Theatre lovers don’t have to be millionaires to be philanthropists. Lyn Gardner talks to donors, creatives and professional fundraisers about the importance of bringing in small-scale funders, and how overhauling philanthropy can overhaul theatre
When he received his tickets for the London 2012 Olympics, commercial landscaper Nigel Farnall spotted an advert for Theatre Royal Stratford East on each one. Farnall hadn’t been to the theatre for decades, not since he was taken to see a Shakespeare production while still at school, but he thought he’d give it a whirl.
So, in the September following the Olympics he went with his partner to see Wah! Wah! Girls, Tanika Gupta and Emma Rice’s Bollywood-style musical, at Stratford East. They loved it, so they went back to see the next show. Then the panto. Soon Farnall was naming seats for himself and family members, and then he looked at how he might support the theatre in other ways.
“I hadn’t realised that theatres were charities. I had assumed they were flowing with money,” says Farnall, who, with Theatre Royal Stratford East, won the 2016 Achates Philanthropy Prize, an award celebrating – and financially rewarding – cultural organisations’ engagement with first-time donors.
Farnall estimates he has probably given almost £8,000 to the arts over the last seven years. Of course, it doesn’t put him in the Getty or Gulbenkian league. But within the arts fundraising ecology, it is becoming as important to attract philanthropists such as Farnall as those like Lloyd Dorfman, who gave £10 million to the National Theatre.
“We just don’t shout loudly enough about the fact that theatre and theatre companies are charities and they need help,” says Cerian Eiles, executive director of the arts fundraising and management consultant company Achates Philanthropy Ltd.
Maybe that’s because, for years, many in theatre thought there was a contradiction in shouting for better state funding (which is an investment, not a gift, and one on which the government gets a huge return) and the necessity to be supported by individual and corporate giving. When, in 2010, then culture secretary Jeremy Hunt told the State of the Arts Conference that the UK should look to a US-model of philanthropy, he was met with stony silence. Six years later, the arts were still only receiving 1% of all philanthropic giving in the UK.
But dwindling income from traditional funding sources has seen a new pragmatism take root, helped by Arts Council England’s Catalyst: Evolve Programme, a match-funding scheme aimed at supporting organisations with a limited track record in fundraising to attract more private giving.
Attracting individuals making smaller gifts, proportionate to their income and situation, is crucial. Theatre is facing declining state funding and savage cuts to local authority support and is looking to diversify income streams. That means an increase in individual and corporate giving is essential to building a thriving ecosystem. It’s not just the super wealthy or the giant corporations or trusts that have most often been associated with the arts.
The days of just taking the money, however dirty it is, are over. The Royal Shakespeare Company is cutting its ties with BP, the National Theatre is taking a similar approach with Shell, and earlier this year London theatres the Roundhouse and the Donmar Warehouse revealed they had turned down gifts from the billionaire Sackler family, whose company Purdue Pharma was embroiled in controversy after its alleged links to US opioid crisis.
One problem of financial backing coming only from rich donors or multinationals is that they often want to support flagship projects at flagship institutions, often in London, which adds to the idea of the arts as elitist and remote. Democratising the culture of philanthropy is another means of democratising theatre and culture itself because more people from more diverse backgrounds have a stake.
“You have to see the real worth in the former youth theatre member who gives you a one-off £10 when they get their first job, as well as the person who can give you £10,000. That former youth theatre member is giving because they feel the connection with the theatre and that comes with so much value attached,” says Tessa Stanley-Price, who for the past three years has been director of fundraising at the Kiln in London. “Anyone can give. We have to demystify the term ‘philanthropy’ and take it back to its Greek origins and its connection to creating social impact.”
Of course, every arts organisation would like its own personal Dorfman, or John Studzinski, whose Genesis Foundation at the Young Vic has spent more than £10 million since 2001 and supported more than 1,000 young artists from diverse backgrounds to develop careers in theatre.
But the canny theatres and companies increasingly understand that to thrive and not just survive, they need to have relationships with a wide range of people. Some of those people can support philanthropy, others can pay for tickets and still more are representative of a wider society who may not be able to dip into their pockets, but can contribute in many other ways. After all, it needs to be remembered that artists are some of theatre’s biggest philanthropists doing huge amounts of unpaid work, often to the benefit of institutions with core funding and fully paid staff.
For Farnall, giving to the arts has brought enormous pleasure. “I have felt I have been part of something bigger,” he says. His contribution has made a difference. The philanthropist Vivien Duffield, who has given away millions, once declared: “The bigger the gift, the less moved you are by it.”
It is a lesson for all arts organisations that donors are often looking for an emotional connection, not their name on a theatre. As Paul Schervish, professor of sociology and director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College in the US, has observed: “The accepted wisdom that charities need donors in order to help them achieve their organisational missions ought to be replaced by an understanding that donors choose to support charities in order to achieve their missions.”
When I speak to Farnall it is at Rich Mix in London in mid-November, where the 2019 Achates Prize award ceremony is being held to celebrate the givers and the arts organisations whose relationships are helping to change the culture of arts giving in the UK. This year’s winners were World Heart Beat Music Academy and Nick Tomlinson, the latter giving time and expertise as well as money towards a new music education venue in Vauxhall, and Candoco Dance Company, which forged a relationship with the clothing firm ASOS to support a two-week residential course for 15 disabled and non-disabled dancers.
“It has been a good fit. We are interested in diverse bodies and changing attitudes and so is ASOS,” says Candoco’s executive director Jo Royce. “It was the first big corporate funding we’ve had in a long time, but it’s not just about the money or the support, it’s about the relationship we have developed with ASOS and the dancers we have worked with as a result.”
‘Anyone can give. We have to demystify the term ‘philanthropy’ and take it back to its origins’ – Tessa Stanley-Price, Kiln’s fundraising director
Caroline McCormick, the founder and sponsor (alongside Spektrix and BOP Consulting) of the Achates prize and founder of the fundraising consultancy Achates Ltd, thinks arts organisations of all sizes need to rethink their relationship to money and giving. But more importantly, she says, they must rethink their relationship to their audiences as well as their social and civic roles and responsibilities.
“I am never asking for money, I am always asking for change,” says McCormick of her role as a hugely successful fundraiser who sees philanthropy as a means of driving transformation in the arts and in society. The two go hand-in-hand, and that change has to begin with arts organisations and companies.
“I am sorry to say that when the arts had full state funding we didn’t behave as well as we could have done. We appropriated arts and culture to a privileged group and were reluctant to let other people in, and that resulted in many of the problems we see in the arts and an anger and resentment against the cultural classes. We had money, but we weren’t relevant. We have a lot of work to do to unpick that,” says McCormick, who named Achates after the loyal ancient Greek adviser who told the truths people didn’t always want to hear. She sees philanthropy and giving as one way of doing that unpicking.
“Art is part of society, not outside it, and if you are trying to run an arts organisation without thinking about money then you are not thinking about your audience. Money is often the canary in the coal mine when you are taking the measure of where you stand as an arts organisation and within your community and what you do, and it is a useful barometer of wider issues within that organisation or theatre. For me, fundraising isn’t about money, it is about your relationship with your audience and how you might change and deepen it.”
McCormick argues that the survival of arts institutions depends on creating those closer, deeper and more dynamic relationships with audiences. Because when the chips are down and a theatre is under threat it is those relationships, like the one Stratford East has made with Nigel Farnall, that will get people to fight for and help save it.
It is, obviously, enormously valuable for a big institution to have wealthy donors who want to be associated with the brand – but a real connection with audiences and communities may turn out to be even more valuable if developed and sustained over many years.
Giving money to the arts allows people to feel they have a stake hold in a theatre or arts organisation, McCormick says. “They can be more than a passive audience member who buys tickets. But if you are genuinely inviting people in and saying: ‘Become part of the family’, you are not asking for money, you are asking for the change you are trying to bring about.
“If you both share a vision of what that change is, and it is not just a transaction but something you both believe in, what is there to be embarrassed about? Money is the ability to allow that to happen. It is so fundamentally different from buying a package as part of a donor circle. Both are valid and have their place, but one is a sales-based, transactional relationship and the other is a shared belief system.”
McCormick believes that attitudes towards fundraising and fundraisers have changed substantially in the arts. When she first went to the National Theatre 25 years ago, she says “people wouldn’t speak to those of us in the fundraising team because we represented the end of the fight for state funding. It wasn’t personal, but fundraisers were the physical manifestation of that change. Philanthropy was being let into the building only as much as was necessary.” When she returned more recently to head up the NT Futures campaign, the welcome was effusive.
That shift can be seen at all levels in the arts. The Arts Council’s Private Investment in Culture Survey 2019 found that in 2017/18, 91% of arts and cultural organisations received some form of private investment. Theatre raised £82 million out of a total investment of £547 million. But of that £547 million raised, London-based arts organisations attracted 66% and almost 60% of all private investment goes to 50 organisations, all of them of significant size.
The ACE’s Catalyst: Evolve scheme has given financial help through match funding to a range of arts organisations trying to diversify revenue streams by tapping into individuals, trusts, foundations and business – but fundraising is by no means a level playing field. Instead it exposes another inequality. The bigger an organisation is, and the more money it has, the easier it is to raise more money and grow. The NT’s development department employs 18 people. When one big-name philanthropist makes a donation, another is likely to follow. The rush by individuals and companies to associate themselves with the fund to rebuild Notre Dame showed that, with pledges of £800 million in less than 48 hours following the devastating fire.
For many small companies and organisations receiving ACE Catalyst money, it was the first time they were able to employ anyone, often on a part-time basis, to help with fundraising.
“Catalyst definitely helped us build capacity in individual and personal giving,” says Catrin John, executive director of Pentabus Theatre, a new-writing company that tours in mostly rural areas. Catalyst allowed Pentabus to create a friends and supporters scheme and make more applications to trusts and foundations.
But John also points out that as more theatres and companies have realised the urgency of diversifying income streams, they are often all focusing on the same pots of money. Often they are competing with much bigger arts organisations that have dedicated teams with huge experience in chasing that money. Some say that while Catalyst has brought undoubted benefits – opening smaller organisations’ eyes to their potential to raise income from philanthropy – one of its unintended consequences is creating more people who look to secure money from the same funding sources, and that those sources cannot expand to meet demand.
Another thing that Catalyst highlighted was the serious shortage of skilled-up fundraisers, particularly outside of London. As in arts press and marketing, many come into fundraising jobs in theatre at entry level and soon depart for better paid – and often better valued – opportunities in other charity sectors.
The Kiln’s Stanley-Price is one of the few who has made the journey in the other direction, arriving at the Kilburn theatre after a long career as a fundraiser in international development and the higher education sector – most recently Oxford University, which attracts massive gifts and endowments. Of course, she was attracted by the artistic reputation of the theatre, but just as much by the Kiln’s work in the community and that the theatre’s artistic director Indhu Rubasingham understands that philanthropy can make a real difference in increasing the social impact of an arts organisation.
Stanley-Price says arts fundraising is still evolving compared with other charitable sectors, pointing out that many arts organisations are still fixated on trusts and foundations, and setting up membership schemes.
‘When the arts had full state funding we didn’t behave as well as we could have done’ – Caroline McCormick, fundraising director
“Those are all valid ways of going about arts fundraising but what is right for one organisation isn’t right for another. Just because another theatre has a membership scheme doesn’t mean you should too. If you are a theatre like the Kiln that wants to be genuinely open to all, a membership scheme that starts at £120 a year doesn’t send out the right message. Instead we have a regular system of giving that starts at £3. It is genuinely philanthropic, not about buying other benefits.”
There is an urgent need for better training for arts fundraisers, Stanley-Price says, and everyone in every theatre and arts organisation should understand the role philanthropy has to play in developing that organisation and broadening who it serves. They must see it as their job to be part of that, because fundraising is never successful in organisations that silo it off and don’t understand it is everyone’s job to create the conditions for change.
“If everyone gets behind it there is so much potential. We need to talk more about the demonstrable impacts of philanthropy. When I worked in higher education, we did that a lot. In the arts there is further to go. We can’t expect people to understand what philanthropy can do in the arts if we don’t tell them what it has already achieved.”
For more information about the Achates Philanthropy Prize visit: achatesprize.co.uk