As a student on the MA Arts Management, Policy and Practice at the University of Manchester, I was fortunate enough to do a work placement within the Development Department of the Royal Exchange Theatre (RET). This experience initiated a ‘fundraising journey’ for me and inspired my professional future. During the time of my placement, RET was in the process of reviewing fundraising efforts in the corporate sector. As a National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) RET receives a considerable amount of secured funding per year. Nevertheless, with continued cuts on public subsidy, the organisation relies on diverse income streams with individual giving, grant funding from trusts and foundations and business investment working alongside statutory support. A particular challenge emerged for the organisation in responding to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), a business practice that allows companies to demonstrate social responsibility by contributing finance and skills to ‘good causes’. Therefore, my placement had a clear focus to examine the fundraising strategy in this context and to make recommendations. This project turned out highly versatile including various forms of practice-related research and interviews with representatives of arts organisations, business corporations and Arts & Business. The outcome was the report “Royal Exchange Theatre – Arts Corporate Funding in the Context of CSR” with potentially great impact on fundraising practices within RET.

In the first stages of my research, I reviewed RET’s history and profile. The theatre first opened its doors in 1976 and has since been a seminal presence in the city. It presents a varied programme of classical pieces with a modern edge as well as experimental productions. Hosting the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting, the theatre supports emerging talent and nurtures new writing. In addition to the artistic programme, a wide range of participation and learning activities designed for all ages and backgrounds provide entry points to the theatre on a wide scale. Based in what used to be one of the world’s centres for cotton trade until the Second World War, RET preserves the original character of the building and enlivens the historical space in the centre of the city. All these aspects informed my thinking and demonstrate RET’s ‘case for support’ with such issues as place making, artistic excellence and audience engagement emerging. In a second step, I examined competitor’s strategies in the area of corporate fundraising and specifically in relation to CSR. This entailed online research on arts organisations’ funding schemes as well as interviews with representatives of HOME, Manchester Art Gallery and The Lowry. I felt great responsibility in representing my host organisation in the most appropriate way and gained profound insight from engaging directly with practitioners. A third step involved research on business companies and strategies of giving, especially in the context of CSR. Conducting interviews with representatives of PricewaterhouseCoopers, Bruntwood and Arts & Business, I gained further first-hand perspectives and developed a better understanding of what companies seek when partnering with the arts.

The different stages of my research project enabled me to build an understanding of the fundraising process. I became aware that a clear strategic position, analysis of competitors’ efforts and a review of the target market influence the planning and execution of fundraising activities. With little previous knowledge, the placement within the Development Department at RET was a unique opportunity for professional development. The expertise and dedication of the team motivated me to an extent that I discovered a professional future for myself in the field and applied for the Arts Fundraising Fellowship, a collaboration between Cause4 and the University of Leeds. The ICP work placement thus helped me acquire professional knowledge and skills, grow a network of contacts and brought orientation for my career choice.