Denmark Festival of Voice: A small regional arts organisation raises $50K
Denmark Festival of Voice successfully raised $50,000 through nurturing long-term relationships and looking after small donors
Denmark Arts is a small regional arts organisation on the south coast of Western Australia. It is situated in a vibrant artistic town and runs an annual program of activities which includes a major festival – the Denmark Festival of Voice (DFoV). Denmark Arts has four part-time employees and a number of short-term, casual project and festival staff.
Whilst our annual organisational turnover of around $500K was healthy for our size, this took a disproportionate amount of time to build from a core income stream of around $100K. We were caught in the cycle of relying on funding bodies, which was insecure, tied to specific cycles which didn’t always suit our planning, and required significant resources to source and obtain. We knew we needed to diversify our income streams, which showed only around 1% business sponsorship and negligible donations from our local community and members. We had not previously engaged in a concerted fundraising campaign, nor had we sought significant funds from anything other than grant bodies.
We knew we had the strong support of, and connection with, our local community, including local businesses, but we had not tested this support in terms of raising funds, and had not gone further afield to the many potential donors in our community. The DFoV was well known and loved in our community and had demonstrated its contribution to the economy and tourism, as well as community wellbeing, artistic inspiration and excellence. We chose DFoV as the focus for our fundraising campaign as it was the most high-profile and innovative of our larger activities, with a broad audience base from Perth and the regions. We decided to set our target high – at $50K.
Our community is fairly polarised in terms of income, and most of the ‘arts’ attendees are not particularly affluent. There is a perception that the arts and the festival is for ‘artistic people’ rather than for everyone. Those with higher capacity to give are more likely to attend variety opera nights than the festival. Businesses in town are generally struggling, and rely on tourism seasons, and there are no large corporations or resource-industry centres.
CONNECTING WITH LOCAL COMMUNITY WAS OUR MOST SUCCESSFUL STRATEGY
We began by developing a campaign with a variety of strategies, including employing a business development officer, seeking large corporate partners, targeting high-net worth individuals, running fund-raising events, starting a donor circle and developing a festival ‘club’.
After expending significant energy on trying to find large corporate partners, we finally found one group who had a possible interest in establishing an outlet in the region and were open to discussing a $20K sponsorship with us. Unfortunately, that company lost a major contract and froze all sponsorship. After trying to find other corporate partners we finally gave up on that objective and changed our focus onto smaller events and local community.
Similarly, we thought we might attract some of the higher financial capacity people in town as potential donors and were trying to find one or two individual $5-10K contributors. However, it proved to be difficult to break into these circles, and when we did, we were met by people closed to our requests. Again, after some time, we accepted that this strategy would not work.
We also held a few fundraising events, which were reasonably successful, but very time consuming. A couple of local organisations and businesses supported us, but in general the local business community were not forthcoming, and we had zero responses to over one hundred letters sent to local businesses. In the end, fifteen local businesses and organisations gave a little over $9,000 to our campaign.
By far the most successful strategy was to rely on our established community of people who knew and loved what we did and wanted to support our campaign. We had 120 individual donors, who contributed around $30K, and then a significant amount of donations through donation boxes placed at key events and locations, including in the festival box office during the festival time. We also had volunteers carry around colourful donation boxes during the festival. At the festival we also had a number of performers who ‘gave back’ their fees as donations.
We also started a ‘Creative Impact’ giving circle, but we were not quite clear enough about what this was, didn’t give it enough publicity and overestimated the ‘buy in’ amount.
What got us over the line was two on-line auctions with gifts generously donated by local high-profile artists: a cook and a photographer. Bidding online was neck and neck to the final minute, and it was an exhilarating and fun way to complete our campaign.
THE SMALL THINGS HELPED BUILD A BIGGER STORY
We learnt some valuable lessons: that fundraising is incredibly time consuming, requires significant research and takes a certain sort of toughness. We also learnt that the community already around us are the most valuable community we have, and that it is from there, and from small amounts of funds via donation buttons on ticketing sites and boxes at key venues and events, that we are likely to be most successful. We also learnt that it is worth continuing conversations with high financial capacity community members, but that these relationships need to be given time to develop.
47 individuals gave $200 or less to a total of $2,717; 31 individuals gave $200 or more to a total of $12,185; 10 corporate donors gave a total of $6,100; six organisations gave a total of $3,545; 10 fundraising events raised $23,721 and ‘add-on’ donations on ticket sales raised $1,977.
Moving forwards, we plan to continue with the giving circle, but letting it grow more organically and in its own time. We also plan to nurture specific relationships and develop a strategy to ensure we can look after our donors with the hope that they will continue to donate and potentially increase their commitment over time. Whilst nearly half of our funds came from fundraising events, we felt the time and costs required to plan and deliver an event negated the gains.
LESSONS THAT WE CAN SHARE
- Do considerable research prior to diving into a campaign.
- The people who already love you are your best allies in raising funds.
- Develop strategies to nurture long-term relationships and to look after your small donors.