Philanthropy and the Arts – review

philanthropy and the artsPhilanthropy and the Arts is a new book by Professor Jennifer Radbourne and Kenneth Watkins (published in October 2015).

While it purports to be a best practice fundraising guide for arts organisations in Australia, it is more of a history of the development of fundraising within the Australian Ballet over the last twenty years, during Kenneth’s tenure there.

It is a fascinating read in terms of seeing how fundraising has changed and become more sophisticated over the years, and it emphasises the importance of aligning donors’ values with those of the organisation.

The key things that resonated with me were the importance of the role and value of the donor, the need to understand donors’ values, and finding a model of philanthropy that goes beyond fundraising to the essence of the intrinsic values held by donors.  This reflects Kay Sprinkle Grace‘s view that the purpose of fundraising is to enable donors to act on their values.  Philanthropy and the Arts recognises the challenges of competing for funds with so many other cultural organisations clamouring for the attention of donors, the slow growth of a culture of giving in Australia, and working against internal board resistance.  It notes the importance of small donors and that both asking and giving can be rewarding experiences.

While I did not agree with all of the authors’ views on leadership and desired attributes in fundraisers, it was great to read of their belief in the transformational role of the arts in society and their definition of philanthropy “as a voluntary action for public good”.

Ken Burnett, the guru of “relationship fundraising” would have been pleased with the acknowledgement of his approach.

The book highlights the role of fundraising and philanthropy in business and strategic planning, and notes that for fundraising to be successful, it must be given prominence (if not equal footing) with other departments within the organisational structure.

There was a little too much of what I call “fundraising speak” with terms such as “moves management”, “donor solicitation”, but overall the heart of this book lies in its commitment to the development of relationships with donors to make them feel an essential part of the Australian Ballet.

However, Fundraising in the Arts is not a how-to manual for every aspiring arts organisation in the country seeking to find that elusive dollar.  The Australian Ballet has had spectacular success in fundraising and philanthropy, due in no small part to Kenneth’s persistence and dedication (which we are very much reminded of all the way through), but it also has a different profile to most other arts organisations.  It also has a national reach, greater staffing resources and a much larger budget to allocate to its fundraising and philanthropy team. (and a 40 year track record in demonstrating its value and place in Australian society – though one could argue that the symphony orchestras should also be doing as well in philanthropy if longevity is one of the keys to success).

I tend to agree with Daniel McDarmid’s summary of the book in AskRight which states “If you seriously want to improve the fundraising in your arts organisation buy this book, and as an old prayer had it “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest it.” Think about giving it to your CEO and board members. Think twice about giving it to donors beyond your board.”

While perhaps better titled: “Fundraising at the Australian Ballet“, Fundraising in the Arts is a timely and rare reflection on philanthropy in the Australian cultural sector.

Let me know your thoughts, and whether you would apply its wisdom to your own organisation.


About ozphilanthropy

#Philanthropy. #arts Posts by Sharon Nathani, PhD candidate at the Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne focussing on philanthropic funders of the arts. Sharon's study is supported through an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.
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