Image courtesy of National Theatre at Home
The National Theatre
Focusing on impact to reach beyond traditional audiences
Chris Murphy, Director of Development at the National Theatre, explains how More Partnership helped to provide the foundations for a successful £40m fundraising campaign.
What was your challenge?
At the National Theatre we had a great track record of fundraising success within the UK arts space, but we wanted to explore the potential beyond that. I wanted us to learn from other sectors, especially universities and charities who are particularly good at thinking more broadly about how their work fits in to bigger societal issues. I wanted us to explore how we might talk about our work in a different way to potentially attract philanthropists who aren’t necessarily avid theatre-goers.
I trust them and their reputation. I’m a big believer in learning from other areas, so More’s experience of working in different sectors is a real plus point. It’s easy to be insular and assume you’re doing a great job, but we wanted to be challenged in an appropriate and unthreatening way, and to hear best practice from elsewhere.
What did the More team do?
The team – Rebecca and Rachel – had more than 50 conversations with key senior staff, stakeholders and donors, including testing a draft narrative with friends and potential donors. They provided an independent and external viewpoint informed by their experience, and were able to ask the probing questions that we fundraisers really wanted to ask.
What made More’s approach distinctive?
They are all exceptional listeners. They had a brief, but it felt like for every person they were meeting they really invested the time to understand what we wanted to get out of that mutual conversation. It was so helpful. They also do a brilliant job of winning trust and confidence internally, demonstrating their experience and knowledge, and getting people onside. This is so important, as we rely on the goodwill and effort of senior colleagues across the organisation who we need at times to go the extra mile and probably do stuff that might not be in their job description. Having them on board and understanding why fundraising is important is really crucial.
What were the big insights for you?
The key one was that the National Theatre needed to have a bigger focus on impact and outcomes. We have a core audience of people who like coming to the theatre and who trust us and value the work that we do. But beyond that how do we frame our impact on society, and our work with young people, schools and communities? How do we talk quantitatively and qualitatively about our longitudinal impact on a particular young person or group of young people? We needed much more rigour in our outcomes to bring us in line with the way charities and universities speak. The process also gave a clear steer that we needed to simplify the case for support. More Partnership really grounded us in what donors want to hear and reinforced that we’re writing a document for an external rather than internal audience.
What impact has this work had?
Well, our Chair said in a Board meeting that “More were worth every penny”. Their insights provided the foundation for a £40 million campaign which is on track to reach a successful conclusion in March 2022. We’ve gone from grossing £14 million a year to averaging £20 million a year during the two years of the campaign. More’s work meant that by the time we started conversations with donors we felt really informed about what ticked their boxes. This gave us a clear steer on where, and where not, to focus. An example would be, while environmental sustainability is an essential part of the business, it became clear in the discussions that it wasn’t an area that had a lot of short-term fundraising potential.
As part of the renewed focus on impact and outcomes, we’ve appointed a research specialist to help focus our efforts on evaluation and impact measurement. We can now confidently say that our brilliant National Theatre Collection library of plays is in 75% of UK state schools. Productions on the platform have been streamed over 1 million times by schools meaning it has become a vital resource to support creative learning in the classroom.
The work also prompted a revised suite of campaign themes which are more tightly focused on young people, communities, theatre makers and audiences. And that’s worked so well over the campaign period that we think we’ll likely continue with those pillars in our messaging for another year or two.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to get to know Chris and the team at this remarkable institution. We found that few organisations share the level of openness and desire to engage with philanthropy that we have experienced through our work together. We were also deeply impressed with the personal connection donors had with the National Theatre. They lived and breathed it, and it was part of their lives every day of the week. It is no surprise to us that the Theatre has been so successful in the two years since our review.
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