May 3, 2017
I began working in public museums in 1986. Funding then was almost wholly from local authority sources although, uniquely, TWAM (Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums) enjoyed a proportion of national funding in recognition of the greater than local role that it played and still plays. We employed no fundraisers and shop income was generally ‘nice to have’, providing a little ‘rainy day’ resource to supplement core income. We did build relationships with corporate sponsors and I worked with a local artist to create a mural, sponsored by British Gas, which is still in place at Wallsend nearly 30 years on. While fundraising wasn’t a big part of the job, public relations certainly was and I remember a day spent in the toilets at Wallsend Bus Station dressed as a ‘Midnight Mechanic’ to promote the ‘Loo of the Year Awards’ – Midnight Mechanics were the Victorian workers who cleaned out the ash closets in back lanes and removed the waste for fertiliser!
As director of one of the country’s largest regional museum and archive services, my job now is not only to be the chief executive but also the chief fundraising officer. We employ a professional team of four fundraisers and they work very closely with me and the senior management team to provide essential support for the organisation, from individual gifts in donation boxes to high net worth individuals. The local authorities who make up TWAM are essential to the organisation but, as a result of central government reductions, their contribution has reduced by 48 per cent since 2009. Arts Council England now provide 40 per cent of our funding and this has to be won competitively. We also manage museums for Newcastle University, supporting teaching and research excellence and helping draw in research funding. Our work is assisted by a brilliant independent fundraising trust and our trustees, all volunteers, directly support our fundraising activity. We are currently recruiting for two new trustees and a chair for the fundraising trust and I am really keen to hear from anyone who might be interested in these roles and in supporting our work. Our other income sources are now diverse and include consultancy earned through helping Chinese museums become more entrepreneurial.
TWAM has tremendous support from the local authorities of the region but pressures on public expenditure mean that this investment will inevitably decline. We know how much our users value the services we provide and that they recognise the ‘cost of loss’ – what it would be like if organisations like ours weren’t there. We are therefore working with as many of our audiences and stakeholders as possible to convert visitors to stakeholders to financial supporters. We use techniques such as crowd funding and text giving alongside the traditional fundraiser’s bucket. While traditionally, donation boxes were the recipient of small change, many people – particularly the millennial generation – don’t carry cash and rely on card or phone to pay. We have also just relaunched our Corporate Membership scheme – I am keen to talk to any businesses who would like to find out how we can work together.
Durham studies manager, Durham City Council
Assistant director, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums
Director, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums