​It takes chutzpah, nous and planning

Raising philanthropic funds has become a highly sophisticated exercise in marketing, relationship building, strategic communication and business planning.

​It takes chutzpah, nous and planning


It can appear daunting for smaller organisations without the resources to employ dedicated staff, but as the Queensland Symphony Orchestra found in 2011, anything is possible with a bit of chutzpah, nous and planning.

In a fascinating exploration of philanthropic fund raising in an arts organisation, Board Connect hosted a webinar in early April, with speakers Greg Wanchap, QSO chair, and Frankie Airey, director of Philanthropy Squared.

Winding back the clock, in 2010 QSO was faced with having to leave its ABC-owned building in West End, where it had spent many years.

It negotiated a 50-year lease in a new ABC establishment at South Bank—a move that was going to cost the company a minimum of $14 million.

With $12 million coming from federal and state governments, that left a $2 million shortfall for the orchestra to find, plus a target of up to $2 million more for fit-out and other moving costs.

It was a major ask for the company, with little time to come up with the funds.

According to Greg Wanchap, the QSO was inexperienced in raising large amounts for specific purposes.

‘Our database of donors was also inadequate, so the board itself took on the task of raising $2 million as a minimum.’

The first board meeting to discuss the fundraising must have been a revelation for everyone concerned. As Greg said, members felt very confronted by the task and well out of their comfort zone; they were apprehensive; and they demonstrated the’ very human’ fear of failure.

‘But it was not optional—if we wanted a new home we just had to get on with it.’

They recognised that they needed expert guidance, and so hired Frankie Airey as a consultant in 2011.

Frankie has a substantial background in philanthropy for arts organisations, having worked with the Sydney Opera House, The Australian Ballet and many other major performing arts companies. She is also on the board of Malthouse Theatre.

The first process was to map the QSO against critical success factors for raising funds. ‘I’m a hasten-slowly sort of person,’ Frankie said, ‘so I thought we needed to take stock of where exactly the organisation was.’

For example, she interviewed staff and the board to find out how well they knew their audience and networks.

Not well enough as it turned out.

The database of ticket buyers was relatively comprehensive, showing where they came from and how many tickets they bought, but it had no depth of information.

‘We didn’t know anything about them,’ Frankie said. Any personal information that did exist about ticket buyers was in the heads of the orchestra’s management and board.

‘We had to download it into the system, ensuring the information was held corporately,’ Frankie explained.

A communications audit revealed that key messages needed to be crafted so that potential donors understood the context.

Frankie said it’s a common fundraising failing: ‘We tell donors what we need the money for, but we don’t tell them why we need it, or why it’s important.’

The ‘why’ is explained in the Case for Support—a document which not only sets out the facts but appeals to the heartstrings of potential donors.

As Greg said, the messaging in the Case for Support was essential and was used repeatedly to connect with new donors.

‘For example, we didn’t go out saying “we need a new building”, we went to market saying “we need a home”.’

Getting the messaging right was the easy part of the steep philanthropy learning curve—approaching potential donors was another matter.

‘I was quite confronted by Frankie using terms such as “qualified prospects”, “speed dating” and “courtship”. But they were in fact the perfect terms, in the context of what we were doing,’ Greg said.

‘Qualified prospects’ were the potential donors that showed the inclination, not just those that had the capacity to give.

The orchestra discovered in testing the pulse of the state’s philanthropists, both through the focus group dinners it held and the myriad of informal chats, drinks and dinners, that donors could more readily understand why they might give to a hospital, but not to an orchestra.

‘We had to demonstrate our value so that people would make the commitment we wanted them to make.

‘We discovered we were the best kept secret in the state.’

The board had to get over its reticence—and Frankie, in a skills transfer and mentoring exercise, guided Greg and other board members in solicitation processes.

‘For example, we rehearsed how to ask for money so that when you get into a room with potential donors, it’s a comfortable competent process.’

Being transparent and open with prospects was essential, according to Greg, and was made easier when you knew exactly what you were asking for.

Target dollar amounts were set out in the indicative gifts table—essentially, the donations wish list—and while the reality didn’t quite match the wish, it gave the organisation actual numbers to strive towards.


Gift type

No. required

Amount $ (cumulative)

Percentage of target


Leaderships gifts (5)

1 x $750,000

1 x $500,000

3 x $250,000




Major gifts (18)

8 x $100,000

10 x $50,000



Trusts/Fdns Corporates

Key gifts (36)

16 x $25,000

20 x $10,000




Community gifts (50)

50 x $2,000



Harold Mitchell, arts philanthropist, chair of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, chair of the Review of Private Sector Support for the Arts 2011 and author of the subsequent report, was first to donate a leadership gift of $500,000.

‘Achieving two gifts of that size really gave us the momentum to move forward,’ Greg said.

By the time of the launch in October 2012, the self-styled ‘campaign cabinet’ had achieved 50 per cent commitment of the $2 million needed—an essential position to be in, according to Frankie.

‘You absolutely have to get their commitment before going public. You don’t want to go public for a $4 million campaign with only $50,000 in the bag.’

The launch, with its portable EFT machine and donations form, triggered another $250,000—but the telemarketing campaign that followed it was a disappointment, probably because ‘it wasn’t personal enough’.

Interestingly, of the 223 donors, 17 of them gave 57 per cent of the $3.2 million raised in the capital campaign.

What the company learnt from the exercise was life-altering for the orchestra. It now has the skills, experience and knowledge to tackle any future fundraising campaign.

According to Greg, strong, committed leadership and an urgent, compelling story are absolute givens for success.


Major Matters, Newsletter - Publications