Rachel Cockett

Shortly after she took up her first fundraising role at Birmingham Museums Trust, a promotional leaflet falling out of a magazine led Rachel Cockett to the National Arts Fundraising School at the exactly the right time. Find out how it gave her the skills and confidence to take the Trust to a whole new level of fundraising success.

I’ve always been passionate about the arts. With a museums career in mind, after studying for a BA in silversmithing and jewellery, I went on to take a Masters in art history and museum studies. I was then lucky enough to get a job here in Birmingham.

I’ve worked at Birmingham Museums for 17 years now and have been Director of Development for the past four. Having moved up through collections management, and management positions, it’s my first direct role in fundraising, though business development is also a large part of it. The role came about after we became a charity and restructured. Even today there’s still a lot of growth required to make us sustainable in the long term.

When I took up the post, I had experience in major grants, managing a large partnership project involving big public grants, and as a charity trustee. But in other fundraising areas I didn’t have much experience at all, so didn’t feel as confident as I would have liked. Then one day I was reading the Museums Journal when a leaflet for the National Arts Fundraising School fell out, and I thought, “That’s exactly what I need.” A week long (so time for total immersion), it was tailored right up to director and CEO level, and it covered everything. It was absolutely perfect timing. I attended NAFS in early 2014, a few months after becoming Director of Development.

The School was very comprehensive and the intensity of it being a residential one-week course really worked. It was also very confidence building, and I realised I knew more than I thought I did. The tutors are very skilled at making sure the course works for people at all levels, and there was indeed a great range of participants from quite junior roles to directors and heads of fundraising, and even a couple of CEOs.

This diversity of people in terms of age, background, and experience provided us all with lots of ways to benchmark our organisations. We were encouraged to sit in different places every morning to make sure we got to talk to and work with everyone, so we gained as much as possible from the network of people. This was hugely valuable. And while the School was intense, there was also lots of humour – Bernard’s presentations kept everyone awake!

I learned so much in a week and have since recommended it to numerous people. I left with a huge folder of resources that I still have by my desk and refer to, especially for things I don’t do very often. It’s very useful to have that bank of information to go back to.

At the end of NAFS, I felt very confident going back to my organisation and developing and embedding the fundraising strategy I drafted at the School. Since then fundraising has become firmly planted within the organisation, and is no longer treated as an add-on. When we’re planning a new initiative, we look at the fundraising possibilities (or impossibilities!) right at the start.

Since I did the course, we’ve raised £7m including public grants, and major grants from trusts and foundations. There are still areas to develop – we’ve just launched a legacy strategy for example – but our fundraising is very successful, thanks to the learning I gained from the School.

How would I sum the School up? The tutors really do lead by example. They talk about relationships and stewardship in fundraising and they exemplify that very well not only on the course itself but also in how they communicate with their alumni afterwards. You know that everything they teach you, they do too.

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