As part of my MA in Arts Management, Policy and Practice, I have been lucky enough to complete an ICP work placement within the Development Department of the Royal Exchange Theatre (RET). RET produces award-winning theatre for Manchester, alongside an extensive range of learning and education projects for a wide variety of participants. Performances take place in a 700 seat main house theatre called the ‘module’, due to its free-standing nature within the larger Exchange building, alongside a smaller, intimate studio space.

The Exchange building is constantly buzzing with people, visiting the commercial outlets which surround the module, having something to eat in one of the bars or restaurants, or taking in part in a backstage tour. The grade II listed building is truly impressive and you can still see the pricing board for the last day of trading, left over from the buildings’ original purpose as a commodities exchange.

The Module at RET
Sitting outside the Module with Development Staff

RET is a National Portfolio Organisation (NPO), which means it receives three year grants, made up of public funds, from Arts Council England. The role of the development team is to support the theatre’s work by fundraising additional income from private sources, including individuals, trusts and foundations and businesses. There has been a lot of coverage in the news recently about funding cuts in the creative industries. Not surprisingly, this has formed a key discussion point throughout my MA and will probably remain one of the central issues in the arts for many years to come. The best thing about the work placement is observing how organisations like RET are navigating funding cuts in the ‘real world’. I’ve gained lots of insights and experiences, which will no doubt help me when I enter professional employment.

Before I started the placement, I naively assumed that fundraising was simply asking for money, but I soon learnt that successful development relies on a more complicated process called the ‘donor cycle’. The cycle consists of several stages, including researching potential donors, building relationships with them and nurturing the connection, before making a well-timed and appropriate ‘ask’. If an organisation were to simply approach any individual, trust or business and ask for a set amount of money without considering this process, the organisation would be very unlikely to succeed and soon gain an unfavourable reputation.

I’ve had the opportunity to complete several different tasks throughout my placement, which have all supported different stages of the donor cycle. The first was producing the latest edition of the ‘Backstage’ magazine, designed to give individual donors all the latest news from the theatre before it becomes part of the public domain. This exclusive content helps to maintain positive relationships with donors, who are given a special insight into RET’s work. I was also able to formulate a trust application, which has been successful and will be a great addition to my CV. Finally, I’ve conducted a research project into Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which is designed to form successful relationships with local businesses. This has been very challenging, but hopefully the research report will help to inform the new CSR model currently under development at RET.

All the staff at RET have been really supportive during my placement and it’s clear that this dynamic and exciting arts venue will continue to serve audiences for many years to come. I look forward to developing the skills and knowledge I’ve learnt, both in other areas of the MA and beyond.