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Solutions For Navigating Arts Funding Problems

02 Jun 2023

We speak to the driving force behind Funding HQ's new dedicated platform for arts and culture - with tips on how to turn your fundraising goals into a reality.

Image: Shutterstock.

Jenni Giblin is a problem solver.

When it comes to the area that causes the most concern and pain for creative organisations and practitioners - that problem is easy to spot.

Funding is scarce and the 'Hunger Games' approach of pitting creatives against each other is having wildly detrimental impacts on the community and well-being.

But coming up with the right solutions - and the right route to get there - has proven difficult for many.

That's where Giblin comes in.

"I am not convinced there is enough arts funding or that there ever has been.  Fundraising in the arts is highly competitive - it would be great to see more funds directed into the sector."

And she's determined to be part of that equation.

Funding HQ

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Jenni Giblin (right) speaking at the Whanganui Funding Forum. Photo: Supplied.

Two months ago, Giblin launched Funding HQ's Arts and Culture platform, dedicated to helping organisations find ways to not only keep the lights on - but thrive.

It's all based on finding a financially sustainable funding model - something Giblin's been doing successfully for 17 years, landing more than $175 million for projects across the country.

There's no doubt help would be a welcome relief for those struggling without signs of a liferaft. Giblin points out that the playing field is uneven - a 2021 New Zealand Cause report by JB Were confirmed 66% of funds distributed in Aotearoa are earned by the top 11 charitable organisations.

The reason why? Those top organisations have resources devoted to securing those funds and access to large consultancies that most creatives could never dream of. Funding HQ - through funding from Manatū Taonga's Cultural Regeneration Fund - has been created to bridge that gap.

When asked why she's lending her expertise to the arts community, Giblin explains "My involvement is driven by a passion to help 'even up the playing field' in arts funding.  Many arts organisations are so busy delivering quality arts experiences that they don't have the time to navigate their way to successful arts funding.  Often their internal resources are very stretched.   

"Many aren't aware of what funds are available, how to tell their story, the impact they are having or how to pitch to corporates or philanthropists.  Consequently, they miss out on fundraising opportunities.

"I love working in the arts sector - we have so much talent here in Aotearoa, both in urban centres and rurally.  I am blown away by what the arts deliver back to our communities and how vital they are. But I am conscious that so many people are exhausted and burnt out in the sector. 

"I am also aware that there is a lot of pressure on those doing the fundraising - as salaries, contracts and the viability of the organisation can rest on the shoulders of one or two people. That is very hard and can result in a high turnover of people and having to re-start fundraising approaches each time.

"We want to share the load and provide support."

Massive impact

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Funding HQ Founder Jenni Giblin (left) with Massive Company's Kate Rylatt. Photo: Supplied.

Among those already taking advantage of Giblin's service is the Auckland-based theatre organisation Massive Company. Development Manager Kate Rylatt notes "Something I've found that Funding HQ is really good at is helping you to diversify your portfolio. Jenni's supporting me to help try and grow our philanthropic giving - which is going to be really key to helping us get through the next few years.

"It's definitely a work in progress but when you do secure that type of support for your organisation, it's much more secure and long-lasting.

"Jenni is helping me make very authentic connections. It's not about just putting your hand out - she's only interested in building genuine relationships, helping to make the right connections with the right people who are interested in what we are doing. 

"No matter what stage you're at, or what level you're at, she's really good at helping guide you to where you need to be."

Giblin adds "It would also be fair to say that I am surprised by the number of organisations that solely rely on a small range of funders.  If there is one message I would like to share - it's the importance of having a diversified fundraising plan, including where possible a mix of central government, local government, business and philanthropic partnerships, trust funding and community fundraising." 

It's why one of the services provided includes an interactive database of the funds available to the arts in Aotearoa - as well as regular mentoring and support.

Among Giblin's hopes with Funding HQ's involvement in the arts is to build the sector's capability and confidence when it comes to fundraising - no matter where they're based. Whether you're on the funding train but want to do more with it, or have been out in the cold and are looking for that funding breakthrough.

"This is not a quick fix, for some organisations it may take time to become 'funder ready' and it does take time to build relationships but that investment in time can pay off later."

Expert insights

Giblin's bird's eye view has come with some important insights on what's missing from the arts and culture funding scene - and what can be done about a situation largely considered unstable and unsustainable.

"There is a strong reliance on application-based funding and many organisations fall into a cycle of 12-month applications, which makes it hard to plan 2-5 years out. It would be great if more funders could move to multi-year funding grants to provide some certainty."  

Giblin also points out more can be done to protect existing relationships - rather than just thinking about who else you can get on your sponsors' list. 

"Donors and partners are looking for mutually beneficial partnerships - and feedback I have received from funders is that they often get forgotten and are not looked after.  Donor management takes time but is a really important and necessary investment.  It's often much harder to get a new donor than it is to look after an existing one.

"I would also like to see Boards play a greater role in fundraising by bringing their networks to the table, assisting with introductions and helping to look after funders."

With the likes of BATS theatre, Tauranga Art Gallery, the Incubator and  SOUNZ among those working with Funding HQ, the opportunity for creative organisations to find their funding feet is already making an impact.

Written in partnership with Funding HQ - to find out more about their arts and culture fundraising platform, click here.