The issue of Philanthropy raised its head again last week. UK Culture Minister Ed Vaizey made some choice remarks to a parliamentary select committee about the response of arts organisations to the call for philanthropy to become a more prominent part of their income. He stated that supposed claims from regional organisations that they don’t operate in areas where rich people lived were ‘pathetic.’
Once I’d got over the rudeness of the remark, it got me thinking about our current approach to philanthropic giving here in Lincoln. I don’t believe regional organisations are saying we don’t want to develop philanthropic giving or even that we can’t. Certainly we have never said that here at the Drill Hall. We have embraced the need to raise money from individual donors in the same way we have started to diversify our income base from business sponsorship, trusts and foundations and through seeking to raise the amount of earned income we make each year.
The issue it appears to me is more about our ability to attract high profile donors, or those considered ‘high net worth’ than it is about a desire to raise money in this way. Mr Vaizey was quoted as saying “Philanthropy doesn’t mean a cheque of £5m. It could mean a cheque of £5, it could be a cheque for £500.” Since I started at Lincoln Drill Hall early in 2013 we have raised our number of individual donors from none to 7. We are grateful to those donors and seek to make sure we communicate with them regularly to let them know how their money is being spent. Receiving the cheque is definitely not the end of the relationship, but the beginning.
The total amount raised from those 7 donors is £650.00. This to me is a fantastic amount and is supplemented by a number of unknown donors who have added small amounts to their ticket bookings, dropped some pennies into our new donation box or donated when we’ve rattled buckets at some of the events taking place. Overall the total raised from individual donations since I started through these methods is a little over £2,000.00
I am very proud of this and of all the people for whom we have such an engagement that they feel moved to give us anything. And for an organisation of our size, £2,000.00 will go a very long way.
I believe that the issue is that in that same period of time, the amount of public funding the organisation receives has reduced by approximately 10 times the amount raised through philanthropy. The ability of small arts organisations such as ours to replace diminishing public funds with philanthropy is where the challenge lies. This in turn is perhaps why frustration arises when justifiable claims that large scale philanthropy is more difficult outside of London are made.
Perhaps the most high profile philanthropic donation in recent years, and certainly the one that comes immediately to mind when philanthropy is mentioned is Lloyd Dorfman’s £10million donation to the National Theatre. That’s the equivalent to 12 years of turnover for the venue I manage. We can but hope!
Arts organisations the length and breadth of the country do understand the need to raise money from philanthropic sources and many are developing great ways to encourage this type of fundraising. But for the vast majority of us, the idea that this can fully replace reducing public funding is really not as simple as some seem to be suggesting.