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Charitable fundraising has never been easy, but the challenges faced by today’s arts organisations have upped the ante

Everyone knows the funding landscape has changed dramatically for UK arts organisations.

Arts Council England funding has been slashed, private foundations have raised the bar for accountability, corporate donations are increasingly tied to narrow corporate social responsibility programmes, and individual giving has been squeezed by shrinking disposable income.

A 2012 study of 126 arts organisations by Arts Quarter showed that on average 3.4% of the individuals in arts databases had a personal wealth of over £1m (not including the value of their homes). As might have been expected, this was highest in London (5.4%) but even in the region with the lowest number it was 1.3%. If we imagine a database of 50,000 customer records, 1.3% still represents 650 individuals. Soliciting annual donations of £1,000 from just 10% of them would amount to £65,000 each year. Those numbers are incredibly compelling, but surely it’s not that simple?

You have data at your fingertips that can help you develop personal approaches to these individuals to start them along a path towards becoming a major donor

UK lists of high-net-worth individuals already exist and there are consultancies that can audit your database (free of charge) to tell you how many wealthy individuals it contains. There is then a cost to purchase the data, but if budget is an issue you could start with a subset of your database, focussing on the data for the four most viable segments:

  • Regulars — visited three times or more in the last year.
  • Irregulars — visited one or two times in the last year.
  • At least once — visited at least once in the last three years.
  • Never — not visited in the last three years.

Using this segmentation scheme and the results of the audit, you could buy the data for your regulars segment first and purchase the others at a later date. When the data comes back you may need some assistance from your system supplier in order to write the new information back into your database.

There are others ways to spot potential donors too, including some without additional cost. If you offer the option to give a donation at the checkout, identifying individuals that included or increased a donation at this point may provide a good place to start.

Alternatively, purchasers of premium seats could be a good indicator of high discretionary income. And their postcode will also provide information about average wealth in the area (though obtaining this data will likely come at a cost).

While it is no doubt harder to make the case for raising money in the arts than it is for addressing extreme poverty in Africa or fighting cancer, we do have advantages over other charitable sectors. We start with the knowledge of individuals who have demonstrated a proven interest in our organisation by virtue of their having attended an event or production. Additionally, we know about individuals who are local to our communities.

In both cases, we know we can make an appeal based on personal relevance. This is also why it is crucial that once we have identified potential major donors, we continue to take a personal approach. Key to this is using the data we have about them. For example, if you have a group of potential donors who regularly come to your family shows, you might consider a cultivation event around this.

Knowing the theory is just the start. Ultimately, the future of arts fundraising lies in better use of data and technology to support the real reason we do what we do: promoting the joy, exhilaration, sense of fulfilment, and the deep and enduring meaning that results from supporting the art you love.

The first major step is to recognise that there is significant hidden wealth among the individuals in your database, and that uncovering it is relatively straightforward and inexpensive. Once uncovered, you have data at your fingertips that can help you develop personal approaches to these individuals to start them along a path towards becoming a major donor.

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