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Philanthropy in the Regions

20 March 14 -- jsuess
Jessica Suess, Oxford ASPIRE Officer

On 10th February 2014, on behalf of the Oxford University Museums, Professor Paul Smith, Director of the Museum of Natural History, chaired a roundtable discussion on Philanthropy in the Regions as part of the Oxford ASPIRE programme of knowledge sharing events. We were joined by Directors and Directors of Development from Arts Council England (ACE) funded Major Partner Museums (MPM) from across the country, as well as by Sir Peter Bazalgette and John Orna-Ornstein from ACE, and Philip Spedding, Director of Arts and Business, Peter Phillips, author of the 2012 DCMS report Philanthropy Beyond London, and respected philanthropist Sir Martin Smith.

Setting the scene, Peter Phillips and Philip Spedding reviewed the current philanthropic climate and quantified the significant challenges facing cultural organisations beyond the philanthropic hotspot that is London. They noted that currently the public psyche largely views museums as services paid for by government, and that regional organisations are no longer benefitting from the sense of civic pride that precipitated the founding of many museums: civic pride must be reignited. They also warned that in recent years Trusts and Foundations have been filling a gap in regional cultural funding, but that these organisations are stretching their reserves, a state of affairs that cannot be expected to continue.

But the cultural sector has reasons to optimistic. The HE sector is often seen as having an advantage in the form of their alumni, but cultural organisations have audiences, and it is only a small step from audience to supporter. It is up to cultural organisations to help individuals take that step.

To make this happen it was agreed that the sector needs to invest in skills development, not only for our professional fundraisers, but in the organisations’ leadership. Also that fundraising needs to be integrated into every level of an organisation’s activity.

These sentiments were reiterated by Sir Martin Smith, speaking both from his experience as a fundraiser and philanthropist, and Liesl Elder, Director of Development at the University of Oxford. Sir Martin Smith expressed that the cultural sector represents a particular challenge to philanthropists who do not want to see their support reducing government investment. He commented that he personally tries to invest in a way that can leverage additional income. For example, at the Ashmolean he supported development of their commercial activity, which now yields the museum an income of over £1 million annually.

As part of the discussion we heard two contrasting case studies. The first was from Professor Christopher Brown, Director of the Ashmolean Museum, on their success in raising £100 million over 15 years for a major capital redevelopment, acquisitions and running costs. This required major investment and saw fundraising established as a business within Ashmolean: the museum currently employs 8 development officers, Professor Brown spends at least 50% of his time fundraising, he revamped the museum’s Board in order to bring in relevant expertise, and makes use of the University of Oxford’s fundraising resources. The second case study came from Iain Watson, Director of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, located in an area of the country with fewer wealthy investors. In the North East they have been experimenting with innovative ways of leveraging increased numbers of smaller donations from supporters.

Sir Peter Bazalegette steered the roundtable conversation by posing 5 questions to the room.

  1. In addition to their current activity (e.g. Board training) what else can ACE be doing to support fundraising activity?
  2. According to recent government surveys only 8.8% of the population are aware that cultural organisations are charities. Is this a marketing challenge?
  3. Do we articulate the intrinsic value of culture well enough and make the holistic case for investment in culture?
  4. The cultural sector is 3-5 years behind the commercial sector in utilising the digital economy, what else can we be doing to harness it?
  5. How can we redress the balance in philanthropic giving between London and the regions?

Responding to these prompts, initial discussion focussed both on how Arts Council can work with MPMs to support their fundraising activities, and how it can work with MPMs to support other regional museums. 

There was general support for a national advertising campaign to raise public awareness of the status of cultural organisations as charities, and support for a separate campaign to raise awareness of the tax advantages of philanthropic giving. It was agreed that this could be very useful in ‘setting the weather’ in England’s philanthropic sector, but that individual organisations still needed to invest significantly in their own fundraising assets to take advantage of this and convert potential donors into supporters. It was also noted that in the current climate establishing the status of Local Authority Museums as charities represented a particular challenge.

It was agreed that MPMs are already doing a significant amount to support regional museums in developing their fundraising capacity, in particular through training, but that ACE could take steps to join up this offer.

It was also suggested that it would be extremely useful if ACE could do some number crunching on behalf of regional cultural organisations and provide valuable benchmarking data on cost and return in philanthropic fundraising in order to support organisation in setting realistic fundraising goals. Since the roundtable ACE has committed to this piece of work.

Interesting discussion also focussed on the new wealthy, whether they be from immigrant communities of the new digital entrepreneurs who have previously had little contact with philanthropic giving. The group agreed that we need to think of new ways to mobilise this group of potential supporters.

Overall the day represented an important first step for major regional museums and Arts Council working together to secure future funding for the sector, but is only the beginning of a process to change the outlook of the sector when it comes to funding.

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