Report: Digital Giving in the Arts

Posted on January 9, 2013

Digital Giving in the Arts

Digital Giving in the Arts is:

An independent report commissioned by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on the scope for harnessing digital technology to boost charitable giving to the culture and heritage sectors.

That the government is keen on philanthropy and technology is pretty well documented, so it was only a matter of time before a report came along to reinforce policy. So, what to make of it?

The good news is that it’s an easily digestible 32 pages (and that includes the cover, a blank page and the contents) so download the report, have a quick read and then come back and we’ll go through the recommendations. Done? Ok, let’s have a look…

Recommendations for Government:

  • Encourage the industry to collaborate to simplify digital giving systems
  • Extend the Digital R&D Fund
  • Introduce a matching scheme for online donations
  • Join up Government policy on philanthropy and giving

Most of this looks like common sense. The report talks about revamping Gift Aid, which is good. If the government can be persuaded not to hamstring their own policies around philanthropy that can’t hurt either. A matching scheme? Why not. Sounds quite like ACE’s Catalyst fund.

I’m not sure about extending the Digital R&D Fund – there’s already quite a lot of money going in that direction and I’m not convinced more of the same is what’s required. Don’t get me wrong, it does a job, but it concerns me how much wasted time and effort has been spent on applications to it (it was massively oversubscribed in the first round). There are also good reasons why agencies like the one I work for (with all our digital/arts experience) are unlikely to get involved with it.

Recommendations for National Arts Funding Bodies:

  • Create a repository of shareware applications
  • Provide a digital education programme of case studies of best practice
  • Support the employment of “digital catalysts” in cultural organisations

The way it’s written up, the repository sounds like a very costly waste of time. What’s wrong with a page of links? The report says something about ACE leading on collective bargaining for services/etc. There might be something in that but we’re looking at marginal savings, surely.

The report recommends ACE lead on a digital education programme. Hmm. I think that’s another bad idea (please not another digicaparts). There are so many good resources already out there – get people reading/subscribed to those before trying to reinvent the wheel.

Employing “digital catalysts” to champion technology across cultural organisations is a slightly better idea. The report doesn’t back itself enough on this one though. Also, from what I’ve seen, I’m pretty convinced that employing people outright in reasonably senior positions would lead to more wide-ranging effects than parachuting in temporary aid workers on loan from businesses.

Recommendations for Cultural Organisations:

  • Develop, document and implement a digital audience engagement strategy
  • Recruit trustees with digital and fundraising skills
  • Encourage interdisciplinary cooperation on digital strategies, led by the Chief Executive and supported by the Board

Worth reading the report for the specifics here, but I’d broadly agree with what’s being said. Odd that there are so few specific recommendations here to do with actual digital philanthropy. They’re more to do with increasing organisations’ general digital capacity. No bad thing, but not quite what I was expecting from the report.

In conclusion

Digital Giving in the Arts is mostly harmless, I guess. Some good ideas (mostly for government), some bad ideas (mostly for funders) and some off-topic but perfectly reasonable common sense (mostly for cultural orgs).

The conclusion has to be that, yes, there is “scope for harnessing digital technology to boost charitable giving to the culture and heritage sectors”. In fact, I don’t think that was ever really in doubt so, given the foregone conclusion, there’s an awful lot more that I’d like to know:

  • How much digital fundraising is actually going on in the arts sector at the moment?
  • What percentage of donations are made online?
  • How many organisations are capable of accepting donations online?
  • How does digital technology encourage/support offline giving?
  • Who’s doing well?
  • Who’s doing badly?
  • How much of a shortfall could be made up if the organisations who are doing badly were to pull their fingers out?
  • Does digital fundraising differ across artforms?
  • What types of online giving tend to work well and which aren’t worth the effort?
  • Has anyone ever even covered their costs on those text-to-give things?
  • Are you at a massive disadvantage if you don’t have your own venue or control of your own ticketing?
  • What notes of caution should be sounded?

Maybe that’s all fodder for a different report. As for the current one, if you’ve given it a read I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

If you’d like some further reading, Digital Giving in the Arts specifically tips its hat to these other reports:

One last thing that I have to mention because it nags at me. I don’t get why the report’s subtitle is ‘Democratising Philanthropy’. Big or small, online or offline, philanthropy is all about pay-to-play – I get the idea about increasing participation, it’s just not what I understand democracy to be.