The Squeeze and the Please


Magazine article

The Squeeze and the Please

by William Makower


Cuts in government spending are nothing new and with GDP statistics identifying that to date we have recouped just half of the 7.2% contraction in GDP since 20081 cuts to the arts are part of a general reduction in expenditure aligned to national affordability. However the impact of these cuts across the cultural landscape are potentially devastating.

The Museum Association identifies the significant impact of the cuts with, of those surveyed, nearly a quarter reducing access temporarily or permanently and over half experiencing cuts2. Sir Peter Bazalgette at ACE and Maria Miller at DCMS argued hard with Treasury to deliver just a further 5% cut in the recent round of government spending; well below the 10% or 15% that some feared. On top of this local government spending on the arts is being cut by over 4%. Recent news that Sandwell Council3 is likely to withdraw all of its £1.6mln subsidy to the West Bromwich’s Public art centre (resulting in its closure) is just the latest in a long stream of announcements from local government that are affecting local provision. So much for the well documented squeeze.

However, seen from another perspective, the Arts are in a fortunate position. More than other sectors (schools, healthcare etc.) in the public sector, the arts are able to make both a sector wide and individual case for involvement and engagement in their funding cause. This is what we call the ‘please’. Of course philanthropy and individual patronage of the arts by the wealthy is as old as the art form itself. Now though the need is for individual support from as wide a base as possible for a cultural sector that, post Olympics, is riding high.

Along the way there are of course challenges to creating a wide base of support. Ironically one of these is the superlative nature of our venues from the smallest to the largest in the land. Our cultural output is not just rich and varied it is brilliant and whilst individual cases could be highlighted, in the main the infrastructure and provision is of the highest standard. Add to this the knowledge that the arts are already supported by our taxes, the concern that the arts are enjoyed by a growing, but still, elite few and that schools and hospitals may be more in need of funds than a venerable institution wishing to buy another 18th century work of art and the challenge for the fundraising end of the sector is understandable.

There is no single golden bullet to close the growing funding gap but individual giving provides an opportunity not only to bring in new funds but crucially also to start a conversation with potentially life-long supporters as well as make new friends who in turn will espouse the cause. Large scale individual giving is already well documented but such donors may be driven by motives which are not relevant to the average visitor (national recognition, named exhibits etc.). In contrast small scale individual donors are happy to recognised for what they are; a small part of a larger need.

DONATE (the consumer facing name of the National Funding Scheme, was developed with small scale giving in mind. DONATE delivers the means to give to a specific and identifiable cause via a mobile phone whilst enjoying the cultural moment; what we call democratic giving at the point of emotion. Whilst large donations can of course be made to the causes, it was the ability to make the case for small donations from as wide a cross-section of the public as possible, that was the genesis of our thinking. However, and this is the crucial point, the provision of a single brand of giving across the cultural landscape, its charitable structure and its multi channel (text and web) solution is all irrelevant if we cannot find the right way to ask for support; what we call the ‘please’. That is why DONATE also provides Culture Juice (, a knowledge bank identifying how to make the ask to new donors who may not have previously supported the arts. Five key aspects have shone through so far (


a) Ensure the cause is identifiable and specific. The more specific the cause the more donors can point to their involvement in your need.

b) Break down large causes into identifiable chunks. Whilst £50,000 may be what is required, asking for £5,000 to complete Phase 1 by end of December makes it understandable that just £10 will have an impact.

c)  Encourage staff to interact and ask for support. Frequently the reason given for not donating is that no-one made the request. Ensure your staff understand not just the need for funding but the very specific need and why just £10 will help.

d)  Thank, thank and thank again; it is the recognition of support that will make the greatest impact on future gifts. Consider a scale of thanking; from email for small donations to a phone call or meeting with the director for the largest.

e) Use the data intelligently. Digitising giving allows venues to know which causes are the most popular, when giving is most likely along with any demographic data provided by the donor. Develop means to exploit and mine this data; those who do will harvest most.

This article is tagged under:

  • Civil society
  • Digital Giving
  • Government, legal and tax issues