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Trish Wheatley explains the Catalyst consultancy DAO is engaged in / 17 September 2013

There’s something about the word catalyst that I find exciting and inspiring. It’s evocative of hope and change but also science and chemistry. The Arts Council’s Catalyst programme “offers organisations the opportunity to move their fundraising and development expertise onto the next level” Through a consortium project DAO, Salisbury Arts Centre, The Point Eastleigh and Stopgap Dance Company are using this programme to attempt exactly that. Each organisation has its commonalities and differences, meaning that many of the fundraising challenges we face are very similar but exist in the context of a unique set of circumstances.

The Point, utilising its excellent facilities, hosted our first day together as the wider consortium of staff and board members. Fundraising consultant, Rachel Beer, who has been working with each organisation on brand and development of a case for support was on hand to offer insights as an impartial observer. The explorative, getting to know each other session was hung together by a group of questions, which we agreed were fundamental to addressing in order to move this experiment into innovative income generation forward.

Firstly, a look at the wider motivations for giving highlighted some common understandings that those of us who spend a large proportion of our time in fundraising were already of. It was unsurprising to hear that the arts tend to be sidelined as non-essential, that crisis and aid appeals are the most successful and that we need to make it as easy as possible for people to give.  I found it particularly intriguing to hear that even people working in the arts don’t often give to the arts on a regular basis, in fact those crisis and aid charities, cancer and animal charities appeared far more frequently on the list of supported causes. In many cases that sense of giving so much of one’s time and energy was sufficient personal support for the arts. Where people do choose to donate hard cash was centred on well-explained campaigns at point of sale for tickets to performances and events. Even then, if the combined ticket and booking price were not seen to be good value for money, or the campaign was unclear then a donation was unlikely.

These facts might be more helpful for the venue-based organisations that actually sell tickets. So where does DAO fit into the concept of individual giving? Who would be compelled to donate to DAO to support our work? How do we inspire them to do so? It was fully recognised that to nurture individual donors requires a significant investment in human resources to develop those relationships. How can we make this work at DAO with just two people working just three days per week? Perhaps the simple answer here is that we can’t? Perhaps it doesn’t make financial sense to invest time in this type of income generation?

A spark of something – hope? Imagination? Inspiration? Emerged when we discussed sponsoring friends to take on challenges. The JustGiving model. It’s not a new idea, people have been doing ‘sponsored somethings’ for years. What came up in the discussion was the idea that we are more likely to support a charity because someone we know is willing to take on a challenge for that cause. Just last week another leading disability arts organisation raised over £4700 through its staff and volunteers taking on the London to Brighton cycle challenge. I can see how this method of fundraising might work for DAO. As Rachel says, we need to work on our brand and present clear messages about our purpose, our vision and mission in order to make a persuasive case for support. One step at a time.

The true value of working as a consortium is becoming clear through the process of sharing our ideas and experiences. Sometimes our methods may not match as each organisation operates within a unique set of circumstances, but the overlaps in need and ambition will pave the way for an interesting and hopefully successful collaborative future. For me, Catalyst is a chance to change the way we do things, to hope for a successful future but also to use the science of brand and fundraising to achieve that change. In recent years the emphasis on partnerships within the arts has grown into an essential element of how we exist. I approach our next session with curiosity and excitement as a consortium, together we explore ‘Making the Ask’.