Approach sponsors with pride, not cap in hand

Arts organisations have plenty to offer sponsors, so they should be confident about asking for backing, says Dan Harding

Like other festivals up and down the UK, Wise Words Festival, which presents storytelling and poetry in Canterbury works on a small budget. We often rely on goodwill, in-kind support and enthusiasm before breaking even and (perish the thought!) making a profit.

As a community-engaging project, we have a dynamic on-the-street presence across the festival weekend, during which performers and street-slam poets can vocally advertise the festival’s sponsors to the assembled crowds.

What we’re interested in is going beyond simply offering a logo on the printed page, a small printed presence on publicity materials or tucked away on a later page in a festival brochure (although that is important, too).

I often sense that arts organisations feel they should approach potential sponsors cap in hand, clutching their begging bowls and being grateful for any largesse that is thrown their way.

But this needs to change; the arts can offer a rich and varied benefit to supporters that is creative, engaging, and tailored to the needs or the expectations of the company. Performers can get management teams or company staff thinking and working in innovative, practical ways – ways that are unusual and non-traditional, perhaps, but all the more interesting for that.

Performer and audiences at Wise Words © Peter Cook
Performer and audiences at Wise Words © Peter Cook

We need to be approaching investors with confidence and pride in the experiences and benefits we can offer them, not cowering and looking earnestly grateful for even the smallest offering.

In our case, we need to remember that we’re an exciting, engaging festival that brings unique cultural events to the area and that can offer the same to potential investors.

Arts organisations and festivals are collaborative, innovative, questing, and always looking to develop, to break new ground, to reach out and engage new audiences – all important skills and strengths that can be shared with investors, supporters, and backers.

Cap in hand? Not any more. This is a call to action.

Dan Harding is deputy director of music at the University of Kent, and is part of the Wise Words team. The festival runs from 4-6 April. This post originally appeared on the Wise Words blog.