Ten tips on asking for money from those who give it

Get out of the echo chamber and listen to those on the other side of the giving equation to understand the best approaches to fundraising.
[This is archived content and may not display in the originally intended format.]

Image: www.philantropists.org


Arts organisations spend a lot of time discussing philanthropy but too often they discuss it with one another. Those on the giving end have a different perspective and see the mistakes that are often made in approaches. Here’s their advice:

1. Be honest

‘Philanthropists can see through falsehoods,’ warns Betty Amsden, whose lifetime of philanthropy includes her underwriting of Arts Centre Melbourne’s participation program.

‘Explain what you could achieve with the right support … Find out what they’re passionate about.’

2. Know your value

Barrister Colin Golvan QC believes the arts sector undersells itself and doesn’t use its political and economic influence as strongly as it could. He said arts organisations need to understand the business case they are making and be aware of their worth.

‘Local arts organisations are critical to their communities in the same way the Arts Centre is vital to the greater community, but you don’t sell that importance well enough.’

3. Work from the known to the unknown

‘Don’t begin with the BRW Rich List,’ said Fiona Menzies, CEO Creative Partnerships Australia, who often finds she needs a little tough love to keep arts organisations realistic.

‘Start with your current supporters and use their networks to bring new people into the fold,’ is her advice. ‘Get the right person to make the first contact too – someone working in the appropriate field of interest, not the Development Manager. Networks expand because people are engaged and having fun.’

4. Be upfront about the way you are using the money

‘There seems to be a lack of transparency around where giving is going and what impact it’s having on the organisation,’ said  James Ostroburski, a leading new generation philanthropist who has combined his passion for the arts with his merchant banking career. ‘Philanthropists want to know how their money is being used and what benefits it is having.’

Said Menzies: ‘I think sometimes there’s … a real lack of respect towards the givers. Trust their intentions.’

5. Don’t forget the $50 donor

Golvan pointed out that small donors become engaged and committed to an organisation. Their money might not be worth much but their sense of involvement is – it will keep them giving and make sure you are at the top of their mind when they have more to give.

Amsden pointed out that she wasn’t always in a position to make the kind of donations she makes now. ‘Over time their gifts grow.’

6. Don’t leave it until the last minute

Menzies said some arts organisations look to philanthropy to stop gaps rather than thinking strategically about how to make the most of relationships.

‘Make partnerships part of your long term business strategy,’ she said. ‘Having a long term business strategy will ensure return on your investment.’

7. Understand your competition

The biggest challenge for the arts in philanthropy is the tendency of the next generation to prefer other causes, said Ostroburski. ‘We don’t seem to be seeing the next generation of philanthropists coming through as thick and fast as they did in the past. We’re not getting the same traction in the arts.’

He said arts organisations needed to be aware they were in competition with other social and environmental causes and to be as skilled as their competitors in making their case.

8. Get them young

Young people may not be easily engaged nor wealthy but getting them involved is worth the effort.

‘The earlier people are engaged with giving the more likely they are to be involved as they age and become more wealthy,’ said Menzies.

9. Be realistic

Approach organisations that are right for you in size and demography. ‘Telstra only wants to fund the big national companies, for instance,’ said Menzies

10. Think long term

‘These are long term relationships – they’re not going to happen overnight. Philanthropy is a lifelong journey,’ said Ostroburski.

Amsden agreed, ‘Don’t expect anything to happen now. It takes at least five years.’

Listen to the full panel discussion from the ArtsHub Conference: