We Are All Very Charitable – But Not When It Comes to Arts Organisations

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By Dr Caroline Moreas, Dr Athanasia Daskalopoulou and Professor Isabelle Szmigin
Department of Marketing

The funding landscape for British contemporary arts and crafts has changed significantly over the years. Up to 74% of arts organisations in Arts Council England’s (ACE) funding portfolio have been affected by public funding cuts, though a greater number of organisations are now a part of ACE’s funding portfolio. Private investment in British arts and culture has increased in the last three to four years, and so has public scrutiny over corporate funding of the arts. Public funding cuts have caused an increase in competition for funding among arts organisations.

The UK is very charitable towards cause-based non-profit organisations (NGOs), as voluntary giving to NGOs totalled £9.7 billion in 2016, with no short-term negative impacts arising from Brexit. However, and unsurprisingly, public goodwill is directed mainly at essential human, animal and environmental welfare needs rather than the arts. And when the arts are considered as potential beneficiaries, relevant data suggest that individual donors favour the largest, London-based visual arts organisations over their regional counterparts. This is a significant funding challenge for non-profit arts and crafts organisations outside London.

Because of these challenges, many arts organisations are seeking to expand their fundraising attempts. Last year, we had the pleasure of working on a research project with Craftspace, a West Midlands-based, non-profit, crafts development organisation committed to advancing makers, creative ideas and opportunities in the field of contemporary crafts.

The research aimed to compare how and why participants engage in voluntary giving towards cause-based charities and less so towards the arts. The results showed that our participants had donated to arts and culture in the past and have positive attitudes towards supporting the arts more generally. They suggest small donations are a means of giving something back for the hedonic benefits they feel they derive from their visits to arts and cultural venues. Other giving motives include helping to maintain heritage sites, helping to sustain local artists’ spaces and emerging artists, helping friends who are artists, and supporting friends who are fundraising for, or through, arts and crafts. It is high levels of involvement and a personal connection with the arts that drive these individuals’ giving motives.

It is also important to highlight the negative attitudes and ‘reasons against’ giving to arts and crafts organisations. Nearly all participants say that they do not see arts and cultural organisations as charities. The beliefs supporting this ‘reason against’ are diverse, but include assuming that arts organisations receive government funding, which cause a ‘crowding out’ effect. Crowding out effects occur where other sources of funding lead potential donors to perceive their small donations as insignificant and, therefore, unnecessary. This means that ‘not knowing’ about government funding stabilisation and/or cuts in the arts sector steers potential givers away from giving to the arts.

People are also sceptical of arts organisations’ need for support, as some find it difficult to distinguish between arts organisations and projects that are for profit and those that are not. As prominent galleries and large museums own expensive artwork, this results in individuals thinking that such organisations do not need their small donations. People fail to see how their voluntary giving can make a difference to these institutions. Such perceptions then spill over to other, smaller types of arts and crafts organisations, negatively affecting potential donors’ intentions to give to contemporary arts and crafts.

A challenge which is more specific to smaller arts and crafts organisations is the lack of awareness of such organisations. In many ways, the key message is that audience development and social engagement go hand-in-hand with fundraising from the general public. People want clarity around arts organisations’ specific needs, how their donation money will be spent by these organisations, the difference their donations can make, and stories of prior impact that go beyond stakeholder engagement. People are actually positive about supporting local arts organisations, but they need prior knowledge of, and involvement with, these arts NGOs.

What our research has made clear is that, whatever the fundraising activity, point-of-contact communication must signal clearly the need for support. Without a direct ask message – and without an immediate means to give – potential donors will not know of the need for support or how to give. This seems obvious, but for many non-profit arts organisations it goes against the grain. Direct ask messages are often a new, risky and uncomfortable step for many.

At an organisational level, communication about the need for support must show, rather than tell, the success stories of artists, exhibitions and other stakeholder beneficiaries. Fundraising messages must be crafted in ways that minimise crowding out effects; in ways that are authentic to each organisation.

Many are the challenges involved in attracting funds from the general public at a regional and local level. While it is possible for arts NGOs outside London to develop such a fundraising stream, we require awareness raising and a shift in our everyday voluntary giving thinking and culture. This will need to be driven by a sector-wide effort, signalling to our society that arts and crafts organisations are as important, valuable and worthy as any other organisation in the non-profit sector.


This research project was commissioned by Craftspace as part of their Catalyst Evolve Consortium 2016-2019, funded by Arts Council England (ACE). The full paper is accepted for publication at Sociology and its pre-print version is available from PURE. The full report is available from Craftspace upon request.

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