Over six months – September 2019 to March 2020 – ten arts organisations throughout England took part in the World’s Largest Arts Fundraising Experiment. The purpose of the project was to identify ways in which galleries, museums, performing arts companies, and touring venues could improve their private income – by attracting new supporters, by persuading existing supporters to contribute more, and to find new ways of giving. The focus was on philanthropy from individuals, and the lens was the potential to use decision science in fundraising.
The project was generously funded by Arts Council England and had pro bono support from the National Arts Fundraising School and Ogilvy Consulting. We were fortunate to have two of Europe’s leading decision science experts, Maddie Croucher senior consult at Ogilvy and Omar Mahmoud, Global Head of Knowledge at UNICEF International as an advisors. The project was organised by =mc consulting.
The project was organised in several phases:
Phase 1 recruitment
A number of cultural agencies were identified and invited to be part of the project. A total of 11 were selected, representing a spread across the country, various art forms, and different audience demographics. Some had extensive experience of fundraising from individuals over many decades, while for others this was the very first foray into this area.
The list of participating organisations is below. One agency had to drop out due to lack of capacity, though they remained involved in the overall process. The impressive list of participants is below:
- The Bluecoat, Liverpool
- Birmingham Museums Trust
- The HandleBards (touring theatre company)
- Magna Vitae
- MShed (Bristol Museums & Art Gallery)
- Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange, Cornwall
- Northern Ballet, Leeds
- Nottingham Contemporary (art gallery)
- Royal Opera House, London
- Shakespeare Schools Foundation
- York Museums Trust
Phase 2 training
All of the participating agencies were offered a series of training sessions and webinars run by a range of external experts and the =mc consulting team to provide a baseline of skills in decision science using a range of frameworks such as COMBI-B, Mindspace, and EASIEST.
As part of the training participants were asked to design experiments reflecting an approach they wanted to test– a specific audience to engage, a channel to explore, a campaign to underpin. These experiments went through several iterations over 2 to 3 months. Each organisation was coached by one of the =mc team: Bernard Ross, Emma Goad, Dana Segal or Rob Shaw.
Finally the Arts Council provided funds that allowed each of the agencies to experiment- commission new design material, buy or rent credit card readers, invest in promotional videos etc- at no risk.
Phase 3 experiments
Over the period December 19- February 20 all of the agencies developed and trialled fundraising experiments. Some of these are outlined below:
- Royal Opera House: the development team here worked on engagement in bequests/legacies by making commitment material simpler and easier to understand – reducing cognitive load – and trialling different messengers –who actually solicited the gift.
- Bluecoat Liverpool: this contemporary gallery explored the impact of different collection box messaging and positioning. The team here applied the rule of reciprocity and creating salient messages.
- Handlebards: this small touring company tested the same message delivered by four different advocates – a trial beneficiary, an adult donor, celebrity, and an actor in the company- their first foray into online fundraising
- Coram Shakespeare Schools Foundation: this nationwide festival attracts almost 30,000 school students and their parents. They experimented with making asks from the stage, leaving envelopes on seats, and making asks as audiences exited.
Overall between the 10 organisations 23 different experiments were tried some hugely successful – producing an increase of 400% in gifts there – and others producing more modest but useful increases of up to 20%.
Phase 4 sharing
Built into the project were a number of mechanisms to share and scale up the learning.
- An interactive hub was established which allowed participants to load up case studies examples and questions, and also encouraged anyone interested to follow developments
- A small study team was established to review the projects in a critical and disciplined way – ensuring that key learning was identified and also challenges and improvements
- A national online seminar was organised with almost 15 hours of online material contributed by a variety of experimenters and leading figures in the decisional science field
- Experimenters and members of =mc consulting took part in a number of seminars and webinars to share key insights
- A handbook was produced showing how any organisation could apply the techniques and approaches which had been successful to their own work
At the time of writing members of the =mc consulting team are still working with a number of experimenters taking work to the next level.
Want to know more?
If you have a specific query or would like to involve the =mc consulting team in your work contact Bernard Ross, Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org