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Rethinking approaches to arts philanthropy

Rethinking approaches to arts philanthropy
February 19, 2013

New research from the Melbourne Business School has identified a lack of "strategic

alignment" between the arts and philanthropy, suggesting that this misalignment will require new models of engagement, more collaborative grant making platforms and improved measures of the benefits that the arts bring to the broader community.

The report Arts Philanthropy: Towards a Better Practice Model'by Liz Gillies and Joanna Minkiwiecz of Melbourne University's the Melbourne Business School, highlights that while arts organisations like to think of themselves as cutting edge, when it comes to philanthropy they can be remarkably conservative.

Based on interviews with 11 Trusts and Foundations from Australia, the USA and the UK along with an online questionnaire to Australian arts organisations and Trusts and Foundations, the researchers found arts organisations tended to rely on grant applications for limited pools of funds.

Co-author Liz Gillies explains "this approach to grant making contributes to both philanthropists and arts organisations experiencing frustration in regard to the lack of philanthropic funds available and the allocation mechanism used to distribute these funds."

And while philanthropic trusts want to support education and community projects, arts companies often miss out as they are too preoccupied with funding their own work.

Here, Gillies added "everybody is talking about social impact, but for whatever reason, the arts sector doesn't seem to have that same focus or impetus to find new ways to work."

The work was launched in Melbourne last week with a discussion by Carol Schwartz, Chair of the newly Creative Partnerships Australia (CPA). Established by the Federal Government, CPA replaces the Australia Business Arts Foundation and Artsupport Australia with the intention to drive philanthropy and "social investment".

Key findings from the research are:

• There are a relatively small number of philanthropic Trusts and Foundations which fund arts and culture and are known in the public arena. Few accept unsolicited applications from arts organisations;

• Philanthropic Trusts and Foundations focus on leveraging the arts as a tool for community engagement. In comparison, arts organizations take a more siloed approach, with a strongpreference for projects that support the 'nuts and bolts’ of their organisations.

• Philanthropic Trusts and Foundations do not show strong preference for the types of projects they are likely to support. They are however interested in fostering innovation and supporting collaboration. In comparison, art organisations have a hierarchy of funding aspirations and place the highest priority on support for general operating costs, programs and income development.

• Both Philanthropic Trusts and Foundations see technology as a key innovation platform for the arts. However, philanthropists rank projects seeking support for electronic media, online services, computer systems and equipment as only slightly important in their funding preferences.

• Arts organisations show a clear preference for longer and more strategic funding relationships. However, Philanthropic Trusts and Foundations prefer shorter, one-off grants.

• In line with a more traditional approach to grant making, evaluation of arts projects tends towards a focus on acquittal rather than deeper insights. This is acknowledged as a concern however a strategic solution has yet to be identified.

• Philanthropic Trust and Foundation and art organisation relationships are generally positive, however, there is room for improvement. Greater clarity of funding guidelines, feedback on the grant making process and the awareness of the expertise

and external orientation of Trust and Foundation staff would greatly assist this process.

• International best practice suggests that a more 'catalytic philanthropic’ approach offers considerable potential for building new platforms of support for the arts in Australia. This focuses on understanding and developing a 'theory of change’ to art program initiatives, and supporting the development of multisector collaborations and collective impact initiatives.

The researchers recommended arts organisations should focus on developing stronger relationships with Trusts and Foundations prior to submitting applications with a view to clarifying and aligning with granting guidelines.

As one arts organisation put it, "we are thinking a lot more strategically … if you have a good idea and you want to engage – don’t send a letter, don’t send another copy of your annual report … make a personal approach and talk to me … and come with – this is what the money will buy you, these are the results, this is what it is going to look like, this is how we have thought through how we are going to take the money and do good with it."

In addition arts organisations could do more to support the development of arts expertise within Trusts and Foundations, giving Foundation staff a better chance to understand what they do. This is a signal not only for free tickets but for rehearsal access, engagement with performers and genuine discussion about the creative process.

Arts organisations need to help potential funders learn the context of what they do. Don’t just tell the grant giver what you want to do in the project for which you are seeking funding; explain how it relates to current practice, extends what you have done before and sits in the context of emergent practice.

The researchers said philanthropists could also improve their operations through:

• Clarification of grant guidelines

• A greater focus on innovative and collaborative projects

• Clarification of the process by which grant applications are judged and better feedback on unsuccessful applications.

• Supporting the development of specific and relevant expertise by program officers and other foundation staff

• Seeking to maintain a consistent focus and direction

• Ensuring consistent policy and communications

• Communicating clearly, consistently and accessibly

• Providing timely feedback to grantees.

In conclusion, those involved in the project strongly believe the arts are an important priority and deserve greater support. The insights gained from this research lead us to believe that philanthropy, in partnership with the arts sector, should work more strategically and with greater vision to develop platforms for collaboration which strengthen the case for and funds available to support the arts in Australia.

Arts Philanthropy: Towards a Better Practice Model' can be viewed at

Image: Touch - artwork by Karen Benton.





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