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Michael Volpe

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They Give, We Gain

Posted: 20/06/2012 01:00

In the world of fundraising, there are a myriad categorisations for the 'types' of donor who give to the arts. These definitions and tables help us identify and tailor our approach to certain individuals in order that we can squeeze a few pounds out of them.

On the whole, the formulae are accurate and the trick is spotting, during a conversation or over a drink, what drives the person. It then becomes about how you ask (a distinguished fundraiser once told me that he worked on the principle; "I don't mind you saying 'no' if you don't mind me asking"). For corporate sponsors it is more about their business imperatives but sometimes an important individual within the company shares characteristics with those defined in the private donor categories and thus often has at his or her disposal a large pot to play with!

The wealthy come in for quite a bit of stick these days of course but arts organisations rely upon them more and more so we walk this fine line in a society that looks ever more suspiciously at those with cash in the bank. Wealth, too, is a matter of definition for some. I once asked a supporter what she considered "wealthy". "People who live on the interest on the interest" was the reply. And this in the context of a discussion about how the wealthy are feeling the pinch.

It really does depend on the circles in which you move I suppose but there is something of a rough deal being given to individuals who are generous to arts companies; I see it in the comments section of this blog and it is never more pronounced than in the world of opera where society considers the whole industry to be "elitist".

The real, honest truth is that I spend a good deal of my time asking for money from wealthy individuals who are committed to the idea that young people, older people and non-wealthy people should get the chance to enjoy an art form they themselves love so much. I cannot speak for those who donate to other companies but at OHP at least, our collection of donors and sponsors, whilst surely having personal or business motivations, are driven to help us with projects that extend the experience of opera and the classical arts to all of society.

I know that the response from some would be ungenerous but it is not my job to delve deep into the psychology of a donor who forks out for a family project or to support our free ticket scheme. And yes, they also want to help sustain an event that they are so fond of but I frequently see lazy moral equivalence and charges that the individual would be better giving his money to more deserving charities. The reality is, they frequently do that as well.

This would be an excessively long blog if I were to touch upon the many types of donor and their motivations; you can go on the web to find all manner of essay and paper on the subject but the reality is that we in the arts have to engage with affluent people to essentially spread their wealth through our constituency and we shouldn't make dot-to-dot, one dimensional assumptions about their reasons for allowing us to do so. Nor should we be cynical in our methods because whilst a donor may be happy to be gently manipulated by us, he won't take kindly to being cynically worked over. What tends to win over those in a position to give is the genuine passion we ourselves have for what we do.

A happy fact of life at Opera Holland Park is that our largest source of income still comes from the seats we sell to our audience. For an arts organisation that has to be a healthy state of affairs; the art itself is the focus and driver of everything. But we, like others, have to find people and organisations with the resources to make the books balance. There is no mystery in that. The government's reversal of their policy to remove tax relief on donations is a good thing but the wider population who enjoy a cultural life that isn't driven by media supported global sales, have to encourage and support the idea that those wealthier than us can contribute enormously to this country's rich cultural landscape. We just have to show them quite what a profound effect on lives they can have.

 

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