The group discussion began with a review of people’s successful experiences of seeking funding from private sources: the valuable role of sponsorship brokers as securers of major finance for big projects (particularly where a national competition can be staged); and at a local level the effectiveness of crowd funding. Both speakers here stressed the criticality of making an intuitive linkage between donor and recipient to facilitate the cash – the need for emotional logic.

Speakers also mentioned a number of valuable organisations: Team London as a route to source advisory talent for boards; Volunteering UK as a broader source of help and OneTrust specifically as a source of GDPR compliant software for databases.

There was also a brief but important discussion about being aware who you are taking advice or money from, and being comfortable about it.

The bulk of the discussion however revolved around the social and emotional appeal of helping, or financially supporting, or investing in, a theatre company or a production.

The concept put forward is that Britain has two unmatched needs: theatre directors and producers with theatrical ideas in need of funding, and young professionals looking for alternative ways to spend their money and leisure time.

At outset we noted an asymmetry: the ideas are countrywide, but cash and practical support, are disproportionately available in the capital.

The core question asked by the group was: “Why should anyone be interested in giving either money, or help?”. Participants in the discussion felt themselves to be engaged in a one-way deal; taking money from donors for little return rather than feeling good. This is a category error; the key concept conveyed by respondents is that giving help or cash is not a gift. It is an exchange, a trade, for a valuable benefit. Theatres, directors, producers, actors are not holding out a begging bowl, they are selling participation: participation in glamour, excitement and cachet.

We discussed a paradigm example. The same young age group as many of the D&D attendees is shared by mid-level career professionals in banks, law firms, accountancy houses and brokerages, all frequently working up to 90 hour weeks. All are financially successful by national standards, some (especially those in corporate finance, trading, commodity broking and hedge funds – although this is a small group) are strikingly rich at an early age.

Broadly, they pursue the same leisure activities. They are frustrated, time poor, and spending considerable sums on common pursuits: skiing; travel breaks to continental cities; glamping at summer festivals; eating out expensively; and so forth.

This group is characterised by a desire to individualise - to be involved in things other people are not - the success of websites such as “Design My Night” show this. An aspect of their socially competitive lives is to identify something “cool” that will impress their peers. They also like to think of themselves as intellectual, discerning, tasteful and socially engaged.

These are individuals who can provide valuable services as board members of small theatre companies – managing and submitting accounts, drawing-up reliable documents, advising of risk in contracts, and so on. In short, doing all the things that must be done properly and well, but are a distraction to the producer and director who need to concentrate on the artistic output.

But for a few hours a month, it is terrific fun (and well regarded in their careers) for a junior lawyer or accountant, to be able to say they sit on a theatre board. It is even more fun to have a gala night or reception at a production, to which board members can invite their friends in order to meet actors, directors, producers and theatre professionals. And this also allows the theatre team to build their network of contacts. Consider also the social cachet of, for example, putting money into a show that’s “going to Edinburgh” and talking to one’s colleagues and friends about being in a production company.

So the central message is that securing private support or help, is a sale, not a request for charity. And there are other groups in society for whom this cachet of theatre involvement is considerable. Consider those in semi- or full retirement, who fear boredom, and wish for engagement in something unusual, perhaps a little risky, and to engage with people of different ages and backgrounds.

But a supplementary message to you, the theatre professionals, is that because you are making a sale (and a valued one) asking money and support should be done enthusiastically and energetically, never with embarrassment or apology! If you are a young actor, director or producer, you believe in what you do, you’ve made sacrifices to do it, and you know your art deserves to reach its audience.

The most challenging questions in the discussion revolved around “how do I find professionals who will help or give?” and “how do I ask for help”.

On the first, there is no easy answer. It starts by pooling addresses / contacts, begging friends for addresses and contacts and then, critically building a data base. It essential to be able to relocate people or ideas a year after they were first thoughts of. Be ruthless, be predatory about getting to people; your art is worth it. On the second, the opening ask should be “Would you like to be involved in the terrific event / group / company?”.

At the end of the session many attendees asked for cards from the speakers and expressed a desire to continue the conversation. Please get in touch.