Griffin Theatre on producing fundraising events targeted to specific donors

We spoke to 2017/2018 Plus 1 recipients Griffin Theatre about authentic fundraising and putting faces to a campaign.

Griffin Theatre on producing fundraising events targeted to specific donors

Why did you choose to apply for Plus1?

As a small arts company, private revenue streams are imperative to our survival. With cash sponsorship waning across the board and government support for the arts dependent on political trends of the time, the case for diversifying our donor base has never been more compelling. We applied for Plus1 as a means through which to double our capacity to build and secure the company’s philanthropic infrastructure.

The notion of matched funding is frankly seminal to a company of Griffin’s size. It offered an opportunity to nurture existing donors whilst giving us the room to take risk and cultivate prospects effectively.

Tell us about why Griffin Theatre needed this opportunity

It was about generating philanthropic impact relative to organisational capacity. Plus1 enabled us to manage two fundraising campaigns; one of which was exclusively targeting new donors. With resources thin, the incentive and blueprint of the Plus1 program was uniquely useful to us.

These events would ultimately raise funds to support a part-time Development Coordinator role; a role designed to support the professionalisation of development activity within Griffin.

With the funding climate the way it is, the need to do development well and finding room to take feasible risk was becoming increasingly apparent. Without Plus1 funding, we simply wouldn’t have been able to support the staffing of what is a critical portfolio for our survival and growth as a company.

How will the matched funds be used and what benefits will they provide Griffin Theatre?

The matched funds were used to employ a Development Coordinator to the Griffin staff. This role was full time – part Marketing Coordinator and part Development Coordinator. Ancillary successes were the cultivation of new donors, securing new funds, testing new fundraising strategies and supporting new work. The creation of the Development Coordinator role has allowed us to evolve how we manage development at Griffin, which is crucial to our survival and reputation.

Having this resource in development allows us to navigate the demands of fundraising, stewardship and prospecting in a more efficient and sophisticated manner. Without the resources of this role, we simply wouldn’t be able to support the day-to-day demands of managing our donors, sponsors, foundation partners and government funding bodies; nor could we consider growing these revenue streams.

On a secondary note, both fundraisers were a useful blueprint for future fundraising in that we were able to trial new ways of engaging our supporters.

Tell us about your fundraising strategy, what did you choose to focus on and who did you choose to target to ensure you built a sustainable culture of giving?

Our fundraising strategy was focused primarily on offering engagement opportunities across all levels of giving. There is a tendency in fundraising to assume value only at the top end but as a small company with a truly engaged donor family, we are committed to sharing opportunities with our entire donor community. This is tempered also by the need to continually grow this family providing unique opportunities for prospective donors. This philosophy informed our strategy: “new friends, old friends”. This strategy was played out across two, low-cost events aimed at engaging both segments.

The first was held at a local cocktail bar featuring entertainment of some of our most-loved 2018 artists. The second was a more targeted prospect event held at a donor’s home. Both events had a target of $18,000. The funds raised from these events, along with the matched funding, would fund the position of a full-time Development Coordinator, to support the increased demands on Griffin’s development portfolio.

For fundraising to be sustainable, we identified the need to build rapport within our donor community itself and to build a culture of giving using the power and reach of our existing network. As a company, we had not yet integrated our marketing/philanthropic communications and these projects have allowed us to make headway in building a dialogue around giving within our existing brand structure.

 Reflecting on the campaign, what were some highlights and what has it taught you about fundraising?

This project has a legacy tied both to the professional role it has produced within Griffin – a much-needed Development Coordinator – and the impact it has had on the culture of development both internally and externally. In relation to the former, we now have a role dedicated to supporting the rigour and culture of philanthropy, which has both practical and perceived impact.

By bettering procedures, coverage and reach, we can better service existing donor relationships. By extension, we now have a greater confidence, capacity and expectation to build this pipeline of supporters knowing we can offer rigour as well as community.

By testing new ways of engaging donors and prospects, we have a renewed energy to replicate and further similar initiatives in the future. The success of this project has also reminded us that we need to fundraise in a manner authentic to us as a company because who we are directly informs people’s willingness to support us.

There is a tendency to overreach in fundraising generally and this campaign has cemented the need to mimic the company brand within fundraising. The notion of family runs through everything we do at Griffin and whilst it is tempting to gloss up development, it simply doesn’t represent who we are. We can be sophisticated yet grounded; professional yet human and the true star of Griffin is its people and the love we have for our humble yet outstanding company. This is what people want to buy into and this is what we choose to represent

One of your goals was to integrate your marketing and philanthropic communications. How did you achieve this?

This project used social media along with our e-news channel to promote and educate our database on the need for fundraising revenue and by extension, how to do so. Increasingly this is a useful way to communicate with our audience not only from the perspective of consistency (this is how we communicate shows, promotions or company content already) but also to normalise language and expectations around development.

Australia generally is still building towards a culture of philanthropy and by integrating communications we are representing the true importance of private revenue in the everyday operations of Griffin with the audience that will effectively, sustain us.

Tell us about how your events raised over $10,000

Firstly, the commitment and engagement of our existing donors was paramount. Secondly, the incentive of matched funding elevated the giving significantly. We were most successful at our first event where we raised more than anticipated, which took the pressure of the second event – a good place to be in the sense that the second event was higher risk.

I also believe the involvement of our artists in the fundraising events was crucial in building strong interest around the event. Again, it comes back to fundraising in a manner authentic to our brand and these people are central to that. Fundraising is as much emotional as it is strategic and the importance of putting faces to a campaign is both critical and effective.

Griffin Theatre

What was the biggest takeaway from your matched funding campaign?

Never assume the interest of your donors is fixed. It is ever-changing and gauging this change is the key to your success. The arts landscape is one that has the potential to spark interest across a wide range of issues, sectors and demographics. At Griffin, we tell stories about who we are as a nation and those stories are continually changing with us.

Our fundraising needs to reflect this and our Plus1 experience solidified the success of listening to our donors; what they care about, what speaks true to Griffin and how that truth can attract new revenue. Moreover, the strength of matched funding in communicating impact was critical to extending beyond what we would consider business as usual fundraising – a truly vital mechanism for a small arts company.