The Power of Many: Fundraising Now

On 6 December, I talked to cinema exhibitors at This Way Up in Liverpool about a new way to think about fundraising/income generation, predicated on the following:

  1. Independent cinemas (and arts venues in general, for that matter) have an over-reliance on funding from the likes of the British Film Institute, Arts Council England etc.

  2. Indie cinemas (and arts organisations) are regularly asked to find Unicorns, aka high net worth (HNW) donors or significant funders to fill huge funding gaps.

  3. The traditional funding landscape is uncertain and unreliable.

  4. It is essential for any arts organisation to bring in unrestricted funds. Unrestricted funds can be used on anything (within reason), thus removing some of the pressures and requirements that come with traditional funding opportunities. This does not / should not absolve organisations from meeting their commitments to representation, diversity, equality, and inclusivity, which should not be contingent on funder requirements but instead a non-negotiable business objective.

This is a unicorn, unicorns don’t exist.

This is a unicorn, unicorns don’t exist.

The donor pyramid defines the way charitable giving should work. It asserts that you ‘acquire’ donors by direct mail (nope), or through events and convert them through the levels of the pyramid…taking thousands of donors on the bottom giving small gifts through to the Holy Grail aka the Unicorn aka HNW individuals at the top of the pyramid giving huge, transformational gifts.

This is a unicorn at the top of a pyramid, an unlikely scenario.

This is a unicorn at the top of a pyramid, an unlikely scenario.

It’s 2018. It’s basically 2019.

Firstly, no-one is doing direct mail anymore. Come on, now. Direct mail relies on you having a huge mailing database (GDPR, anyone?) or is defined by postcode, postcodes are based on demographics, which is Basic.

Secondly, the donor pyramid forces you to segregate donors and make assumptions on the capacity someone has to give based on their ‘position’ in the pyramid. No-one should be at the ‘bottom’ of anything if they have chosen to gift you their money, time or attention. Everyone is equal.

Thirdly, I believe that by creating a community of people who care about what you do, you can create a more sustainable, valuable and forward-thinking fundraising (a business) model.

The bottom line is fundraising, like marketing, hinges on relationships. Relationships are built over time, they require an honesty, an authenticity and a willingness to listen.

What to think about now.

What to think about now.

First steps:

Who are your audience? Need clarification on audiences? Anyone that interacts with your brand, not just cinema-goers. Need clarification on who they are? What are their interests, what do they watch, where do they shop, what do they read, what do they care about, what motivates them, what are their behaviours, attitudes, values, red-lines and deal-breakers. Read about psychographics not demographics here.

What do they care about? Niche indie cinema + niche audiences = high engagement, if you offer content, ideas, experiences that they care about.

How do you monetise that? What can you create that is so relevant and necessary to your audience that they will pay you money for it?

When you know those things, you can harness the power of people to drive your business and income generation forward.

How to create a movement.

How to create a movement.

Next step, expand your perception of your space, differentiate that from your location. Expand your perception of your audience, differentiate that from your customers.

Create stuff that matters. Develop content, offers, experiences, packages that a) are not reliant on being in your location and b) marry what makes you unique with what makes your audience excited.

Listen to your audience. This is a relationship, you talk, discuss and grow together. Give your audience a sense of ownership and a sense of pride and they will be with you for the long haul. They may also give you money.

Be real. Not complicated.

Say thank you. It’s important. When done well, public recognition of someone’s impact on your organisation can encourage future gifts, encourage word-of-mouth marketing and obvs, it’s just good manners. Read about unique ways to thank donors here.



So, the choice. Are you going to keep looking for a unicorn, or are you going to look at new way of approaching fundraising by putting your audience at the centre of your decision making?


Interesting examples of this type of thinking on Patreon*;

Family Membership Programme; uses a variety of content, online content and IRL experiences to generate some £2k per month on Patreon.

Movies with Mikey Podcast; weekly movie podcast with over 2k subscribers.

Pure Cinema; 12 episode seasons with some 200 subscribers donating between $1 and $5 per month.

*Patreon is a membership platform that allows creators to run a subscription content service and provide exclusive experiences to their subscribers, audiences or "patrons.” For patrons, it is a way to join your community and pay you for making the stuff they love.

Opinion, AdviceLaura