Ruth Harvey & Suzanne McLellan

One of our newest Alumni, Suzanne McLellan, Marketing and Audience Development Manager at The Gaiety Theatre in Ayr describes her experience on the School:

On April 15 2018 I swapped my Scottish seaside stomping ground and native Glasgow for the English countryside for six intensive days of training at the National Arts Fundraising School.

How did  a musician and arts marketer get in tow with fundraising – isn’t this just for fundraisers? 

It all started four years ago when I fell in love with The Gaiety, one of Scotland’s oldest theatres. Built in 1902, she – The Gaiety is definitely a ‘she’ – has survived fires and forced closure. Today she welcomes over 65,000 people year, and has recently undergone a £2.4 million refurbishment.

Gaiety Theatre refurb in progress
Gaiety Theatre refurb in progress
The new Gaiety Theatre
The new Gaiety Theatre

When Creative Scotland cut The Gaiety from their 2018-2021 portfolio of Regularly Funded Organisations (RFO) it was a bit of a lead-balloon moment. We secured RFO status for the first time in 2015 and used it – assisted by 200+ volunteers – to accelerate our growth and development. We brought in international and Scottish artists and initiated a major outreach programme with professional productions and youth theatre in village halls. Working in partnership, we also began delivering the only integrated route from school to Honours Degree in Technical Theatre in Scotland.

With arts funding at an all-time low, art marketers are having to diversify and think outside the box (office).

From the moment I arrived in the idyllic village of Alfriston I was straight in at the deep end. A whirlwind of information, case studies, practical group exercises and bingo-themed ice breakers ensured we were all quickly in the zone.

L to R: Lynda Hornsby, Alison Beattie, Suzanne McLellan
L to R: Lynda Hornsby, Alison Beattie, Suzanne McLellan

Being away from civilisation encouraged me to explore creative ways to communicate to potential supporters and to open up new conversations. One of the biggest takeaways for me (apart from the incredible culinary offerings!) had to be behavioural economics techniques in practice.

Before attending The School I had implemented a digital marketing campaign using Twitter for our ‘Gaiety Showwalkers’ Kiltwalk fundraiser, where every donation was eligible for a 40% top-up from Sir Tom Hunter’s Foundation. Feeling inspired, I decided to try using behavioural economics to send out a revised tweet. Within 20 minutes of posting, support for the campaign increased, and within an hour had over £100-worth of donations. Since NAFS this approach has resulted in us exceeding our original £2,500 target by more than £1,800. With the 40% top up from The Hunter Foundation we raised £5,359.66. (See the original tweet below, and following it, the revised tweet improved using behavioural economics)

Ayr Gaeity tweet 2 Ayr Gaeity tweet 3


Although the curtain has fallen on my time at The National Arts Fundraising School, I have made everlasting friendships, gained invaluable skills and already increased donations and profile for my charity.

2018 NAFS Alumni group: Suzanne McLellan, Ruth Harvey, Dasha Bushinskaya, Melanie Sarling
2018 NAFS Alumni: Suzanne McLellan, Ruth Harvey, Dasha Bushinskaya, Melanie Sarling

In the landscape of depleting National Lottery and Creative Scotland support, fundraising in the arts might feel like an uphill battle but to challenge is to change.

With NAFS you can live Happily Ever NAFter.

Follow @SuzanneMcLellan on twitter

Find out more about The Gaiety Theatre

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