Life after funding cuts

rob-hardy-96x96Rob Hardy is our fundraising manager. He helps NCVO to develop and fund a range of projects to support voluntary organisations. Rob has previously worked in the arts and in the young people’s sector.

In March my colleague Ros Jenkins blogged about ‘lean methodologies’ – creating more value for customers with fewer resources. It’s an approach often used by business and industry, but rarely used in the voluntary sector. It got Ros thinking about whether lean could be used to achieve what she felt was the holy grail of fundraising: integrating and embedding sustainable funding so that raising money happens alongside, and in harmony with, the rest of the organisation’s work.

It’s an interesting question which will come up at NCVO’s Evolve conference in June where Jonathan Petherbridge, Creative Director at London Bubble, will share his experience of turning around the organisation’s funding and achieving greater sustainability.

London Bubble’s experience

In 2008, London Bubble Theatre Company was one of many arts organisations that lost regular Arts Council funding – in their case £420,000, which represented over half of the company’s annual income. Six months later, London Councils discontinued its annual grant of nearly £90k. In less than a year London Bubble had lost 79% of its average annual funding. They didn’t think they’d be able to continue.

A new business model

Despite the scale of the cuts, London Bubble still exists today, although it’s not the same company that it was. It considered five alternative business models, opting for one it calls Creative Theatre, which is centred on doing more participatory work and less performance work, resulting in its activities becoming cheaper and less time-consuming. It also reduced its catchment area from 17 to three London boroughs, and now works with fewer people. As a result, it can focus on the quality of the work and the relationship with its audiences – rather than the value of its ‘products’.

Sustainability doesn’t begin with money, but with planning

Despite these fundamental changes, the London Bubble is almost back to its pre-cuts turnover. Subsidy remains an important part of its income, but it comes in from more sources, while earned income has grown dramatically as a result of some innovative approaches.

Jonathan has some fascinating insights into how Bubble has achieved this. His point is that evolution needs:

  • time
  • firm foundations
  • a clear understanding of your values and ‘what you’re about’
  • the ability to becoming more ‘business like’ (anathema to many charities)
  • assets, in their widest sense, that can be built on and made the most of.

London Bubble’s experience of coping with significant funding cuts and developing new business models will resonate with many organisations in the sector facing similar challenges. It hasn’t been plain sailing, and there have been numerous bumps along the way, but the fact they’re still here offers learning and hope for all of us.
Perhaps they’ve even achieved Ros’ holy grail of fundraising.

Want to hear more?

We’d love you to join us at NCVO’s Evolve conference in June, where Jonathan Petherbridge, Creative Director at London Bubble, will share his experience in the practical learning workshop ‘From deficit to surplus: how to turn around your organisation’s funding and finance’ (P4).

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