewise, the aggregated figures for the impact of the DeVos programme, based on the subjective responses of participants’ to a range of qualitative questions, does not give a convincingly realistic insight into the cluster of policy and organisational factors that comprise any given organisation’s funding ecology, or the distinctive challenges each of them faces as a function of scale, resources and brand strength.
More granular knowledge of this kind would provide a better sense of the extent to which such factors as scale and location affect the realistic setting of fundraising goals and the level of expectation appropriate to them. The short Development Managers Forum Report is notable for having a section specifically dedicated to identifying challenges, a feature that could be built into each strand of assessment in future reports. Of course, it is possible to infer challenges generally from the report. The headline figure – a decline of 7% in the aggregate amount raised in
2016 2 compared with 2015 – can perhaps be best interpreted in relation to the data in Table 3. This suggests that variations in fundraising success may be attributable to churn in the number of full and part-time staff dedicated to fundraising in each organisation. However, a more explicit and critical analysis of data would provide greater clarity on the underlying causes and the actual challenges for the future.
Happily, excellent case studies on three participants in the programme – the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM) and the Irish Architectural Foundation (IAF) – provide a richer seam of information of this kind. In reading these, a more grounded understanding of how the fundraising challenge works for different kinds and scale of operation emerges.
The IMMA case study reminds us that fundraising expectations for a national institution are framed by the State’s duty to act as its primary funder. IMMA, along with its sister national institutions, saw its annual funding slashed by almost half following the economic crash in 2008 – a deficiency that still prevailed in 2015, even as the economy was very much on an upturn. This was also the year in which IMMA received sanction for the role of Head of Audiences and Development, which allowed it to take full advantage of participation in the DeVos programme. The case presents clear evidence that the implementation of a professionally run fundraising project can produce dramatic results: corporate investment in IMMA has increased by 877%, from €29,500 in 2014 to over €250,000 in 2016.
The RIAM entered the DeVos programme in a high state of preparation: specific and ambitious fundraising goals had already been set by the board. The Director and Fundraising Manager worked together on the fundraising project. Here was an organisation primed to hit the ground running, and it provides an object lesson in the importance of effective corporate governance in setting a clear sense of mission and strategic purpose for fundraising efforts. The RIAM records a truly impressive 460% increase in contributed income since entering the DeVos programme.
The IAF case study provides an insight into the struggle organisations face in recruiting and retaining skilled fundraising staff. In 2015 it lost its dedicated full-time fundraiser, which had been supported by the Arts Council’s RAISE scheme. Clearly, these skills made a real difference to the IAF’s fundraising capacity, as 2015 was also the year in which private investment and other activities contributed a 155% increase to
its programming spend for the year. These three case studies, then, provide valuable insights into the nature of success and the operational challenges of the Irish fundraising landscape. In future, this case study approach could be deepened by providing a more diverse typology of cases. The three this year, though varying in scale, are Dublin-based institutions with a strategic national remit. Given Business to Arts’ desire to broaden its nationwide reach, the mix might include at least one non-Dublin organisation and at least one organisation with a 1-5 staffing level. The IAF case study concludes with some arresting statistics: despite a 41% growth in private investment from 2015-16 and a 309% growth since the start of its participation in the DeVos programme, the portion of the organisation’s total income attributed to public funds decreased by 28% (from 88% in 2014 to a projected 63% in 2016). This outcome can be placed beside the dramatic success of IMMA’s fundraising performance, while at the same time receiving only a modest increase in its annual government grant, barely putting a dent in the 48% cut in public funding it has endured for nigh on a decade.
This poses a fundamental question for public policy. Given the underlying dependence of so many cultural organisations on core public funding, how can we ensure that positive outcomes in fundraising performance do not result in their being effectively penalised in terms of the aggregate resources available to them to deliver high quality services to the public? Or, to put it another way, how can we ensure that when an institution succeeds in optimising income from its fundraising efforts that this is not effectively undermined by stand-still or reduced levels of public funding?
The answer to these questions will require a more cohesive and coordinated approach to all aspects of the funding environment in which cultural organisations operate. The contract between government, state agencies and the organisations they support must be clarified to ensure that fundraising success is properly motivated, incentivised and rewarded. A number of policy changes could be examined with this goal in view. For example, improving the tax relief mechanisms for private financial donations to cultural institutions would at once facilitate more ambitious fundraising goals and lead to more sustainable outcomes for fundraising campaigns. 5 Rewarding organisations that achieve their fundraising goals by linking the sums raised in some way to marginal increases in public funding would offer assurance that the overall trajectory of their efforts was genuinely developmental. And all of this is crucial to the retention of skilled fundraising staff.
Finally, and from a qualitative perspective, greater appreciation is needed of the positive impact on organisational culture, which the skills and disciplines involved in building successful fundraising capacities can have on cultural organisations. The disciplines of goal-setting, commitment to quality programming, performance and delivery instilled through fundraising, and the buzz and motivation that are engendered in staff by having their work validated in this way, are all disciplines which are to some extent transferable to the more efficient use of public funding too.
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