Taking Advantage of Changing Trends in Philanthropic Giving

In the present and the future, identifying individual prospects to fund cultural projects and tailoring subsequent recognition will require a great deal of innovation. Historically, individual philanthropy has taken the form of patronage – great families seeking to leave their legacy have bestowed gifts to society creating cultural spaces that we now recognise as the pillars of our creative industries. The Tate, Carnegie, Getty and Guggenheim families all made their fortunes in the wake of the industrial revolution and established their legacies in cultural institutions. This model was continued into the late 20th Century with gifts to the National Gallery by the Sainsbury family, creating the Sainsbury wing, and to the Royal Opera House by Donald Gordon, creating the Donald Gordon Grand Tier. The model can also be recognised in recent capital gifts across London, which has resulted in the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, the Dorfman Theatre at the National Theatre, Hintze Hall at the Natural History Museum and various Clore Learning Centres through the generosity of Vivien Duffield.

In light of this, and to cultivate a core stable of supporters for the future, many large cultural organisations have developed Young Patron schemes which offer a programme of benefits to introduce a young generation of charitable givers to philanthropy. The National Theatre, Serpentine Gallery, Tate and the Royal Academy all demonstrate good examples of this – a lively programme of curator tours, studio visits and director talks along with priority access to ticketing and events are offered for a sum of £1,000 per annum. These programmes offer a platform to engage a young generation of donors within a traditional model of fundraising. The plan for this entry-level programme is to secure the donor’s loyalty to the cause and increase their propensity to give which will hopefully result, one day, in a much larger future gift as the donor’s wealth increases. This model therefore continues the tradition of former philanthropic donations and the need for donors to make their mark on the cultural landscape.

However, it is important to recognise that this model of young patronage is not based on the creation of the initial ‘great gifts’ and also to acknowledge that a new generation of charitable giving is emerging which challenges this established model of legacy and recognition. In order to successfully cultivate a new generations of donors, we must also take note of changing ideological frameworks; contemporary individual wealth has manifested itself in a number of ways, and we therefore cannot simply mirror a historic model. A new generation of wealth is emerging which has been built on the financial and digital industries, in stark contrast to the industrial revolution, and this information revolution has influenced the charitable giving patterns of those who have succeeded within it. Donors are more knowledgeable and more commercially aware than ever before and as such require a great deal more reporting and feedback to demonstrate the value of their gift. Equally, while it is not useful to mirror past philanthropic gestures, it is also not helpful to mirror the cultural landscape –the creative industries represent one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK and the scope to fund alternative projects is wide. Donors are presented opportunities to fund digital start-ups and small-scale community projects alongside carrying the beacon for traditional philanthropy and the former may fit more succinctly with the skills and interests of the new generation of donors. Traditional forms of giving may therefore need to adapt in order to compete in an increasingly pressurised funding landscape.  

Taking a brief view of alternative funding models in the creative industries, it is useful to look to the film industry; a number of contemporary film investment funds work closely with HNWIs, in much the same way as traditional philanthropic servicing. HNWIs are cultivated to invest funding into forthcoming film productions within a tax-efficient investment framework. In return for their investment, film funders are stewarded in a similar way to cultural patrons, and may be offered benefits including location visits and behind-the-scenes tours, opportunities to meet the cast and even red carpet premiere invites. But crucially, if the film is successful, funders will also receive a return on their investment, a commercial and tangible benefit which traditional models of philanthropy cannot compete with.

Equally, initiatives such as The Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme offer a similar tax-incentivised giving platform which can be facilitated by small creative start-ups to increase financial support. Models following this framework represent a commercial alternative to traditional funding methods and may equally offer a ‘money can’t buy experience’ to thank, steward and further cultivate their funders to invest in the future. Although it is not viable for traditional cultural organisations to advocate this style of funding– it is interesting to think about how a mixed-model which provides a meeting point between conventional philanthropy and a marked change in donor behaviour. A good case in point here is a successful venture by a well-known subsidised theatre which mixes their commercial and charitable offering for funders; by transferring popular subsidised shows the West End within a commercial framework, the theatre has achieved a mixed-funding platform for their closest supporters, which enables them to diversify their revenue income.

In order to align themselves with changing trends in philanthropic giving, established cultural organisations need to think carefully about how they can work with a new generation of donors to help them achieve their charitable giving aims and provide them with a philanthropic vehicle to do so. They need to be more commercially aware and savvy in order to attract and sustain the interest of future funders. A more collaborative, innovative approach is required to fulfil the aims and ambitions of donors and organisations, rather than simply aligning a new generation of donors with an outdated model of philanthropy or creating a model which second-guesses their needs. Innovation in this way will enable historic institutions to compete for attention from a smart generation of donors, alongside a diverse range of cultural organisations, which will in turn enable the burgeoning creative industries to continue to flourish in the information revolution.

Helen Gaffney  |  May 2015