Magabala Books on attracting new supporters
Broome-based Magabala Books is Australia’s oldest independent Indigenous publishing house. A few years ago, Magabala decided to focus its resources on attracting philanthropic investments.
Now, combined with the incentive of our Plus1 matched funding, Magabala’s approach is really paying off. Chief Executive Anna Moulton discusses philanthropy and building for success.
Magabala Books used the Plus1 program’s matched funding to great effect – raising $85,000 and attracting two new major supporters. How important was the matched funding incentive to your overall success?
The Plus1 matched funding was critical to our success and acted as an incentive in a number of ways. Donors were clearly attracted to the idea that their contribution could have a greater impact, through the matched funds.
The limited time frame for fundraising also had a galvanising effect – it helped us guarantee pledges and donation before the Plus1 cut-off date.
It was also an incentive for us to increase our level of fundraising activity and to try new strategies, with reduced risk of the costs outweighing the benefits.
Tell us about your fundraising strategy for the Plus1 campaign. What two things worked really well in your campaign? What would you improve on next time?
We launched our Plus1 campaign with our first MailChimp appeal. Our previous appeals had been via personalised letters to our friends and ‘champions’, people who have had some connection with Magabala Books. The digital appeal was an attempt to increase our reach and access new potential donors through our networks.
We publicised this widely through our social media channels as well. Interestingly, the digital appeal was not as financially successful as our previous more personalised, targeted approach.
We also approached existing and potential new donors with projects matched to their interests, and in both cases the matched funding was an incentive.
Creative Partnerships facilitated the submission of proposals to a number of Trusts and Foundations, and as a result we were thrilled to establish a new relationship with the J and C Stewart Family Foundation and the Spinifex Foundation.
It can be difficult for regional organisations to access private giving. What made you hone in on philanthropy as a potential and important avenue for Magabala?
Like many non-profit organisations reliant on government funding, Magabala Books was seeking alternative sources of funding for special initiatives.
We hoped that a focus on philanthropy would extend our network of partners and would enable us to resource projects that did not fit into funding bodies’ criteria. Magabala Books launched its inaugural philanthropic program in 2012 with funding support from the Australia Council for the Arts and critical mentoring support from Creative Partnerships. We engaged Sharon Griffiths as philanthropy Manager part-time, and maintained the position after the 12 month wage subsidy from the Australia Council funding ran out.
The Board had faith that the long-term investment and focus on philanthropy was worth it. They recognised that the relationship building and growth of a network of champions for Magabala Books’ work was just as important as the funds to help us achieve our goals.
Our remote location has been a challenge to forming philanthropic relationships, but with the support of Creative Partnerships that constraint has been lessened.
Securing philanthropic support takes a lot of time and relationship building. Summarise your approach and how you made those all-important initial connections.
With guidance from your State Manager James Boyd we started with a focus on our existing connections and people with an interest in the work of Magabala Books. We asked Board and staff, past and present, to provide potential contacts for our database.
The first fund established was the Magabala Books Creator Scholarship Fund. 100% of funds raised are used for the creative and professional of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers, illustrators and storytellers from all over Australia. The specific nature and likely high impact of this cause, was key to raising the money. We wrote personalised letters to our supporters, building to two appeals per year.
We established a donation portal with Give Now, making it easier for people to give. A key success factor, as fed back to us by donors, was Sharon’s personalised approach. She regularly reported back to donors about the outcomes of their donations. She contacted and thanked individual donors and asked them how and why they decided to donate to Magabala.
As a result, one-off donors have become regular givers, and one donor has become a major supporter of Magabala Books.
This does take time, but over four years we have seen the benefits of the personalised approach. It has also been a case of trial and error to find out what works for us. A successful philanthropy program has required the input and involvement of the whole team at Magabala Books, and we are always mindful that there needs to be a good balance between the costs and benefits of this investment.
Magabala sought assistance from State Manager James Boyd through our Coaching and Mentoring program. Tell us how this helped Magabala and what advice you have for organisations that may be hesitant to approach this type of service.
James Boyd’s guidance has been invaluable. His encouragement has always been balanced by a good dose of pragmatism. He helped us to understand which of our strategic projects might be of interest to donors, how we could structure our appeals, and how important the communication of outcomes is. James has introduced us to potential donors with whom he thinks there might be a match of interests.
Then it is up to us to further explore, build and maintain those relationships. I would encourage any organisation contemplating a philanthropic plan to seek out the support of Creative Partnerships Australia or a similar service. What might seem like a daunting task, particularly for remote or regional organisations, can be made achievable, but it does take time.
What does success look like for Magabala Books and where do you see Magabala in 5 years’ time?
Our sights are set on ensuring the diversity and talent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander storytellers, writers and illustrators are recognised in Australia and on the world stage. Success for Magabala Books, today and in five year’s time includes:
- Maintaining our unique professional development program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander storytellers, writers and illustrators.
- Publishing stories by new and emerging talent.
- Advancing the careers of our more established creators and increasing sales and reach of our books.
- Publication of culturally and historically significant stories: old and new stories that need to be read by new generations of Australians.
- Increasing use Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories in schools.
- Indigenous writers and illustrators winning prestigious literary awards.
- Being the springboard for our creators’ literary careers as larger publishing houses seek to publish their works.
In memoriam: Sharon Griffiths
On 1 June 2016, Magabala Books’ Philanthropy Manager Sharon Griffiths (pictured below) passed away after a short battle with cancer. A passionate advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ self-determination and right to tell their own stories, her legacy is a growing network of Magabala champions and three philanthropic funds:
- Magabala Books Creator Scholarship Fund – investing in the creative and professional development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers, illustrators and storytellers.
- Literary Fund – ensuring important cultural stories are published and kept alive (in print).
- Small Seeds Big Reads – placing Magabala Books books in the hands of children who need greater access to books: including foster centres, community based early childhood centres and parenting support groups across Australia.
You can support Magabala books here.