Consider fundraising a creative process and don't fear the pros, says a rookie who went from £2,000 to over £100,000
In the summer of 2013 I had a daily ritual: alarm clock at 4am; then three hours spent huddled at my "workstation" (sofa plus laptop) before the kids woke up. This was the reality of fundraising: a routine and a dogged determination to secure the funds to create and tour the chamber opera Tokaido Road. Oh, and a hell of a lot of coffee.
How much does an opera cost? I'm a newbie fundraiser whose previous experience consisted of a couple of small in-house university grants totalling £2,000. Fundraising on an operatic scale seems, in hindsight, more than a slightly ambitious undertaking, but this was the project of a lifetime and a curious balance of naivety and belief got me through.
Tokaido Road, composed by Nicola LeFanu, is a multimedia composite of artforms. It's a 50 minute piece for three singers, a chamber ensemble and a mime. I have a note in my phone from January 2012; it says: "Budget for an opera – circa 20 thousand?"
That was steep learning curve number one. Multiply my initial "quote" by ten and you're a little closer. Bring on the value of in-kind support and people who go the extra mile and you could easily multiply it by 15.
It's a huge pot of money for a small chamber ensemble to find, but after 12 months of blood, sweat and tears, we had a fully funded opera from many sources: an Arts Council England award, eight trusts and foundations, two private and one corporate donation, box office contributions from festivals and an enormous amount of in-kind help (rehearsal space, technical support, facilities, instrument loan).
The steep learning curves continued throughout 2013 and 2014. I've engaged in research, conversations, procedures and processes that it's fair to say are not normally part of a clarinet player's daily grind. I've also been genuinely surprised at how creative fundraising and project management can be. So from a former rookie fundraiser, here are my top five tips.
1. Consider fundraising a creative act
Try to embrace fundraising as a creative and essential part of the development of your project. The very act of raising the money shaped and informed Tokaido Road. Every single application forced me to place the project in a slightly different context and focus on new elements; the project was quite a different product by the time it was fully funded, with a tighter, more focused, determined character, matured by the process of fundraising (and finer for it). Support comes from all sorts of areas – that's creative thinking in itself.
2. Don't fear the pros
Artists see the world differently. The Arts Council maintains that some of its strongest applications come from practitioners, not professional fundraisers. Expertise in relevant areas certainly helps, but in my experience it's about knowing when you've got an idea worth pursuing and whether you've got the means and the passion to carry it out.
3. Don't be vague
I'm fortunate to come from a family of scientists, so I've had some good training when it comes to reshaping my naturally chaotic thinking into precise points. It's sometimes hard and unnatural for artists to evaluate their work or put numbers against something empirical, but it can be a useful exercise in itself to make yourself think abut your project in less familiar contexts.
4. Social media is your best friend
I signed up to Twitter 15 months ago and I've never looked back. For me, this was vital for staying up to date, even a step ahead of the game. I followed funding bodies, festivals, venues; I found out who was funding and promoting what. I read articles on funding, trends, audiences and discovered inspirational people who combined business with art. It's all about knowing your domain and how your project fits into it.
Fundraising is immensely tough and dominates your life. Every person, product, business and scheme becomes a potential source of income. Your mind is a vast spreadsheet as you subconsciously create mental budgets for anything you encounter. Prose exists in measured units (usually 250 word boxes) and you become adept at reducing the lyricism and poetry of a beautiful idea into these empty spaces.
I had many setbacks: 62 corporate letters, no replies; 5 unsuccessful applications. But I learned things that don't work out as planned can often take a project in a new and surprising direction.
Most of all, I think it was my musician's background that made me view fundraising not just as a means to an end, but as a creative journey of its own right. Like many practitioners, I'm deeply curious and have always been more fascinated by process than product. I could accept there would be periods of real difficulty, that logistics and the art itself would need to be examined and scrutinised, but I enjoyed watching it grow.
Raising these funds has been one of the most intense and challenging periods of my life. And yes, I'd do it all again.
Kate Romano is the project lead for Tokaido Road, which premieres at Cheltenham Festival on Sunday 6 July 2014