Report by Antony Feeny, 6 June 2015

Convened by: Andy Higgins, Antony Feeny

Notes by: Antony Feeny

Also in Attendance: Darren Abrahams, Daphne, John Mc, Anne Minors, Imogen Burgers, Anastasia Witts, Catriona Soutar, Paul Van Hagen, Manuel Fujardo, Clare McCaldin, Anna Gregg, Ralph Bridle, Irene Ros, Alison Porter, Rebecca Redclift, Catherine May, Arlene Rolph, Andrew Higgins, Antony Feeny, and others


Funding from the public sector and corporations is declining, and it is becoming increasingly difficult and competitive to attract donations and philanthropic funding.

The discussion was mainly about: the diverse sources of funding now proving necessary for opera companies; some of the issues and challenges in attracting this funding; and some of the approaches that might be adopted including a more systematic understanding of the concerns of the donor communities.

Trends in funding

Funders are expecting more for less. Broad trends are:

• Philanthropy/patronage – increasing

• Public/state funding – declining

• Corporations – declining

• Legacy (both living wills and ‘dead’) – increasing

• Merchandise and commercial – increasing Public/state funding

• Recent DCMS figures suggest cultural industries account for 5% of UK GDP

• Direct public funding is declining, but tax relief is growing in importance and is likely to be a key part of the new UK government’s approach to arts funding

• Some Arts Council funding in the future is likely to be re-allocated away from London to other parts of the UK, as indicated in recent announcements

• Often public funds are easier for either very small or very large organisations to access, but those in the middle get squeezed

• Some ideas for ensuring funding in the future which may include pitches to the Arts


o Focusing on investment in skills and training for the future cultural workforce

o Emphasis on skills transfer between organisations, possibly including joint pitches for co-funding, e.g. large organisations acting as co-sponsor with smaller organisations. Often too much activity at the moment takes place in silos, and can involve duplication

o Seeking ways of stimulating entrepreneurialism in the arts to encourage different approaches in the future

Attracting Funding

The issues that are relevant in understanding how to attract funders include:

• It helps in raising funds to have properly formulated projects and organisational mechanisms to indicate professionalism

• Organisational stability and longevity are often important, so it can be easier for the more stable and longer-lasting companies to get donations than for newcomers. Those newcomers can instead emphasise that their ‘assets’ are not longevity etc. but rather their work

• Fund-raising in opera is behind other areas of the arts, from whom lessons can be learnt

• Secondments from other organisations are one way of helping to spread expertise in development and fund-raising

• Social media and related mechanisms are increasingly important. These need to be used more skillfully, e.g. not (only) general crowdsourcing but also targeting particular communities

• It’s very important to say thank you, and to keep saying thank you, to donors

• Beware donor ‘exhaustion’: too many organisations continually approaching the same donors with similar propositions

• Recommended book: Michael Kaiser’s “The Art of the Turnaround” 

Engaging with companies and trusts

• Opera has to ‘compete’ with so many other causes seeking funds that its offer must be increasingly targeted and differentiated from the alternatives

• It’s important to make the kind of offer that will attract companies and offer them the sort of value they’re seeking. Increasingly this includes engagement, contact with artists, attendance at rehearsals, workshopping, etc. An more unusual example was a law firm that put on its own version of ‘The Magic Flute’ with Glyndebourne

• Opera (and other arts) can offer opportunities for personal and team development based on its collective activity, so an offering that combines this with financial support is very powerful

• It’s important to focus on the local interests of particular companies or trusts rather than making a generic case

• Don’t treat organisations (companies, trusts & foundations) as monolithic groups. Within them there are many different types of people, and the key to success is finding the right people (executives, trustees, etc.), recognising their specific interests, and cultivating them, often over a period of years

• In general power and decision-making over sponsorship has passed from a single Chairman or CEO to Marketing and other company-wide functions, including those responsible for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

• There is a growing number of more discretionary trusts and foundations that are private/family rather than being large and impersonal

• Think of company/trust relationships in terms of long-term partnerships rather than short-term transactions. Indeed, it’s often better to develop a relationship without making any pitch for funds, and just letting things develop gradually

• It’s a hassle having to conform to the form-filling and timetable concerns of trusts & foundations. There’s no obvious way around this, although often these organisations are open to personal discussions

• Funding from trusts & foundations can offer leverage for additional mixed funding

• It could be worthwhile also joining with other arts organisations with similar interests or geographic focus and making collective pitches for funds

• Are former singers and other ‘alumni’ who make a successful career an untapped source of funds?

Making funding sustainable

• There is often a problem with moving beyond one-off or short-term funding. Often funding is only for single small ring-fenced project with limited or no scope for extension. Some organisations are able to think in terms of 3-4 year growth plans, but this is difficult for smaller or newer organisations

• It can be difficult to attract funds for innovation that set the path for the future as against paying for star names on a one-off basis. It can be important to shift the debate from funding a production to funding a company relationship

• Treating engagement as a gradual, long-term path can help to build longer-term security, e.g. by aiming to move funders up the ladder, and offering them ‘teasers’ to gradually cement a relationships

• One ideal is long-term co-ownership where the funded and the funder work on areas of common interest over a much longer time-period


• There can be a danger that fund-raisers treat audiences as “money bags” rather than as people or customers

• Attention has been given to ensuring access for the disabled, but not to ways of drawing them into support opera companies

• There are many segments of the audience who are asset-rich but cash-poor. Are there ways of enabling them to ‘buy ahead’ (like a financial future or option) so that their current cash-poor interest in opera is offset by their future earnings/wealth?

• Is there a need for more performances targeted at particular audiences?


subsidy, Audience, trusts, donors, Opera, fund-raising, audience, Funding, Sponsorship, sponsorship, funding, community engagement, opera