Not so easy philanthropy

There’s a kind of irony that this week has seen the publication of the first evaluation report on ACE’s Catalyst programme and the announcement of the closure of Ideas Tap, an organisation supporting young creative talent, backed by philanthropist Peter De Haan

Ideas Tap was the brainchild of De Haan, with funding coming from his own foundation. It was an example of philanthropy in action – with Ideas Tap seemingly able to move swiftly to points of need. (His brother, Roger de Haan, similar invested his foundation’s money into Folkestone Triennial. The money came mainly from the sell off the family business, Saga, by the way.) However, it seems from De Haan’s note on the end of Ideas Tap, other funding did not follow – the diverse income streams some are striving to build by adding in philanthropy are not necessarily easier to achieve if you start with endowment income. (I do wonder how that 200,000 membership could have been drawn on as financial backers, but I’m sure that will have been looked at.) Having one main source of income leaves you vulnerable to it drying up – or being used up as seems to be the case here. It’s a shame, but also maybe cautionary about the limitations of even very committed philanthropists.

Catalyst is, of course, ACE’s main funding initiative to give the arts sector skills, experience and some ‘bottles to the party’ for the drive toward private philanthropy. ACE has just published BOP Consulting’s evaluation of Year One. The headlines are predictable, but no less worth noting – not least because ACE is planning more rounds of Catalyst. It’d be useful for any applicants to understand the themes here, and how they’ll use the learning of people involved in early cohorts.

A key message – one ACE is understandably stressing – is that fundraising is proving hard but possible. As in most things in life, bravery and practice make a big differences. It was obvious from day 1 that Catalyst needs to better acknowledge the time it takes to develop skills, practice them and build up the case. (Exactly the same point has been and will continue to be found/made in relation to Creative People and Places.) But the timelines policy has to work to – absurdly – mitigated against that. This is a point which bears constant repetition.

Some of the rules ACE insisted on – perhaps to help with the lottery additionality question, I suspect, to be fair to them – need to be applied more flexible. Separating private and business giving makes little practical sense – you draw on the same skills and mechanisms for both, and the same mindset of giving as an exchange in which you have agency, as opposed to begging or alms. Insisting raised money was spent on artistic activity also seemed counter-intuitive, and BOP recommend focusing on organisational resilience. This can, of course, include or equate to artistic activity, which is the start point for any arts fundraising, and a more significant tool than often thought. (I’ve recently been in on some training with the DeVos Institute, over from the USA, and was heartened to hear their emphasis on this.) Peer to learning is also recommended, and an emphasis on board members’ roles is identified.

There is little prospect of philanthropy being less important to arts funding and policy the other side of the general election, whatever happens, so this will stay important to ACE. Giving is a potentially important part of the mix for many organisations – especially if we think of giving in the broadest sense. Developing a set of ‘family and friends’ for your work is, I think, an absolutely ‘scaleable’ concept – be you a poet or a royal opera house.

Talking of which, here’s a very practical tip, courtesy of my fellow trustee of Swallows Foundation UK, Brian Debnam. If your charity is registered on Easyfundraising your supporters can buy things on many popular (and concurrently unpopular in some cases, the world being what it is) sites – from books, to hotel rooms, flights, train tickets to, well, most things – and a donation is made to the charity if you get to the site via Easyfundraising. It’s small sums, but simple to do and can add up, and I will admit to a small – very small – pleasure when a donation 4% of a recent hotel booking went to SFUK. Northern readers who travel to London a lot might note Virgin Trains is one of the participants, so your favourite charity can get a small consolation for that mourning feeling for East Coast you get when you book. (There may be other similar sites – do let me know if so.)