On some trends in fundraising in mid 2016

Mid this year I attended the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) meeting in Washington DC. There was one common albeit low level theme, concern even, running through the conversation among the fundraisers at the Conference, and that was that significant change in donor behavior is occurring that will alter approaches to fundraising, and the likelihood of success.

Quite a bit has been written about how younger donors (say, less than 50 years old) are more focused on clearly delineated causes, often crisis causes (like the Nepal earthquake) where there is clear need and urgency. At the 2016 AAM conference there was general talk among the fundraisers about how in the USA this greater focus on fixing urgent problems is both moving into the culture sector and up the age scale. Older donors are wanting to see more immediate impacts from their support, and are focused more on supporting projects and programs that have immediate measurable impact. One reason for this seems to be driven by trends among mega-donors like Bill and Melinda Gates to focus on capital P problems (like ending malaria) and away from “softer” arts and culture support.

A second reason was highlighted in a recent article by commentator David Callahan entitled “Clean-up crew? How the fall of Government may shape philanthropy’s future”. He writes about how Government is reducing its support of so many sectors, including arts and culture, as more and more budget money is swallowed by health in particular. As a consequence, a greater share of the available philanthropic support is going to deal with crises resulting from those government funding cuts, including to crises in arts and culture. A very high profile example a few years ago was the philanthropic bail out of the Detroit Institute for the Arts. The same has occurred in the UK with philanthropists in part filling the gap left by broke local government reducing support for culture.

How much is this happening in Australia? Hard to say yet but there has clearly been some philanthropic move to replace funding lost from the Australia Council for individual artists and small arts organisation. While there is some net increase in money going to arts and culture philanthropy, courtesy of ageing baby boomers, the risk is that more is swallowed up by crisis support, and a greater proportion of what’s left will go to projects and programs with immediate impact, and to replace government operational funding, rather than say big long term capital projects or endowments.

What does this mean for our approach to seeking philanthropic support? Obviously it suggests that as far as possible we need to make our fundraising cases more apparently urgent and clearly defined, and ensure that our general “case statements” for funding are not just warm and fuzzy, but more compelling. We need to use more examples of what has been achieved with philanthropic support, and we really need to look after our donor base. A good “health check” of your fundraising approach and material would help identify weaknesses in your current approach, and this in one of the services I, and others, offer. Let me know if you are interested in having a chat about that.


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