In today’s uncertain funding climate, arts organisations are relying more heavily on income from philanthropy and private ancillary funds. CEOs and boards look to employ high quality fundraising staff who can facilitate these relationships. In turn, staff look for supportive managers and engaged boards to help lead the charge.

What has surprised us however, is that notions of the mythical ‘little black book’ persist in an increasingly sophisticated philanthropy market. These little black books are supposed to belong to senior staff or directors and contain ‘contacts’ who ‘should’ be approached for financial support.

Both senior development staff and board members are often recruited on the perceived quality of their little black book.  Worryingly, these assumptions mould expectations and even influence revenue targets. They contribute to an adversarial culture and motivate behaviours that are unhelpful at best.

What does that look like?

1. The Fundraiser’s Little Black Book
There remains an expectation that if companies invest in a competitive salary for a senior fundraiser (especially from a rival organisation) they will come with a little black book of contacts whom they will convert to donors in no time.

This is a silver bullet mindset which divests fundraising responsibility from organisational leaders to the new recruit.  Expectations compress gift cultivation timelines and the fundraiser will be under constant pressure to achieve results and demonstrate that the organisation is ‘getting its money’s worth’.

How it really works
An experienced fundraiser will have strong relationships with donors they have cultivated and stewarded over the years.  But no fundraiser with a successful career will jeopardise the integrity of those relationships to fast-track a financial outcome – especially if the company and its goals are new to the donor.

Instead, they will take time to introduce their contacts to the organisation and its artistic leaders, and gradually engage them in its mission and strategy. The most successful relationships are based on integrity and trust, and they respond to the wishes of the donor in relation to your mission.

Enduring patronage is not developed overnight and experienced staff do not arrive in organisations with little black books to plunder.

And neither do board members.

2. The Board’s Little Black Book
One of the greatest sources of discomfort for arts boards is the perception that directors are expected to open their little black book and start ‘putting the hard word’ upon members of their network.

Usually directors in this situation have experienced poor process, poor communication or simply bad practice somewhere along the way.  And this fundamental disconnect is perhaps THE great miscommunication that holds so many arts (and other) organisations back in their fundraising endeavours.

How it should work
The role of board members in donor-centred, relationship fundraising is not to unleash their rolodex on demand. Instead it is to facilitate strategic (and enjoyable) introductions to carefully identified individuals and to be able to talk about the mission and strategy of the organisation.

We know from great QUT research that fundraising success is correlated with board leadership.  Why?  Many reasons, but here because Directors are powerful and compelling advocates and they make persuasive ‘askers’ if and when the time is right (if they are well-rehearsed and comfortable doing so).

And when it doesn’t…
When in doubt about how to execute their role in fundraising, we see many boards deflecting their anxiety by interrogating fundraising strategy, process, general appropriateness and the effectiveness of staff. This of course drives the wedge deeper, confidence and capacity are eroded and the organisation suffers.

Forget little black books.  Join forces and talk to each other.
For arts organisations trying to build a culture of philanthropy and increase their contributed income, internal communication is fundamental.

Relative to the ASX200, even the largest arts organisation in Australia is a small-to-medium enterprise.  No board member should feel like they’re breaching the rules of governance to phone up the Development Director and ask ‘how’s it going? How can I be of assistance’? Or ‘what do you need from me’?  Similarly, no Development Director should expect a board member to take action without a clear and simple request, adequate briefing and solid leg work.

Raising money is hard and it takes time. Success is defined by your vision and mission, your ability to cultivate high-quality relationships and tell your story well.

Staff and directors are in it together – asking how you can be of assistance to each other is a great start.

Caroline Sharpen is an experienced strategist, consultant and business development practitioner. She is also the principal of Sharpen Creative Industries Consulting, an alliance of specialists and independent consultants working with arts and creative-sector clients.

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