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4 Things We Learned from the 2018 Cultural Sector Network Conference

Every year the Institute of Fundraising Cultural Sector Network host an annual conference for fundraisers of the UK's culture sector. It’s a chance for fundraisers from across the country to exchange ideas, share best practice, and address the challenges they all face. For us, it was our first time sponsoring the conference and an opportunity to learn more about how the wider industry is affected by those challenges so that we at Spektrix can support our clients implement fundraising best practice in their organisation and tackle those challenges head-on. Here are our four key takeaways from this year’s conference:

1. Millennial donors have needs.

We learned: The next generation of philanthropists want more than their parents did. They want to feel valued beyond just the money they can contribute - valued for their skills, expertise, and connections. They need to see themselves making a difference in the world and they need excitement.  Organisations can no longer afford to keep their donors at arm’s length - so where can you offer more direct involvement and control to your donors? Should we look to companies like Monzo, who asked their users to vote on ATM Abroad Fees last Autumn, for inspiration?

Action it: Identify your donors’ needs and drivers (their values, skills they want to learn, what particularly interests them about your organisation) by having conversations with them. Then examine where their needs meet your organisation’s needs (not just financial, but needs for expertise and connections tool). Finally, decide how you can give control in a way that will boost what you’re doing, rather than letting it run away from you. Your donors will feel truly invested in and passionate about your organisation, and they’ll stick with you for the long term. Bonus: Watch Dan Pink’s TED Talk on The Puzzle of Motivation.

2. You don’t have to own a venue to host fundraising events.

We learned: Hosting events for your donors and prospects doesn’t have to be as costly as you might think. You have loads to offer to venues and businesses who would benefit from having your well-to-do donors and exciting content in their establishment, and might just let you host on the cheap. Consider private members’ clubs (especially ones with interest in the arts industries), new restaurants or hotels keen on exposure, or even local property developers. You can also make use of existing events, and of your existing partners. For example, touring theatre company Eclipse were able to host a fundraising evening at the Royal Court Theatre during their run of ‘Black Men Walking.’ They knew they’d have an affluent captive audience, and they seized the opportunity to raise vital funds for the company’s work. Finally, just to throw a spanner in the works, consider whether you even need a conventional space for your event at all!

Action it: Make a list of all the assets you have to offer a venue - from creative content to free publicity (Instagram takeover, anyone?) to well-off or influential people in their space. Then list your existing partners, anyone who could potentially help you leverage event space - this could be your current donors, board members, local MP, a friendly peer, or patron.  Finally, do some creative brainstorming about your event - could everyone congregate digitally, instead of at a venue? Or could it happen at a number of venues simultaneously, so that you didn’t have to find one large space to accommodate everyone you need to invite? Everyone knows what a traditional gala dinner looks like. Be daring - be different!

3. You’re less worried about GDPR than you were last year.  

We learned: It was great to see so many organisations (including quite a few Spektrixers) share their thoughtful and considered approaches to GDPR.  We’re proud of all the hard work that’s gone in to navigating the new legislation, smashing the misinformation out there, and setting an example for the wider arts sector. Bravo! Most of you are now well on your way to compiling comprehensive documentation of your data processes, writing privacy policies for customers, and demonstrating a keen understanding of Legitimate Interest.

Action it: If you’re still grappling to understand GDPR and decide how your organisation (as a whole, united body) is going to address the policy changes, please have a thorough read of our GDPR Toolkit (if you’re not a client, access that toolkit here), and consider attending one of our upcoming GDPR events.  You can also get in touch with Support directly about GDPR by visiting the Support Centre and submitting your questions.  

4. The strength of your culture will help your retain your donor relationships.

We learned: A strong organisational culture is characterised by:

1. Being unified around one common purpose

2. Sharing values, ideals and customs

3. Modelling behaviour consistently in relationships

4. Meaningful rituals, practices, symbols and storytelling that reinforce the values.

This harks back to our learning on Millennial donors - your supporters want to feel a part of ‘the tribe’ of your organisation. But there has to be a tribe first. Donors want to belong to a group that reflects not just their identity, but also their aspirational identity - something bigger than they are, that reflects their values. Fundraisers are often faced with donors who have expectations that may not actually align with what the organisation can offer. This is because the pursuit of funding can make us tell prospects what they want to hear, even if it’s not quite perfectly aligned with what our organisation is about. It’s easily done - I definitely did it when I was a fundraiser. But like dating, the donor needs to fall in love with who your organisation really is, not who they want it to be. It’s impossible to keep up a facade in a long-term relationship.

Action it: Think about the five building blocks of culture below and answer these questions:

Rituals: Rituals are routines that reinforce an organisation’s values and embody meaning. Arcola Theatre, for example, host seasonal press night dinner parties where donors can mingle with the show’s performers and producers as well as Arcola staff over a relaxed meal after the show. This ritual embodies their friendly, egalitarian values.  What rituals contribute to your culture?

Storytelling: How you inspire your donors and bring them on a journey. This is vital in understanding who you are and being able to effectively communicate that. What stories do you tell about your organisation that reflect its culture and bring people on a journey?

Symbols: Objects or images imbued with meaning by your organisation, which act as a talisman to enable supporters to feel a part your tribe. The way you communicate them and share their power contribute to their significance. Think of the expression “badge of honour.” Do you have symbols that embody the essence of your organisation?

Practices: Straightforwardly, do your practices - both internal and external - authentically embody your values? If your mission is about fostering risk-taking and innovation in theatre for example, do you also support your staff to be innovative? When your values aren’t consistently reflected in practice, you could risk appearing inauthentic to your donors.

Initiation: This was a tough one for us to understand at first, but it’s the fundamental difference between an experience that’s transactional and one that’s transformational. So think about how you tell the story of a donor’s impact. Maybe you write them a beautiful letter about how they’ve touched the lives of artists, or how their donation has allowed you to transform your venue. Does this adequately and specifically explain how they have directly benefited your organisation? Will they understand that, through making a gift, they have conquered an issue your organisation was facing?

That’s just tip of the knowledge iceberg we uncovered at this year’s Cultural Sector Network conference for fundraisers. If you were at the conference and have comments or thoughts to add, please submit them below. And as always, feel free to get in touch with Support if you need guidance on any of the points above, or would like to implement something we discussed.