Tangibility and Forming Long Lasting Relationships


On Wednesday 18th November I attended the Norfolk Arts Forums annual conference. Cause4’s Director of Programmes Amanda Rigali gave an excellent talk (found here) asking why we fundraise. More than anything, she said, fundraising is about ‘the people’, it’s about forming meaningful and lasting relationships with individuals that share the same interests and values as our organisation.

So how do we start forming these relationships and ensure their sustainability?

Another speaker at the Norfolk Arts Forum’s annual conference, Ruth Battersby Tooke, Senior Curator, gave a shared presentation about how the heritage sector can increase its sustainability by developing fundraising and income generation capacity. She introduced a very interesting business model whereby museum collections consisting of pieces of clothing from across history will be replicated and produced as products for sale. This commercial concept breaks down the curatorial barriers between object and observer and allows individuals (donors, prospective donors) to engage in a tactile experience with the past.

Image taken from Ruth Battersby Tooke’s shared presentation SHARED ENTERPRISE: A Museum Model

Image taken from Ruth Battersby Tooke’s shared presentation SHARED ENTERPRISE: A Museum Model

This idea resonated with me on many levels in terms of how we can form stronger relationships with donors. The experience that Ruth wants to create is tangible and meaningful. It connects individuals on an emotional and personal level with her objects, bringing them closer to the art form and her organisation’s values.

To establish and sustain effective relationships with our existing and potential donors we must not be afraid to reach out to them in intimate and tangible ways. As Felicity Green stresses in her blog, arts organisations are in an extremely advantageous position when connecting with our supporters. Unlike other charities, we are fortunate enough to have innovative spaces to bring individuals to and engage them directly with our work. We have the ability to draw them closer to who we are as an organisation, stressing the value of their support.

It’s quite easy to slip into a transactional process when dealing with donors and forget that they are human beings with human emotions like you or I. It’s important that as fundraisers we do everything we can to make the giving experience as tangible and true as possible. Arts organisations have the capacity to offer individuals unique experiences of deep and emotional significance that are hard to replicate.

Image taken from NP’s Money for Good Study p. 60, 62% of donors wanting to see their donation having an impact.

Image taken from NP’s Money for Good Study p. 60, 62% of donors wanting to see their donation having an impact.

I’ve discovered that creating tangible giving experiences in fundraising can be achieved not only through emotional and personal engagement but also in terms of transparency and honesty i.e. building trust with our supporters. One of the ways in which arts organisations can undertake this is through clearly stating its outcomes and impacts. NPC’s Money For Good Study analyses individual donors and what makes them tick when donating to charity. Surprisingly they found that it isn’t so much the tax incentive or the ease of donating that encourages individuals to give, but actually a charity’s clarity in stating where the money goes and showing how they make a difference:

If charities improved the way they communicate impact and explain how donations are used, they could potentially attract around £665m more in donations. 

Dan Corry, NP’s Chief Executive

In the current climate, it has never been a more crucial time to get closer to our donors. The arts and culture sector need to get better at stating our impacts in order to form relationships with donors that have the potential to last a lifetime.

I ask all fundraisers and arts organisations, how are you creating meaningful and tangible experiences with your donors? What are your thoughts. We’d love to hear.

Christie Johnson is an Arts Fundraising Fellow at Writers’ Centre Norwich.

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