Spike Island

Reviewed: What to Expect from a Funder

Last year Spike Associates, a membership network of artists, curators, writers and other creative practitioners, have initiated a series of events on professional practice. They explore both critical and practical aspects of working within the arts with panelists from across the sector.

If you missed the fourth session on Tuesday 26 February, which focused on funding arts projects, Spike Associate Julie McCalden shares the top tips she took away from the evening's discussion:

The current climate, characterised by unforgiving cuts to the arts, offers little optimism for the artist or artist-led project looking to fund relatively small-scale activities in an increasingly competitive arena. What to Expect from a Funder addressed this, inviting speakers to discuss two potential approaches; crowd funding and Arts Council England’s Grants for the Arts funding scheme.

Crowd funding

Hen Norton, co-founder of the arts crowdsourcing website We Did This, described how the idea stemmed from their desire to give money to the arts in a participatory way. Put simply, crowd funding gets lots of people, incentivised through rewards, to give a small amount of money to make a large amount of money.                                                                     

How it works: You have an idea and you need X amount of money. You put your project on a crowd funding platform to sell it to potential supporters and offer a series of rewards. The reward system is a unique selling point that can provide the donor with a closer relationship to your project. They need to be attractive, but limited in terms of time and money. Think creatively; it will keep you motivated and inspire people to support you.

Top tips:

  • Before going live with your campaign, plan a strategy involving other online tools like Facebook and Twitter, appropriate to your target audience.

  • Plan a maximum six week campaign, to avoid losing momentum.

  • Get your nearest and dearest to back you first.

  • Keep the sales pitch short, 200–300 words (people won’t read more).

  • State the support you have already as part of the sales pitch.

  • Evidence the want and need for your project.

  • Engage people by making a pitch video encapsulating what you’ve said in the text. Get someone charismatic on the film.

  • Think of rewards that tie in with your project and offer supporters a sense of involvement.

  • Make your project transparent financially; people like to know what the money is being spent on.

Grants for the Arts

Andrew Proctor, Relationship Manager, Visual Arts for Arts Council England South West, offered some insights into their Grants for the Arts scheme, illustrated in the discussion by a closer look at an application from Spike Associate Bryony Gillard.

Your first point of call is the ACE website where there is an overwhelming amount of information available, providing a framework within which to work. ACE also run an enquiry service if you need further advice or clarification. You should make contact with your regional relationship manager, although their ability to respond with tailored advice is limited as they become ever more oversubscribed.

Allow as much time as possible to apply; think months and years, not days and weeks. This will give you time to plan, raise match funding, plan your marketing campaign etc and puts your project less at risk if your application is not successful. 

You need to persuade the Arts Council that your project is of value and quality, with an emphasis on how audience focussed your project is. ACE have a priority to address audiences and seek projects that enable people to engage with the arts. They also look for legacy. What is the lasting effect of your project? 

Make sure your budget is realistic, viable and represents good value for money. The more you ask for, the greater the scrutiny. Ask for what you need: neither underestimate nor overestimate. Get it right.

Top Tips:

  • Your application is a sales pitch. Write like you believe in it.

  • Who values your project? It’s not just about you; partners, artists, audiences... Outline the support that you already have.

  • Evidence your claims; say WHY.

  • Be specific. Don’t just say you’re ‘developing partnerships with local businesses.’ Say which businesses.

  • What’s your motivation? A strong rationale is needed.

  • Make it clear using plain English. Avoid art speak.

  • Avoid sweeping statements; qualify everything you say.

  • Does it make sense? Does it read well? Get someone to read it and talk it over with you.

There is no magic formula. Each application is looked at on its own merits. Applications are reviewed on a weekly basis and the funding is distributed evenly throughout the year, so there is no bias favouring particular times. ACE’s decisions are based on the applications that demonstrate the strongest, most interesting, most valuable projects.

Currently the success rate is 30-40%, meaning that many worthy projects are not funded simply due to competition of funds. You can reapply for the same project, but should request detailed feedback on your application first and implement any recommended changes.

Both crowd funding and Grants for the Arts require a lot of legwork with no guaranteed outcomes, although one suggested advantage to crowd funding over GfA was that there’s no evaluation required; once you’ve raised the funds they’re yours. Whichever route you may choose to pursue, in these precarious times, perhaps the most valuable piece of advice was the old adage not to put all your eggs in one basket. Have a fundraising strategy.

Other funding bodies:

For organisations:

For individuals: