Secrets of an award-winning fundraiser
Emma Goad, winner of the Emcees fundraising award for Outstanding Achievement, shares some of her hard-earned fundraising wisdom.
I never planned to be a fundraiser. Like many others, I fell into fundraising. I trained as a Stage Manager but I knew I didn’t want to pursue that as a career. I always saw it more as a way of getting into theatre and working in that environment. I worked in various roles as a stage manager, producer and administrator before moving into fundraising in 2004.
My first fundraising role was as Development Director for Sgript Cymru, the national company for new stage writing. In 2007 Sgript Cymru merged with the Sherman Theatre to create Sherman Cymru and I became Head of Development. In that role, with fairly limited fundraising experience, I launched a £1.3 million capital campaign. I learnt a lot on the job and we achieved our capital target. In the year after the reopening I secured two six-figure grants, leaving the organisation in a strong financial position as I moved on to my next chapter. I now run my own fundraising consultancy, Blue Canary, which gives me the flexibility I need with a young family.
When I tell people how my career began they often say “that’s a big change moving from stage management to fundraising”. I actually don’t think it is that much of a change. Stage managers are used to blagging things for free. Like fundraisers, they have to sell their project and inspire people to support it. The end result is different, but the art of asking is much the same.
"Stage managers are used to blagging things for free. Like fundraisers, they have to sell their project and inspire people to support it."
My approach to fundraising
I see fundraising as part of a package, which includes resilience and sustainability and the place that culture has in the wider world. I am a strategic fundraiser and always connect everything back to the vision of an organisation.
My first piece of advice to any organisation is always to take a step back and think about why. Why is the project important? Why would people invest? Who is going to benefit? Thinking about outcomes is really important. The Esmee Fairbairns and Garfield Westons of this world aren’t going to fund your project because it’s artistically brilliant. They are going to fund it because it delivers the outcomes they want to achieve.
"The Esmee Fairbairns and Garfield Westons of this world aren’t going to fund your project because it’s artistically brilliant. They are going to fund it because it delivers the outcomes they want to achieve."
Before you go any further with a project, make sure you are clear about what you want to see change and why that is important. If you’ve not been involved in the planning of the project, sit down with the decision-makers and make sure they understand how fundraising works. Work with them to identify the outcomes and keep asking why until you are able to build a strong case for support.
Relationships are key
Fundraising is all about communication. Just like a marketer will make a show sound exciting so people want to come, a fundraiser needs to inspire funders and donors to get involved in a campaign.
It’s very easy to get disheartened when that doesn’t go to plan. Even the most experienced fundraisers will get their fair share of noes. It’s important to remember that “No” is the start of a relationship. It begins the conversation and from there you can get to know people and find out more about what they’re interested in.
Bernard Ross from The Management Centre says “there are nine different ways of saying “no” and only one of them is a “no, go away”.”
Like in all relationships, it’s important to listen as well as ask. Take note of what people say, whether they are saying yes or no. Learn from it and use that information to shape your future asks. And don’t expect to build relationships overnight. It takes time to get your charitable message out there before you can begin making the ask.
Entry level schemes such as membership are a great way to start getting to know people. From there you can find out why they give to your organisation and how best to approach future asks. Make sure you offer different opportunities for people to give at different levels and for different reasons.
Five top tips
Think long-term – focus on sustainability and growth. You need to know what your organisation is planning in 12 – 18 months so you can start planning. That will enable you to ask funders at the right time and in the right way with a solid case for support in place.
Be brave – believe in the work that you do and the role the arts plays in society. We are in a strong position; we already know people who like the work and come and see it. Be brave and ask them to support it.
Listen – good fundraising is built on two-way communication. Listen for what is important to people and make sure that your project is relevant to them before making the ask.
Manage expectations – open up internal communication. Be clear with decision-makers about the time it takes to build relationships and the importance of focusing on outcomes. What are the outcomes funders are looking for and how will your project deliver them?
Talk to other fundraisers – fundraising is hard and you will get a lot of knock-backs. I’m sure my skin is considerably thicker than it was ten years ago. You discover trends when you share with other fundraisers that can help you understand the wider context and inform future strategies.