The other day I asked the great Twitter hive mind this question:
Are there any arts orgs that talk about their development work or feature blog posts/updates from their development teams on their website?
— Chris Unitt (@ChrisUnitt) October 8, 2012
I had to clarify what I meant by development (pesky jargon) so I’d better do that here too. When I talk about development teams in this context, I mean the people who deal with fundraising, memberships, donations, sponsorship and that sort of thing. Not website developers.
Before I waffle on about why I asked the question, big thanks go to the people who came back with good answers:
- Kat Sommers for pointing out what the team at The Courtauld Institute of Art talk about.
- Lena Zimmer for showing me the Giving section of the Smithsonian website – I liked the Donor Stories in particular.
When I sent that tweet I was hoping to find examples of organisations that do a decent job of explaining why they need to be given money and showing what they do when they get it. Or maybe I thought I might dig up a couple of experts working in-house that I could follow and learn more from.
Development is something I’ve been thinking about more and more lately:
- It’s loomed large in a couple of recent conversations with clients
- It was very relevant to some consultancy I did about a year ago
- I went to a really interesting talk about sponsorship at the AMA Conference in the summer
- Without seeking it out on purpose, I keep reading about how different sectors are approaching memberships
There’s a wider context too. The message that the arts need to get better at asking, not just receiving seems to have been taken on board. Not that this is new thinking particularly, it’s just that there seems to be an increased sense of urgency around it at the moment. I’m sure £30m of Catalyst Arts funding will have concentrated a few minds too.
With all that in mind, I’m currently very interested in how arts organisations use their online presence to do two things:
- positioning themselves as charitable organisations that are worthy of receiving donations
- ‘making the ask’
I’ve no concrete answers on anything yet – I’m just letting the thoughts build up.
Of the other responses I had to that tweet, I mostly disagree with Ash Mann’s suggestion that content related to development is doomed to be “pretty boring” and of no wider interest to people. If it’s possible to make blenders interesting online then how hard can it be to wrap a story around the need to hit a fundraising target, or show how in-basket donations where used in a given year? Although to be fair I’m sure that, although it could be interesting, in practice I’ll bet it’s not.
I do, however, completely agree with Ash’s other point that “non arts’ charities/fundraisers are much better at doing this”.
The issue, I think, is that the message for arts organisations often isn’t so clear as it is for other charities. Arts organisations get income from public funding and ticket sales. Some might well ask ‘why should we have to give money on top of that?’ There’s a problem with consistency across the sector too. Take the case of theatres – some are purely commercial, some aren’t. How’s yer average member of the public supposed to tell the difference?
The RSPCA (to pick a random example) don’t have that problem. It’s clearer that they need donations. I’m also not likely to have a purely transaction-based relationship with them, whereas I’d guess that’s how many people are likely to have their first encounter with many arts organisations.
Back to the digital side of things – do people in the arts look at what their colleagues are doing in other types of charities (health, environmental, education, animal, etc)?
The reason I ask is that I’m just starting work on a big website redevelopment project. We had conversations with departments across the organisation and everyone’s very keen that the new site makes their charitable status much more evident. We asked people to name websites that they like – a pretty standard question in this kind of situation. I thought it was interesting (and, in fact, this is always the case) that they suggested many websites for other arts organisations but only one person mentioned another charity’s website – slaveryfootprint.org.
I’m starting to think that’s quite revealing – that arts organisations don’t tend to place themselves in the same context as other charities. I wonder what would be different if they did. I wonder how far most organisations could/should go in that direction, given the need to present and promote the artistic work and the fact (ok, assumption) that websites may well be more effective at driving transactional income. How would you test different approaches?
One more thing – the shortlist and winners of the Digital Fundraising Awards were released this week. I don’t know how well publicised these are but, of the charities that earned a mention, their are plenty of health and environment charities and a couple of heritage organisations. No arts organisations though.
Sidenote: I’m going to put more questions like this out on Twitter. I’ve always said you get more from that thing when you ask than when you tell.