Griffin Theatre on thinking differently
To ensure success for their Plus1 campaign, Griffin Theatre Company mobilised staff to help redevelop their online presence and build a donation portal.
Tell us about your fundraising strategy.
Will Harvey, Development Manager: We knew from the outset we had to do something different if we were going to attract new donors. Our existing donors have a deep understanding of the company and support us for very specific and personal reasons – and many have done so for years.
However we felt that the campaign needed a tangible element if it was to gain any traction with an audience who weren’t as familiar with the company.
Inspired by Circa’s innovative campaign the year before, we decided to ask Australian artists to create portraits of characters from our 2016 season, which we would then auction at a special fundraising night. The project was designed with several goals in mind:
- To allow a new audience – our potential supporters – the opportunity to engage with contemporary Australian writing outside of the traditional theatrical framework.
- To raise the profile of our contributing artists
- To reach our fundraising target for the campaign, and;
- To embed new supporters in the Griffin community. Not only would they own a part of the season, but by attending their respective opening nights and meeting both artists and actors, they would feel a sense of ownership and belonging.
We were gifted with 15 extraordinary pictures from some incredible artists: painters, photographers, street artists and illustrators; who, working from the play scripts alone, created powerful and insightful portraits from four of our Main Season plays.
We raised a little over $10,000 in the lead up to the auction in direct contributions and then $40,000 from the sale of the artworks themselves.
How important was a whole-of-organisation approach to your overall success, and how you were able to get everyone on board?
There were so many disparate elements to the campaign, that it wouldn’t have succeeded without the help of the whole board, staff – and some key volunteers.
- Early engagement is critical. So often in small companies with limited resources, fundraising activities sit outside normal schedules and workloads, so it’s imperative that they don’t come as a surprise.
- If you don’t believe in the vision for the project and the strategy to execute it, you’re never going to be able to persuade anyone else. You’re the first ambassador for the campaign – start by finding a few other allies who’ll support you and work from there.
What two elements were key to the campaign’s success?
First and foremost, the contributing artists themselves, who in some cases spent weeks working on their portraits. To see them so selflessly donate their time and talent to support other artists – in another art form – was a real inspiration to the team at Griffin.
The enthusiasm and hard work of the board was of also of paramount importance. They assisted with every stage of the campaign and were chiefly responsible for our guest list on the night.
While it might not have actually advanced the cause in the moment, the sight of an enthusiastic board member frantically outbidding a potential new donor for a painting they had their eye on, will be an enduring memory of the campaign and is indicative of the extraordinary passion the whole board has for the company.
Did the fundraising campaign bring new donors to your organisation?
Absolutely. Not only did our new donors enable us to meet our target, but they’re also genuine prospects for further support in the future.
- There’s almost certainly much more good will towards your company, within your community and across your professional networks than you realise. If you ask for help, you’ll probably get it.
- People may come to the company for a variety of reasons, but the ones that stay will be the ones for whom your core values (or unique selling points) resonate.
- While it’s possible to look after people individually, supporters that come to you through other people, be they artists, board members or other donors, always have that extra connection that makes the relationship easier to service.
Did you encounter any problems while undertaking your fundraising campaign?
The board were quite concerned about the level of risk that this project entailed and the amount of work it could (and did) involve. It took a great deal of time and effort to find and work with the artists to create the portraits themselves even before we could begin to discover and engage new donors.
It was also quite expensive. While the artists donated the pictures themselves, we paid for their materials and framing as well as the costs of staging the auction itself, which meant that there was a great deal riding on the outcome of the evening. This is true of most fundraising auctions, where the cost of the event is an appreciable part of your anticipated income.
In this instance the prospect of matched funding and the possibility of bringing new donors into the company made the risk worth taking, but I would be cautious about campaigns that involve such ‘expensive’ money.
What, if anything, would you do differently next time?
Do a detailed assessment of the campaign and see where you might be able to reduce costs through VIK sponsorship, grants or volunteer work.
If pertinent to your campaign, decide on your approach to publicity right at the start. You may not look for media interest at the start of the campaign, but make sure that it’s part of your schedule.
Think big. If you’re going to the trouble of creating new content, a new product or a new opportunity, are there any other ways you can leverage it to engender more support or a different sort of return to the company or your stakeholders.
Has this experience made Griffin more confident in approaching new and existing donors?
Definitely. I think that everyone in the company has a deeper understanding of what it takes to attract and retain donors. It’s not just about the Development Manager, or whomever has that responsibility, but also your creative team, marketing, front-of-house; everyone who comes in contact with your audience is a part of the story.
What can we expect from Griffin in the next 2-5 years?
We’ve already parlayed our Plus1 campaign into a highly successful end-of-financial-year campaign and will launch two new philanthropic programs this year. There’s no question that our future funding mix will depend far more on the private sector than it has in the past, so expect to see a range of new projects built on innovative partnership models.