Fundraising and Storytelling: Telling the Right Story
15th Jun 2021
(This blog has been written by Tom, our new Head of Development.)
I am both a writer and a fundraiser. A lot of people recoil when I tell them that, in general artists don’t like fundraising. A lot of people do it as a practicality, and some people even get good at it, but I don’t think many self-producing artists would say it’s a passion.
But, they’re not so different. Arts fundraising is the art of telling the right story to the right people. I say that as if it’s simple, which of course it isn’t. In reality we tell these stories through alien languages like impact data and engagement statistics, and the people we have to tell them to are wrapped in piles of admin and emails. But, I do think good fundraisers are good storytellers.
We understand a lot of the world through the narratives we’re exposed to. If I look at the memories I have of my life, I’ve neatly arranged a lot of them in narrative structures I’m familiar with. We’re swimming in stories most of the time. This is where the “life imitates art” or “art imitates life” debate comes from. Life and art are in this constant dance with imitating each other and it’s difficult to get in the middle sometimes. This means, when you’re writing a funding application, funders understanding it through the lens of story, they’re using other terms but they’re looking for the story of your project.
Writers, and especially playwrights, have this immense ability to use narrative to make people believe in something that actually isn’t there. I don’t think this comes as news but theatre is nearly entirely fake, we dress up and pretend to be people we’re not and we’re really good at getting people to believe it. I did the Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy Fellowship in 2020 and it helped me really understand that fundraising is the same thing. The majority of the work of fundraising is to get the donor – who might be a funding body or an individual – to believe in the reality you’re creating for them.
This I why, when we talked about how I would fit into the Stockroom picture it felt really normal to suggest I lead this dual life of writing plays and fundraising applications.
As a company, in the middle of a pandemic, we set up a salaried writer’s room for theatre writers. As far as I know it’s the first time it’s happened on this scale in the UK and with the pandemic to contend with, it feels like a huge achievement. This means that our salaried team are a company of artists. We’ve always understood the value of having artists at the centre of all of our processes. We’ve created this sustainable financial structure, which allows the team to be both administrator and artist.
The reason it’s so important that fundraising is included in this is because we are the people that move money in and around our industry and the economic shape of what we do is heavily influenced by fundraisers. Once companies have a dream budget for a project, it’s often a fundraiser who makes tweaks to ensure it’s understood by a funder. Fundraisers are the people who tell the story of the art we make to the people with the money.
When fundraisers are also artists, it means that the story we tell is one that has a deep, authentic understanding of the art itself. It means we can occupy both those spaces of advocating for the art and advocating for the funds. It means artists are telling the story of the art to the people with the money, and this means they’re getting a story that’s gone through less filters.
I’m a writer and a fundraiser, some people might recoil at that, but not at Stockroom. During the pandemic we’ve re-built ourselves with writers and artists at our centre both ideologically and financially, and after a year where we’ve seen so many creatives forced out the industry it feels like this is the kind of work we need to see more of.
We are trying to tell the right story, to the right people but we’re also trying to make sure it’s told by the right people.
Tom will transition over into being our Head of Development while wrapping up projects he is currently involved with. You can find out more about his writing work here or book his show “Can You See Into a Black Hole?” running outdoors in Covent Garden here.