Ideas from the team


Places to Find Inspiration for Your Capital Development Project

Places to Find Inspiration for Your Capital Development Project

Fundraising is becoming increasingly important for many arts organisations, gradually accounting for a larger and larger portion of revenue. So if you’re a venue with a specific capital campaign on the horizon too, getting started and working out how to meet your target can be a daunting prospect. There are a bunch of great examples across that charity sector that the arts can look to for inspiration and innovation.

1. Big education institutions

When it comes to raising money for a new building, or renovations to an old building, big education institutions have a great advantage in looking to their alumni and friends for support. One billionaire (or cash-rich charitable foundation trustee…) walking into the office with a cheque for ten million pounds is every fundraiser's dream. This doesn’t happen very often, but it sure is possible. If you want to get your fundraiser envy juices going, take a look at this recent gift to a new music building on the Princeton campus.

This may look like a good piece of luck but it was probably the end result of many years of developing relationships with ultra-high-net-worth individuals in their network. You too can make use of your Board member’s networks, for example, and play a long and careful game of stewardship. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Make the most of Customer Lists to identify audience members in wealthy post code districts with Customer segments.
  • Look at those people with relationships to your board and other supporters with Relationships segments to find those key links.
  • Make sure you keep in touch with your customers in a meaningful way, so don’t bombard everyone on your mailing list with emails every day, but do share stories about your venue and future plans through a thoughtful communication strategy.

2. Religious organisations, churches or places of worship

We shouldn't forget that these guys have been fundraising for buildings since fundraising for buildings was a thing. What they get right is asking for small gifts from everyone who comes in and everyone who has a relationship with the place, in the form of donations boxes and buckets, and organising small community events.

In our ever-more secular society, arts venues are often the places audience members come to relax, socialise and be inspired, so don’t be afraid to ask for help from your parishioners! Ways to do this are:

  • Give audiences the option to add in a donation at the checkout.
  • Get your box office staff to ask for donations. Check out our recent blog post on this for tips.

3. Health and international cause charities

It’s a common misconception that arts organisations can’t “compete” with the emotional pull and mass "appeal" of international health and cause charities. I’d say this is a negative way of thinking because people give to loads of different charities all the time. An individual will decide who they want to donate to. It’s just our job to make sure we’re an option for their philanthropy and make it as easy as possible to donate when they want to. Some things to remember are:

  • Don’t exaggerate or be sickly sweet when pulling on heartstrings, but be proud of the work you do for your communities and those in need.
  • Don’t underestimate who might want to support. There could easily be people out there who have never come through your door but they've seen your work on tour, listened to it on the radio, or heard about it on the news.
  • Get the wording of your case for support perfect and out into the world (and by “world”, I pretty much mean Twitter…).

Battersea Arts Centre’s far reaching campaign following their horrific fire earlier this year is a key example of spreading the word beyond your current networks and getting support when you most need it. Check out our blog post all about their efforts.

4. Visual arts, heritage sites and visitor attractions

Sometimes when I’m stuck for fundraising inspiration, I’ll hit up the charity commission website and take a look at the accounts of some major national galleries or cultural charities I admire (horrific fundraising geekery, I know). I do this because I am always struck with envy at the charitable income figures and I want to know where they’re getting some big chunks of their income from.

Many visitor attractions and heritage sites offer recognition for their donors and this is something that can be translated into an arts organisation. Whilst arts organisations can rarely offer free entry and big discounts, there are other things arts venues can offer.

  • Let your customers know exactly what your capital development fund will be used for. This gives them a chance to be a part of making the experience of your organisation better for them and others.
  • Show the real, tangible results from donations that affect customer experience. For example, if you’re re-doing your seating, adding in air conditioning, or developing a new bar, being transparent about how things have improved will show your audience members how much of a real effect any donation could have.

A great example of an arts organisation that took a completely innovative approach to their capital development project is the Lyric Hammersmith, by offering their donors a feeling of being a part of their development project, rather than just handing over money. They developed an interface on their website where customers are able to “buy” components of their new building that would make up the various spaces, selling anything from £5 light switches in their dressing rooms to a £1,300 music system for their dance studio. Read all about their project here in one of our previous blog posts.

How can the performing arts use these techniques?

When drawing inspiration from these examples, always remember to make data driven decisions. In an arts organisation, there’s so much information at your fingertips, and not just wealth indicators such as post codes and chosen price bands.

The information you hold in Spektrix can also help you to find out what your customers love to watch, what makes them tick and how often they come to you for that adrenaline kick of a performance. Use this information!

  • Running Customer Lists in Spektrix looking at regular customers will help you identify those people who could really make a difference to your funding project.
  • Keep an eye out for those customers who have gradually become more and more regular attenders. This could indicate both an increasing sense of dedication to your venue (= a higher propensity to give to a campaign which develops the building they love) and more disposable income (= a higher capacity to give). Some nifty use of an auto-tag could make these customers super simple to track and communicate with.
  • Set up a scheduled report to let you know when your current supporters are visiting for an event. If you know they’ll be in the building, you can pop by every now and again to say hello. I guarantee this will make them feel welcome, valued and happy. And a happy customer is much easier to turn into a capital campaign donor than an unhappy one.