When this grassroots art gallery ran its first-ever capital campaign, its fundraising team acquired some valuable insights to use in the future. Lise Taylor reports.
After Mosman Art Gallery in Sydney, NSW, achieved success in the 2015/2016 grant application round in Creative Partnerships Australia’s Plus1 matched funding program, it set out to leverage this support.
At the time, the Gallery had acquired and installed Country, a series of 24 carved trees by Aboriginal artist Warwick Keen, as a permanent public artwork in its forecourt.
The Gallery’s campaign concept was to seek supporters to sponsor the trees at a fee of $2,000 each to a total of $48,000, with the donors’ names being collectively listed on a bronze plaque. The Creative Partnerships Australia Plus1 dollar matched funds would effectively double the impact of donations received to $96,000.
Aside from sourcing funds from the sponsorship of Country, the Gallery’s aim was to build long-term relationships with its supporters. It was clearly presented that donations would be used to advance the capacity of the gallery to maintain and expand its programs. Raising funds would also assist with exhibitions, conservation, children’s art education, program development, artwork acquisition, capital works, public art and the expansion of its sculpture garden.
The campaign’s launch was well received
Initially, the campaign, called CREATE!, was publicised through the Gallery’s website, Facebook page, the local press and brochure distribution. After the September 2015 launch a series of cocktail parties and talks by Keen and curator Djon Mundine were also held.
“In relation to supporters, the Gallery’s existing donor group of 25 members – known as the Creative Circle – was initially targeted as these generous individuals had already financially supported the Gallery,” explains Philanthropy Officer Jane Hurley.
“The idea was to consolidate their existing patronage and to ask for additional support on which to expand and attract new donors. Contact was made with supporters early on, then incrementally over the campaign’s timeframe, and particularly towards its mid-May deadline. Since the campaign’s launch, the number of Creative Circle members has grown to 35.”
Overall, the initial response was encouraging, although Hurley admits this enthusiastic response did not necessarily convert into actual fundraising support: “A sum of $2,000 proved to be a large ask from individual supporters.”
It was as first-time recipients of a Creative Partnerships Australia Plus1 funding program that another hurdle came in understanding exactly what was required from administrative and legal perspectives, as the Gallery had to ensure that it adhered to its agreed timetable, campaign commitments, reporting and completion requirements.
Instigating an effective response to a stalled campaign
“After our initial success during December and January, when four of the poles had been sponsored, things stalled,” says the gallery’s Director John Cheeseman. “Then there was a real turning point when I decided to make a commitment of support myself with a $2,000 donation. This meant I received a much more sympathetic response from our potential supporters who would decide that, ‘If it’s good enough for the director to give, it’s good enough for me too!’ This made the success of the campaign tangible.”
Another boost came from taking a more personal approach. Letters and emails were directly targeted to 60 gallery supporters, and face-to-face meetings and telephone follow-ups were conducted. “The most critical factor in the process was the personal ask by John or myself. These channels were very successful in providing conversion results,” explains Hurley.
The paperwork was due to Creative Partnerships Australia by mid-May and Cheeseman and Hurley worked on the campaign right up until its deadline to meet their target. After much perseverance, they finally achieved their aim of raising $96,000 for the gallery.
On Thursday 15 September 2016, Mosman Art Gallery hosted the former governor of New South Wales, Professor The Honourable Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO, who formally launched the project Country and thanked its supporters. More than 60 people attended the CREATE! campaign thank you and Country dedication ceremony.
Hurley admits the campaign provided a steep but rewarding learning curve. “The main challenge that faced us was the conversion from interest to support. While
it had its challenges, to see our campaign come to fruition has given me greater confidence in continuing to cement my relationships with our Gallery supporters
in the future, and I feel I can enable great things to happen for the gallery and for the community.”
Some of Hurley’s key learnings include:
1 We would hold as many meetings and brainstorming sessions as possible, engaging key people such as board members, staff and existing supporters in the process. While the initial campaign idea was set in concrete, we would recognise that campaign strategies and goal posts may need to be shifted whenever necessary along the way.
2 We would provide a compelling case for supporting the artwork, emphasising its importance as a limited opportunity for giving and recognition of giving, and that it is a prestigious project to support.
3 As we had interest in the campaign and support from a handful of donors early on, we thought consolidating ongoing support from an additional 20 donors would be straightforward, which was not the case. We would therefore be very detailed with our research into what our most important fundraising requirements were and how we could run the most effective campaign. For example, we would put more consideration into which people would be the most responsive, what the best timing would be to ask for support and whether people would be attracted to the idea of supporting Aboriginal art in a philanthropic manner.
4 Because the timing of direct asks is crucial, once our initial fundraising campaign had been launched and supporters were aware of it, we would ask directly for support. Targeted emails and direct personal asks proved to be our most effective fundraising techniques so we would use these strategies earlier in the campaign.
5 We would not rely so heavily on social media such as Facebook. While it is a great marketing tool, substantial initial interest in our campaign did not necessarily convert into support.
6 As press articles proved to be effective, we would focus more on these. For example, an article ran in the local press about some existing donors, a married couple who sponsored a carved tree to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. This story added a personal touch to the campaign, and after reading it, another couple approached us who also wished to sponsor a carved tree to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary.
7 We would stress heavily that donations are tax deductible and package this in an attractive way. We would also ask for support right up until the end of the financial year.
8 While it was always our idea to consolidate our existing supporters and expand on them, approaching larger entities such as local businesses, bigger companies and additional trusts and foundations may have been beneficial in terms of gaining sponsorships more readily and for expanding our relationships for future campaigns.
9 While a sponsorship fee of $2,000 seemed affordable at the beginning of the campaign, we later concluded it was quite a substantial ask. We would therefore ask additional donors for smaller amounts of money or incorporate different levels of giving into the campaign strategy.
10 We would never assume or leave anything to the last minute. We would secure our supporters as early as possible as this makes the process easier in the long run.
11 We would have engaged more with Creative Partnerships Australia earlier in the campaign to obtain its perspective on the best way forward.
12 We would try to stay focused and positive even when things were not going according to plan. We would also never be too embarrassed to ask for help.
Image: Aboriginal artist Warwick Keen amidst his carved trees.