‘Staff hold key to philanthropy’

Sheffield Museums’ Going Public report finds that employees who are advocates for collections can attract donors
Caroline Parry
Museum staff hold the key to unlocking the potential of philanthropy, according to a report examining the relationship between collectors and cultural institutions.

Going Public, published by Museums Sheffield in July as part of a wider initiative examining the issue, aims to offer museums and galleries an insight into the motivations of private collectors and funders, and the role of philanthropy in an era of public spending cuts.

Sarah Philp, the director of programmes at the Art Fund, says: “The report highlights the skills and resources necessary to unlock philanthropy. It shows that it is not just about having the fundraising skills, although that is vital, but it is about having passionate and intelligent advocates for institutions and collections.”

The report concludes that philanthropy is “not a silver bullet” and “cannot and should not be a substitute for private giving”. Instead, it should be “part of the solution” for regional institutions.

Kim Streets, the chief executive of Museums Sheffield, says: “Philanthropy is about building relationships over a long period of time, rather than quick wins.”

She points out that all four private collectors who collaborated on shows with Sheffield venues as part of Going Public place importance on working with “steady” organisations that invest in their curatorial teams.

“Having stable institutions is important, as it encourages private individuals to get involved,” adds Streets. “The local authorities play a key role in creating a firm foundation. It sends a strong signal if the local or regional government is supportive.”

Lacking fundraising skills

The government is keen for museums to explore new financial models and to survive on less public money, but many institutions lack fundraising skills.

Catalyst: Endowments is a £36m match-funding initiative offering heritage organisations the chance to create an endowment. It is part of a broader partnership between the Heritage Lottery Fund, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and Arts Council England. The initiative aims to encourage more private giving and to build the capacity and skills of culture and heritage organisations to fundraise from private donors, corporate sources, and trusts and foundations.

The Bowes Museum, in County Durham, is an institution that has managed to hit its Catalyst: Endowments target – raising £1m in the final month of a four-year campaign.

Bowes director Adrian Jenkins says the experience has taught the museum that it can achieve ambitious targets, despite its rural location. He highlights the vital role played by the museum’s “proactive and enthusiastic” Friends committee.

“We have no fundraising staff per se and we have a good track record in applying to trusts and foundations but it is quite a different thing to invite individuals for lunch, show them around the museum and then ask for donations,” says Jenkins. “Sometimes, people visit several times and it takes up to two years before we even ask for money.”
Norfolk Museums Service, through the Shared Enterprise project, is one of nine Catalyst: Umbrella bodies offering training and support to help heritage organisations increase funding from private sources.
Steve Miller, the head of Norfolk Museums Service, says: “Catalyst has shown us that there is a great need for this kind of training. It is upskilling the sector and we have been given another 18 months of opportunity to change the capacity of the museum sector. It shows that people can do it – and they can do it outside of London.”

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