Planning a successful fundraising campaign

Julie Nightingale, Issue 42, p50-52, Summer 2008
A successful fundraising campaign starts with serious self-analysis, says Julie Nightingale - knowing what you have and what you want to achieve

Fundraising is essentially about selling. Whether you are asking for money to support a redevelopment, a new gallery, education projects, acquisitions or temporary exhibitions, you have to pitch it to the donor in your sights to persuade them to part with the necessary funds.

This does not mean a hard sell, but you do need a clear proposition. What is the project about? Who is it for? And you need a convincing and inspiring argument for why you are doing it now.

"You have to make the decision about what you want to achieve first, then demonstrate how you are the only people to meet the need you have identified, so it requires a lot of self-reflection," says Alan Horn, the director of development for Culture and Sport Glasgow.

After helping to raise £12.5m to restore the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, he is busy working on the next big thing in Glasgow, a new transport museum with a £74m fundraising target.

"Most successful campaigns are less to do with 'contacts' and more to do with good planning and a narrative that explains how you plan to meet that need," says Horn.

In terms of who to approach, it is important to identify potential funders who share your ambitions and support what you want to achieve. Be realistic about what you promise. "Some people think that a small contemporary art exhibition is going to change the world or alleviate poverty," says Horn.

"Museums have achieved exceptional things at a local level with their audiences and addressed all sorts of needs within the community, but you have to communicate those aims effectively to supporters who share your values."

Reflecting on your project's impact beyond the museum will also help you to decide who to target in your fundraising campaign. A clear vision of the project and its expected impact within the organisation and beyond is essential, agrees Becky Williams, the director of development at the Tate.

"Know your project and be able to articulate what it is you are trying to achieve, why it is special and who will benefit," she says. "It is especially important to look from an outsider's perspective, rather than an internal one. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking about what it means for you and your organisation. That's valid, but when you are presenting your project you need to think about what it will mean for the audience."


Also think about the language you use when writing or speaking to potential funders. Avoid jargon - even terms such as "outreach" may draw a blank with others, particularly business people, says Marnie Whiting, the fundraising manager at the Holburne Museum of Art, Bath.

"The internal language of your museum isn't the language that other people will understand, necessarily," says Whiting. "Remember that you are speaking to people who don't necessarily know everything about your organisation, and don't know the field you are working in.

Our education manager hated me using the term 'education' to describe an activity, but it's what businesspeople understand; 'creative-based learning process' doesn't mean anything [to them]."
Whiting advises anyone inexperienced in fundraising to start by putting out feelers on home territory.

"Talk to people who use and support your services already. Talk to [your colleagues] and talk to your board of trustees. You will learn a lot more than if you approach random people."

It is also important to recognise that the requirements of public funders and private ones differ. Public bodies and charitable organisations are, philosophically speaking, interested in the public value of a project and how it will enhance the lives of others.

Corporate sponsors are interested in how it will enhance their reputation and brand, even if there is also an element of corporate social responsibility invoked. Wealthy private donors can be motivated by both of the above, but they are often also driven by a personal passion.

And whereas applying for public funding depends on completing the paperwork fully and clearly (once the funder is satisfied that you meet its criteria), corporate funding and private donor's largesse can be swung by a word in the right ear.

Success with a large funding body can act as a trigger for new potential backers to sit up and take notice of your project, so focusing your limited energies on securing a major grant is advisable. In the UK, the Heritage Lottery Fund in particular lends a definite credibility to your plans; it indicates that they have been rigorously scrutinised, and your project is going ahead, so others will feel more confident their support will make something happen.

If your museum is part of a larger charity that is fundraising continuously, then you can tap into colleagues' expertise. But you have to be careful not to blur the lines between the main charity and your project.

For example, fundraising to modernise the Grace Darling Museum in Bamburgh, in the North East of England, was hived off into a separate heritage trust to distinguish it from the core work of the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution), the charity that runs the museum.

There are various methods of fundraising but there are a few tactics that, while possibly successful in other walks of life where parting people from their money is the aim, tend to disappoint in museum circles, according to those who have tried them.

One of these is cold calling, especially to wealthy people you have never met. Fundraisers in smaller museums also counsel against trying to woo individuals with glossy brochures and other expensive marketing tools.

Fundraising is hard work. It demands patience and persistence. There is a degree of psychology involved in building relationships with people and understanding the way others work and their priorities.

For the individual it can be frustrating when, having followed all protocols, your funding bid fails - and then is revived on the strength of a quiet word between influential individuals.

Above all you cannot afford to have thin skin. In the words of Marnie Whiting at the Holburne Museum: "Use everything that's available to you. Don't be precious about it. In the end it doesn't matter how it arrives, as long as the money comes in."

(Image: The RNLI / Adrian Don)