Myth or Fact?
In this blog NAFS Deputy Director Dana Segal explains how the National Arts Fundraising School can help local authorities raise money for their important work – and how they can support other local agencies to be more sustainable.

The name on the tin, ‘National Arts Fundraising School’ might suggest that the world’s most intensive and successful fundraising training is exclusively for ‘arts’ organisations. But in fact the school is open to, and welcomes, agencies from across the arts, culture, museums, heritage and leisure fields. Many local authorities, of course, work across these fields and over the 33+ years that the school’s been going we’ve welcomed a number of representatives from a range of authorities across the UK nations.

These include Belfast, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Bristol, Wakefield and Plymouth City Councils plus Rotherham Borough Council, Powys County Council, East Lindsay District Council and a number of London Boroughs. In each case the challenge they arrived with was the same, ‘how do we raise money as a statutory body to provide facilities and opportunities that local people want – galleries, museums, theatres, sports fields, pools, parks, festivals and more?’

The simple answer to this question is can be done – but you do need to know how.

Part of the challenge is to dispel five simple myths that often hold back local authorities from even considering raising funds from the wide range of private sources available. Below we explore these myths… and then explode them.

Municipal Money Myth 1: You can’t raise money unless you’re a registered charity

Myth Buster:  Well, it is true that not being a registered charity reduces the number of sources you can easily apply to. But it’s not the case that lack of charity registration as a local authority prevents you from applying for or securing funding.

The main barrier is with trusts and foundations where a number, but not all, are unable by their constitution to distribute funds to bodies not registered as UK charities. But many foundations can choose to give money to non-charitable bodies – and do! The Joseph Rowntree Foundation for example has supported a number of projects not registered as charities.  And companies are often interested in straight commercial sponsorship opportunities where they see a business/brand advantage to be associated with a socially useful project. Here it’s just the same as sponsoring a  concert or a football club. And think of the success of the Captain Tom initiative had in persuading people to give to what is actually the most funded public service in the UK. The School will provide you with pointers on how and where to approach all these non-limited sources.

And we’ll explain how to set up an effective legal structure that can get around this problem where it exists. One option is to set up development trust which raises money, while you as the authority are able to spend it.

Municipal Money Myth 2: Nobody loves us!

Myth Buster: Yes, not many people may love local authorities as such, but many people have a very deep affection for the things you do – the museum you maintain, the park you look after, the exciting programme you offer to young people. We’ve helped a number of authorities from Bristol to Plymouth present the work they do in an attractive format called, ‘a case for support.’

For Bristol City Museums, for example, we undertook a research study to establish what the key ‘sense of identity’ was for local residents who could be donors – as lovers of heritage, as proud residents, as advocates for young people. We also researched which of the six council venues these supporters had the strongest affinity for. We then produced fundraising materials including online information to engage them.

An attractive case for support can engage local citizens or even your own employees to become donors. Did you know for example, that the swimming pool in a large Kent town was funded by a council employee who left a legacy in her will to pay for the refurb of the swimming facilities she used and loved?

Municipal Money Myth 3: We don’t have time to collect small donations and manage them

Myth Buster:  Managing lots of small donors is expensive and time consuming- which is why many charities have big fundraising departments. But maybe you don’t need to manage these donors.

The good news is that online fundraising platforms create the potential to raise funds with minimal council resources occupied. Provided you have an attractive proposition – see above – and use an appropriate online platform it’s possible to create a crowdfunding campaign that can produce at the very least tens of thousands of pounds simply and without massive bureaucracy or administration.

However, you need to understand the techniques and technologies involved in effective online fundraising – it’s not enough just to set it up, and then wait for the money to roll in. Crowdfunding needs a crowd, and you need to work out how to generate interest in your project. We can share the secrets of how to do that.

We’ve helped a number of local authorities to use online platforms to raise money for the purchase of heritage items – for example Waltham Forest were able to buy a precious historical artefact thanks to online fundraising.

Municipal Money Myth 4: We can’t raise really big sums

Myth Buster: it’s really worth putting in context that private giving in the UK – individuals, companies, and foundations  –  is a £10 billion industry. That’s big money and it’s available generally. So it’s possible to raise very large sums of money – again if the cause is presented attractively.

You’re probably familiar with the lottery funds – through approaching them appropriately, and having the correct vehicle, makes a massive difference to your success level.

If you have a really big project we even have a specialist coach available to advise, Sue Fisher, on board in the team who has extensive experience in major projects.

However, two major sources of income over the next decade will be from legacies and from High Net Worth Individuals.

Legacies will grow as Boomers make the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the world to their children, or grandchildren, or healthcare… OR they might give you a share of that wealth for your parks, performances, and programmes. (The even better news is that legacy giving is generally unrestricted – free money to do with as you want.)

You’re probably also aware that high net worth wealth is growing in the UK – there are more millionaires than ever before. (Yes the rich really are getting richer.) Would one of them like to memorialise their name, demonstrate their status, or signal their contribution to your locality by supporting an archive, a library, a theatre, or a museum? The answer is yes. But, you need to know how to identify these individuals, and also how to approach them.  The NAFS team helped Renfrew Council raise almost £45 million for the new Paisley Museum, and helped Blackpool raise £10 million for theirs. It can be done!

Municipal Money Myth 5: We can’t do it all

Myth Buster: OK this one isn’t strictly a myth buster.

Having a local independent and healthy cultural, heritage, and artistic infrastructure is important. As an authority you probably support organisations who rely on grant in aid from you. And these organisations also need to seek funds externally to help meet the difference. But do they have the confidence, capacity and competence to succeed?

A number of authorities have invested in training for local organisations they support, so improving confidence, capacity and competence in those organisations and individuals. With these skills organisations become more independent and more become more sustainable.

We’ve run in-house programs for authorities as different as Powys, Newcastle and Belfast. In each case they brought together 20 or so organisations they supported, or wanted to support, and offered them a free or subsidised place in a programme we designed and ran especially for their target audience. The result was a programme that was absolutely matched to the locality and the interest and ability of the participants.  Moreover it brought national money to the locality – levelling up in action!

Other authorities like Grimsby and East Lindsey have paid for groups of local artists / producers / cultural entrepreneurs to attend the School…so generating more creative capacity.

We’d love to help you in your mission. And promise not just to bust some myths but also to transform your income potential.

If you’re a local authority, consider securing one or more places on the next fundraising school, or if you’re considering leveling up your own team or the vital local agencies you support, don’t hesitate to contact Bernard Ross, School Director at or call +44 7976 280314.

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