I’ve been guilty of ignoring my blog and I’m sure this is something that many bloggers fall victim to. I can give you all the excuses of how busy I’ve been but that’s all they are….excuses.
Which brings me to the point of this blog. Why, as charitable organisations, do we make excuses when we have a low level of engagement from our prospective donors or sponsors? Is there an issue with the culture of giving? Are people becoming less inclined to give?
I’m sure many could find statistics to prove this is the case but I’m going to go with a gut feeling and here it is. People want to give but you have to ask them. Simple isn’t it? Well not really – because many worthwhile organisations are asking them. In today’s world, with the data we have access to, we need to ensure we are asking the right people in the right way.
So to me, creating a culture of giving starts with the charitable organisations themselves. We need to step up and follow trends, ensure we have a presence in the areas that our potential donors are spending their time, stop pussyfooting around and just ask them for their support!
Now I’m not suggesting pleading poverty and the like, but telling your stories and showing people how their input can make things happen. Putting them at the centre of your story and not feeling ashamed to continue to promote what is possible….with their help.
I’m going to frame this in an arts landscape purely because that’s where I’ve been spending much of my time in the past few months (and they’ve got this pretty much down pat….massive thumbs up!). But essentially this philosophy is true of any not for profit organisation in any sector.
So when I talk about a culture of giving from an organisational viewpoint I mean allocating resources in the area of developing long term relationships with audiences with a view to educating them around supporting the organisation. That doesn’t mean just buying tickets or merchandise but giving regular donations to support companies in achieving their goals. This could just as easily be translated to those people who only buy merchandise or attend events for charities. To my mind these are the potential donors we should be nurturing and learning about – they have the potential to be strong regular donors with just a little bit of education.
Tax incentives can assist with motivating people to give, but that is only one reason. Donors need to feel a connection with what they support, and the arts are well positioned to enable this. However many arts organisations let themselves down by concentrating on a small group of known philanthropists or companies that support them, rather than allocating time and expertise in educating a broader market on the culture of giving.
This starts with everyone in the company (including the board) understanding exactly what a culture of giving entails and having involvement with potential and existing supporters. Performers and administration staff should be excited about new sponsors coming on board, and welcome the opportunity to bring new ‘family’ members into the fold, keeping them involved in future plans. There shouldn’t be a fear that these new supporters will try to influence the company’s direction, rather they can be utilised as test audiences for new projects and surveyed on their opinion. All of which acts as an opportunity to further increase their experiential engagement with the organisation and secure their long term support.
But this takes time and it takes patience. And it takes strong leadership from the top and unwavering commitment to the purpose of installing a culture of giving. Your staff will feed off your enthusiasm (or lack thereof) and unless this plan remains constantly on the agenda, you won’t see sustainable results. You’ll have times when you doubt your plan and times when you feel no one is keen to support your endeavours. Many will give up at this time, but those that steadfastly continue with their plan – regularly engaging, educating and involving their potential supporters will reap the rewards through their perseverance as your audience begins to see the long term benefits of becoming involved on a deeper level financially.
It is arguably one of the toughest jobs around, trying to build a support base through donors, sponsors and partners, and you need to be able to handle rejection regularly – BUT if you keep going I promise the rewards will be magnificent.
And remember nothing worthwhile and longstanding is ever easy because if it were easy, then everyone would be doing it
Until next time,