For many, the public sector represents the art world at its best: the highest standard of artworks in terms of quality and provenance, exhibition programmes of international note, and the work of world-renowned artists, curators and experts brought together in an accessible and affordable public format. If the essential emphasis of commercial art business is sales, its counterpart in the public sector is development. This week, we consider the various fundraising channels available to public arts organisations, and the roles available to those seeking a career in institutional development.


If the essential emphasis of commercial art business is sales, its counterpart in the public sector is development. Maintaining and conserving a permanent collection alongside the staging of ambitious exhibitions that often depend on the loan of high-profile artworks, international press campaigns, and extensive marketing and catalogue materials requires a constant drive to raise funds. Much as salespeople within commercial galleries work to sales targets, development teams and individuals will have annual fundraising targets – usually achieved by a strategic approach that covers all principal sources of support available to public and charitable institutions. In general, these fundraising channels are divided into three main areas covering the following key sources.

Grants, trusts and foundations are usually grouped together, and refer to statutory sources – arts councils, trusts, foundations, embassies and cultural institutes – that offer charitable grants, most often on a one-off basis, and usually as a result of an application process. Writing and presenting such applications requires a strategic approach that aligns the aims of a project with the aims and purposes of a particular trust or foundation, demonstrating shared and mutually beneficial objectives. Roles focussed on this area of development require excellent research, plus written and in-person communication skills to produce persuasive proposals, manage relationships with donor organisations and negotiate with them at a high level.


The area of corporate partnerships refers to relationships with other businesses whose support can include sponsorship, long-term collaborations and in-kind support (where commodities or services are offered in place of funds). Many museums and arts organisations will offer corporate membership programmes to a portfolio of companies who benefit from the cultural cachet of associating themselves with the arts as well as the advertising opportunities provided by events, exhibitions and the marketing materials that accompany them. While many arts organisations will partner with commercial arts businesses, luxury brands are also well-placed to provide in-kind sponsorship, and for banks and other financial bodies, supporting the arts represents an area of philanthropy that appeals to their client base and provides good PR. This area of fundraising requires a creative approach to collaboration, an understanding of commercial brands, and an ability to develop bespoke benefit packages that suit individual brands and client bases that are often outside the art world.

The last major source of funding is from individual donors – a small circle of wealthy patrons, and those who are members of the various “friends” schemes run by most institutions. These schemes typically offer tiers of membership, for which members pay an annual fee in return for exclusive access to special programmes of events, previews and tours. For many organisations, the bulk of individual donations may be comprised of a handful of UHNW philanthropists who are often patrons of numerous arts organisations, and whose gifts are major endowments. Working in this sector requires the ability and discretion to maintain close relationships with VIPs and ensure that fundraising opportunities are matched to their individual interests and preferences.

In summary, the majority of fundraising roles involve identifying and engaging with new fundraising prospects, researching, developing and negotiating proposals, and account managing a portfolio of important clients. While there are clear similarities in the process of fundraising across all channels, each presents a slightly different approach and matching skillset due to the nature of sponsors being targeted. The size and style of a development team within an arts organisation depends on its scale and remit. Museums and larger institutions often invest in a development team that assigns each funding channel to an individual manager, overseen by a Head of Development who works closely alongside directors and board members to define strategy across all sectors. Smaller foundations, charities and organisations, may favour a more streamlined approach that depends to a greater extent on just one or perhaps two funding channels.

For those wishing to embark on a career in the public sector, development roles can present an excellent means of making a meaningful contribution to the maintenance and growth of much-loved public organisations, as well as the opportunity to work at the very point at which public and private meet.


Vaclav Pluhar
Lizzie George