Overcoming barriers to fundraising (if you're not born/raised in privilege)

Overcoming barriers to fundraising (if you're not born/raised in privilege)

Poppy Burton-Morgan. Photo by Anna Hammersley

by Poppy Burton-Morgan 

Poppy Burton-Morgan is a freelance theatre and opera director and Artistic Director of Metta Theatre - a midscale touring company. She also works as a professional fundraiser both commercially and on a pro bono basis for emerging artists under represented in our sector. 

Date Published: 23 June 2017


Ironically the majority of statutory funders of subsidised theatre recognise and want to address the inequalities and lack of representation (diversity) within our sector. Unfortunately - as many of them recognise - the funding structures of their organisations often help perpetuate those inequalities with application forms and expectations around language and form that privilege a certain type of education/language/class/gender. Inevitably this privileges those who come from privilege. But frustratingly for those within the funding agencies - and for us all - making changes to those systems and structures can literally take years.

So what exactly are these barriers? The format of almost all funding applications is essentially essay based - a thesis on why your project deserves funding. This disproportionately privileges University graduates - Oxbridge in particular - as those students are trained in an analytically rigorous style that engenders a certain confidence (not always truly felt) born out of having to verbally argue such theses twice a week for three years. That training exists to furnish individuals with the skills to verbally articulate an argument confidently and concisely - which is exactly what funding applications require. 

How do we overcome these barriers? As an artist you can consciously learn this language of privilege - the art of essay writing takes time but everyone can train themselves to replace 'I would like to try and explore XYZ' with 'I will do XYZ.' Beyond education - linguistic choices are often gendered - women tend to use less forceful language and this can read as a less confident argument. Our funding structures (arguably all power structures) favour confidence over hesitancy - but that too can be trained and re-learned. Research the current buzzwords - it’s easier than it sounds - all funders have information on their website stating their priorities. Parrot their priorities back at them but also parrot their specific language: legacy, narrative, resilience, sustainability. ACE now prefer the term public investment to subsidy, ‘diversity’ is on its way to becoming ‘representation’.

If you are one of the lucky few who have benefitted from these privileges then use your skills and experience to support others. It’s a simple choice - almost all of us can give an hour a week to support an artist with their first ACE application, and spend one less hour on Facebook. You don’t even need to know the current fundraising jargon (though of course it helps) - most arts professionals can recognise the linguistic differences between confident and hesitant writing. Crucially we have to recognise that we are not in competition with each-other - our sector (arguably any sector) benefits from the widest range of talent, and it also benefits from having that talent refreshed. If you are an artist - helping your peers is not going to stop you getting the money - it is rare that you’ll be competing literally over the same pot of money in the same funding round - and more importantly such a belief system promotes division and isolationism, which is not productive for either the individual artist or for our sector. And it’s impossible to predict how such offers of help may help you further down the line when favours might be returned in ways you least expect.

Learn the system to change the system - and it will always be easier to effect change from within. For anyone actually literally working within the funding system - one thing that can make a huge difference is creating the option for video applications. This opens up the process to those whose passion can be felt in the force of their expression rather than their choice of words - especially relevant for artists working in non-text based mediums like music, dance and circus. 


It serves us all to make these funding systems genuinely open to all - open to the best ideas and best talent rather than simply the most compellingly written argument. And, as ever, it is within everyone of us to be the change.

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