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.

Published by Chris Unitt

I work at One Further, doing digital projects with cultural organisations. Follow @ChrisUnitt or find me on LinkedIn.

2 replies on “Report: Digital Giving in the Arts”

  1. I was pulling together some recommendations for our (Opera North) development team lately in relation to online giving, I came across this quote which I thought was probably the best piece of advice I’d seen:

    “Remember, of course, that donations won’t come pouring in just because you can take them online. Think carefully about how you will encourage potential donors to go to your website. How will they know that online donations are an option? How will you ask them to give? How will you integrate your online donation capacity into your direct mail and offline campaigns? How will you connect with donors after an online donation to make sure they have the receipts and acknowledgement they need? And how will you encourage online donors to become even more involved in your organization”

    I think, as per usual, that it isn’t so much about the various tools etc that are available but more about the ‘context’ of how those tools might actually be utilised and whether they can be meaningfully integrated into the day-to-day workings of organisations.

  2. I’d not come across Idealware – ta for the link. Agree with your last para from a strategic point of view but there are some things that come down to fairly simple nuts and bolts too.

    For instance, suggested donations in ticket purchase pathways can be very effective for pulling in donations. As you say, context has a role to play there – warming up ticket buyers to the idea that an arts organisations does work worth donating to can help. As can something more purely technical, like dynamically altering the amount of the suggested donation depending on basket value or donation history.

    Was there anything else you pulled together for your team that’d make for good sharing? Speaking purely selfishly, you should start up that blog of yours again.

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