Key Findings: Cause4 Arts and Culture Fundraising Benchmark

Key Findings: Cause4 Arts and Culture Fundraising Benchmark


Published in Autumn 2022, key findings from Cause4's Arts and Culture Fundraising Benchmark (2021 release of 2019 data). The benchmarking data remains a valuable guide to understanding the pre-pandemic norm – a check against where your organisation could, or should, return to. Combined with more recent insights from other published sources, the benchmarks offer a sound basis for formulating strategy, and sense checking.


The purpose of the Cause4 Arts and Culture Fundraising Benchmark is to support the leaders and trustees of organisations to compare and contrast their current performance to that of their peers. This report, combined with a web-based dashboard, provides insights, data and tools to undertake this analysis.

This version of the benchmark includes the latest data for 2018/19, covering 801 organisations in the Arts Council England (ACE) National Portfolio. Where possible, we have included trend data for a more extended four-year period. Data on volunteering and assets complement data covering income, expenditure, fundraising and financial resilience. In addition to national data, this year’s report explores several ‘slices’ in more depth. Covid-19 has subsequently changed the operating environment for arts and culture organisations.

It has also changed the fundraising and income generation landscape. Nevertheless, the benchmark data here remains a relevant starting point for performance analysis and strategy development, whether it is understanding how your organisation compares to leaders in any given field of income generating activity, or reviewing the cost effectiveness of your expenditure by comparison to your peers.

Read the full benchmarking findings 


This concluding section of the report highlights several issues or areas that those seeking to benchmark their organisation may consider. It offers as many questions as answers – our aim is to prompt discussion or thinking about your organisation.

Keep in mind the big picture

The Cause4 Arts and Culture Benchmark now covers four years. For the National Portfolio as a whole, this is sufficient to show medium-term trends. For NPOs, the benchmark suggests some aspects of their work are changing: in particular, a worrying move from average surplus to average deficit. Other elements were relatively unchanged, such as the importance of ACE funding in the overall turnover mix.

These medium-term trends provide a good sense of the big picture. Although they precede the Covid-19 pandemic, they give an understanding of the direction the portfolio as a whole was heading in – and that might be helpful insight, particularly if you subscribe to the theory that crises in general, and Covid-19 particularly, accelerate existing trends as much as they disrupt them.

Find your tribe

Effective benchmarking is about finding your tribe – a group of organisations with similar functions, operating models, or environments. The benchmark shows that there are similarities and substantial differences between sizes and types of organisation. For example, organisations in the South West had an average turnover of £1.7m in 2018/19, equivalent to 60% of the average turnover for the West Midlands. Turnover in Dance organisations was double that in Visual Arts organisations. Finding the right comparator group matters.

The importance of being earners

The benchmark reports the importance of earned income to the portfolio. Nine out of ten organisations generated earned income in 2018/19. On average, earned income accounted for over one-third of turnover for those organisations, a proportion that remained largely static over the medium term. However, the national average marks wide variations across the portfolio, both within and between regions, art forms and turnover band. Whether an organisation is protected characteristics-led was also a distinguishing factor.

We know that earned income took a substantial hit in many organisations during the pandemic as venues closed and people stayed at home. But with pressure on public spending as the country recovers, it is likely that the skills, knowledge, and entrepreneurial talent needed to generate earned income will become more necessary. Fundraising: more efficient, bigger returns? The benchmark suggests that the average spend per organisation on fundraising was falling – by around £50,000 per year less over four years. Over the same period, the average amount also raised fell – but by a much lower £18,000. The result was that 2018/19 was the first year for which we have data where the average net amount fundraised by organisations was over £1m.

The fundraising ratio was higher in 2018/19 than in any previous year. Amounts or ratios for individual years should be viewed with caution: campaigns run over multiple years, with returns over even longer periods. It is also possible that by reducing fundraising spending in the current year, returns in future years may fall, particularly given the multi-year funding available from some trusts and foundations. This is a crucial decision to make, particularly as evidence around large volumes of household savings suggests that there may be opportunities for organisations that invest in fundraising.

Size matters

Some of these differences between art forms or regions reflect the composition of those slices, particularly the turnover of organisations in that slice. The analysis of turnover band shows substantial differences in the importance of different income streams between different organisation sizes. For example, earned income contributed less than a
quarter of turnover to organisations in the <£200k group, but for organisations that had reached a turnover of £2m or more, earned income contributed around one-half of turnover. This suggests that it is worth looking at turnover and other filters, such as art form, when benchmarking.

Rising expenditure: time to focus more on benchmarking costs?

The focus of this benchmark is income and fundraising. It is nevertheless important to highlight the importance of benchmarking expenditure and costs, including fundraising costs. Over the four years, we observe a switch. Following two years where average expenditure was below turnover, the second two years saw average spending exceed
turnover. This suggests that the average organisation in the portfolio was running a deficit. Whether this was the start of a longer trend – with apparent consequences for sustainability – is unclear. Nevertheless, when inflation is rising and the economy is characterised by shortages in several areas, including paid staff, benchmarking costs may be more critical. Pressure to invest in digital infrastructure and services, and Covid-resilient buildings, may add to these pressures.

Organisations led-by and for groups with protected characteristics: no longer the minority

This year’s benchmark data contains important data on Protected charactertistics-led organisations. We think this is an important starting point in understanding the experience of protected charactertistics-led groups, but it is only a starting point. For one-third of the Protected charactertistics-led portfolio, the average turnover is just over half of that in ‘Mainstream’ organisations. Earned income and contributed income are also a lower share of turnover.Conversely, ACE income and other subsidy income account for a more significant share. The average income for protected charactertistics-led organisations is growing, suggesting that funders may be supporting this group to build their capacity.

Financial resilience: not for the many

The benchmark for financial resilience is the amount of free, unrestricted funds held, expressed as the number of weeks’ worth of expenditure this would cover. Our analysis suggests that the picture is healthy for a small number of organisations, with reserve levels significantly above the 26 week charity sector ‘rule of thumb’ recommended level. For the majority of the portfolio, the situation is somewhat different. Using the median as an indicator, portfolio organisations typically held eight weeks’ worth of expenditure – a worryingly low level given the length of lockdown periods that we know subsequently occurred, though not all income streams were affected.

The average net current assets (which include restricted funds), expressed as a proportion of turnover, tell a similar story. The average organisation held net current assets equivalent to 70% of turnover, a picture that suggests the portfolio as a whole was well placed to withstand financial shocks. The median picture suggested net current assets were 22% of turnover, a more sobering picture. The median level of funds is a better guide to the financial resilience of the typical portfolio members than the average.

Volunteering: a hidden resource?

Volunteer managers will often refer to volunteers as a hidden resource, and it may be the case that our benchmark of volunteering is still evolving so that the picture of volunteering is more visible. Over 60 organisations in the portfolio reported volunteering data for the first time, which is more likely to reflect better reporting than a more comprehensive engagement with volunteers, who are likely to be critical to the operation of many. Organisations also report an average of 2.5 full-time equivalent
volunteers. While this was an increase on previous years, this is perhaps lower than expected and may reflect the challenge of collecting accurate data on volunteering.

Next steps: benchmarking your organisation in the post-pandemic world

Covid-19 has fundamentally changed the operating environment for many organisations in the National Portfolio. We are conscious of three particular risks: organisations with a large proportion of earned income from trading activities; organisations with a large proportion of expenditure on staff costs; and organisations with relatively low levels of free, unrestricted funds held as reserves. We have reported on two of these risks in this analysis. The benchmarking data in this report remain a valuable guide to understanding the pre-pandemic norm – a check against where your organisation could, or should, return to. Combined with more recent insights from other published sources, the benchmarks offer a sound basis for formulating strategy and practice.

Read the full benchmark findings

Cause 4 would really like your feedback on whether you have found this report useful so that we can continue to improve it. To chat to us about this or about how you can work with Cause4 to develop more bespoke comparisons for your organisation contact Michelle Wright, CEO, Cause4


If you have specific questions about the data or the calculations contact Sarah Thelwall, CEO, MyCake on
Tel: 07775 562168

The Cause4 Arts and Culture Fundraising Benchmark is a partnership between MyCake and the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Programme


Resource type: Research | Published: 2022