Philanthropy ‘will take decades’ to aid UK arts

Lalayn Baluch
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Almost half of UK cultural organisations believe it will take ten to 20 years for philanthropy in the arts to benefit the industry at the desired level, according to new research.

In December, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt announced plans to promote philanthropy to give the arts a boost in financial support. But only 11.5% of organisations see the “agenda being realised and effective within the lifetime of this current parliament”.

Two-thirds of companies welcome the government’s plans to galvanise private financial support. The concept has been greeted most favourably by the world of opera and music, where 85% welcome the move, and by organisations with an annual turnover exceeding £5 million that have a greater capability for fund-raising.

The figures have been published by culture think-tank Arts Quarter, following a consultation on philanthropy based on Hunt’s December speech. The results are drawn from 587 responses.

The report said: “Overall, the sector is evidently resigned to the fact that in a climate of cuts, little option remains but to embrace the principles of the [government's philanthropy] agenda in the absence of no other solutions coming forward.”

It also highlighted a gap in fund-raising skills across the industry. Respondents from all art forms – particularly companies with an annual turnover of less than £1 million and those in theatre and dance – now see building up fund-raising skills as their greatest need. Nearly two-thirds want specialised mentoring in this area.

Half of the organisations who responded, many in the dance sector and those with a turnover of less than £500,000, do not have a clearly defined “case for support” to convince existing and potential donors.

Organisations are also calling for “urgent” tax reforms to encourage US-style philanthropic giving.

The research took place before last week’s budget, in which chancellor George Osborne announced a string of measures intended to encourage private giving to the arts. These included simplifications to Gift Aid and changes to inheritance tax to encourage charitable giving in wills.

However, AQ managing partner John Nicholls told The Stage: “The speed of implementation is critical so that organisations can generate more income of their own to recoup losses caused by cuts. Otherwise shrinkage in the sector will be inevitable and some organisations will simply disappear off the map. These results give a very clear steer as to the directions that government needs to take.

“Incentivising givers, principally through greater tax reforms, at the same time as capacity building in the sector [is important], otherwise a philanthropy vacuum will be created. The reforms announced by George Osborne last week are simply not enough.”

However, Nicholls also called on organisations to look to funding from the private sector if they are to grow and thrive.

“The new reality is that organisations are now going to have to find ways of living with lower proportions of subsidy within their overall business models, so despite what may be being said, philanthropy is a replacement for subsidy in part. The secretary of state has made clear that he continues to see subsidy as an important part of the cultural economy. What is clear is that organisations need to begin to see it as a much smaller element of their funding mix,” he said.

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