Picture the arts without voluntary giving

I originally wrote this article for the September 2016 FINZ magazine newzviewz.

Art in all its forms, can define us culturally and provide an expression of our identity; as a person, as a people and as a nation. Creative and cultural pursuits enrich our lives and enhance our wellbeing.

Expressing ourselves through art and knowing our heritage provides belonging and informs our future. And the economic benefits are immense too; providing wellbeing, productivity and employment for our communities and export earnings for our country.

Yet sustaining a career in the arts, operating an arts enterprise or managing a charitable arts organisation is the preserve of the committed. Passion is invariably the driver and commitment and hard work the enabler. Survival relies on an appreciative public; to attend performances, subscribe to memberships, volunteer and make donations. Grants from trusts and foundations are also relied upon as are supportive businesses which trade cash and pro-bono work for branding and messaging. Government funding contributes to some of New Zealand’s iconic arts institutions and events and emerging is non grant finance including crowd funding and social investment.

For some who receive funding from government and councils, the reality is this is just a portion of what may be required for self sufficiency and sustainability. And for the thousands of individuals, community and charitable arts organisations which go it alone, an understanding of the importance of implementing a balanced and integrated funding strategy; from cultivating membership and donors, engaging funders and business and collaborating with a wider community, is imperative.

So what are the key drivers for success? Taking a holistic view incorporating a sound but bold strategy, involving people with vision and passion and an underpinning based on values will help sustain and drive an organisation forward. These values should be the same values that the arts bring to society suggests professor Jennifer Radbourne and Kenneth Watkins, director of philanthropy for The Australian Ballet. Radbourne and Watkins will be conducting FINZ training for fundraisers, charity leaders and trustees in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch in early October. This ‘Transformational Philanthropy’ training focuses on the importance of prioritising donors’ values. They propose a sustainable commercial model for arts organisations is one which incorporates a values-driven cultivation strategy with transformational leadership and governance. Watkins has raised $80 million in the twenty one years he has been with The Australian Ballet which speaks volumes for the importance he places on a values based donor-centric funding strategy.

Audiences are an obvious source for membership, ‘warm’ donors and supporters. Meaningful and emotional connections beyond performances or exhibitions can provide genuine opportunities for growth. By understanding what interests and experiences audiences value can help inform new programmes and channels as well as tailored membership packages which tap into supporters’ emotional engagement with your arts organisation.

Recognising the various fundraising practices for their worth and being innovative with emerging practices will ensure a varied portfolio of income over time. Non grant financing such as crowd funding and social investment can provide feel good factors for investors as well cash injections. In a low interest world, this form of commitment can attract new donors and enable activity which may otherwise not take place. Adoption campaigns and symbolic gestures may also provide operating income which is difficult to fund without a robust annual campaign. For instance, donors adopting an artist, actor, dancer, artwork or museum piece, over a period of time for a specific donation may cover costs of insurance, salaries, storage or security. And symbolic gestures such as ‘buying’ a seat in a theatre, a tile or carpet square for a museum, or a costume for a performance, can provide cash as well as immense pride and ‘ownership’ for donors.

Knowing and valuing your organisation’s worth and place in the eco-system, having trustees, management, staff, artists and volunteers all understanding and supporting the mission and vision will help provide a sound foundation for sustainability. Consultation and collaboration with others in the eco-system can help solidify your position and leverage opportunities. And as we know, fundraising takes time so clear understandings of practices, resources, timescales, roles and responsibilities will help with the ‘no surprises’ policy!

It would be a grey world without the beauty of art and culture in all its forms; surrounding us and being part of us. Hard to picture!


Sheridan is on the board of the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace Society and is an avid arts and culture buff.

The image in the top banner is of a Van Gogh, taken when I visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in October 2016. Read my blog here


Picture the arts without voluntary giving

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