Professional Development Spotlight: The Cultural Development Collective

What organizations help you connect with fellow fundraising professionals in your community? This is one of the first questions I ask fundraisers when I’m traveling to a new city, as I find that their answers give a fascinating insight into the state of the profession in that part of the world. In Sydney, Australia, an organization I heard mentioned repeatedly was the Cultural Development Collective (CDC). I spoke with one of its coordinators, Kirstin Mattson, to learn more.

The CDC is a networking group for development professionals (fundraising and sponsorship) working for cultural organizations in New South Wales. Its purpose is to encourage sharing of knowledge across the industry and to foster peer support. “The arts are thriving in Australia, and philanthropy for the arts is growing immensely,” explains Mattson. Yet, a lot of the information out there about philanthropy and fundraising is targeted toward education, health or social services, sectors that have a longer tradition of fundraising in Australia. As arts and culture fundraising grows, having a group focused on our unique issues is important.”

According to the Australia Council for the Arts, 98% of Australians engage with the arts. More than half of the residents of New South Wales (NSW) attended live music in 2016, 45% attended visual arts events, 41% attended theatre, and 33% attended dance. And while public support continues to be an important funding source for arts and cultural organizations across Australia, private support is on the rise. A recent study by the Australia Government and Creative Partnerships Australia reported that private sector support for the arts has grown by at least 20% over the last six years.

As arts organizations build and grow their fundraising programs, they need to recruit, train, and retain skilled staff, and the CDC helps fill this need through programs, networking, and mentoring. The coordinators invite anyone in the membership to help plan the two to three programs they offer each year. And as Mattson explains, these programs are diverse: “We have input from everybody on all levels, both new professionals with youthful energy and professionals who have been in the field a long time and know everyone. Because our planning sessions are open to anybody, the sessions really reflect what people are interested in.”

The beginning and end of each session includes ample time for members to network, socialize, and engage in open discussion. “The programs are really informal,” says Mattson. “A good portion is just people sharing their experiences or asking questions. It’s a space where people who have just started out can feel comfortable asking a question, and it’s just as welcoming for someone with years of experience. I see that unstructured time as equally as important as the content, if not more. It’s through those personal conversations that you find a friend you can call when you have a tricky question about tax benefits or need a calligrapher for an event.”

Past session topics have included capital campaigns, bequests/legacy gifts, and corporate partnerships.  Mattson hopes that as the group grows, its LinkedIn presence will become a forum to continue discussion of these ideas beyond the in-person events and to reach those working regionally who might not be able to attend events.

The CDC also has a long-term goal of growing the fundraising talent pool in and beyond Sydney. Mattson believes that much of this talent is already present: “Most people in the field today got here by happenstance. I meet so many great people at art organizations who could be excellent development professionals, but they don’t even know it is a career path.” Given the size of the arts community in NSW—40% of Australia’s total creative industries workforce—potential fundraisers are there; they just need nurturing.

The CDC also provides a forum to discuss common challenges, such as “tall poppy syndrome,” where some philanthropists are reluctant to draw attention to themselves. Mattson shared her own experience with this phenomenon: “When I moved to Australia in 2011, many donors wanted to have a low profile. There has been a definite change, but there can still be some challenges if you want to talk about the great gifts your organization is receiving and inspire others to contribute.”

Fundraisers also struggle with a public perception that giving to the arts is only for the wealthy. “While it’s great that gifts from the big donors have been increasing in recent years, we also need to encourage a culture of philanthropy broadly in our organizations and communities,” explains Mattson.

Changing attitudes is no simple task, and it is certainly not one that a fundraiser at a single organization can do in isolation. It takes a community working together. Mattson cited an example discussed at a recent philanthropy conference, “Slip-Slop-Slap,” a public education campaign for reducing sun exposure through slipping on a shirt, slopping on sunscreen, and slapping on a hat. “It really caught people’s attention and moved them to do something to prevent skin cancer,” says Mattson. “The need was raised for something similar to wake people up to charitable giving and help them understand that it’s for everybody.”

The CDC in NSW is led by three coordinators: Kirstin Mattson, Head of Campaign at The Art Gallery of New South Wales; Rebecca Warren, Major & Legacy Gifts Manager at Sydney Theatre Company; and Sally Crawford, Donor Insights & Operations Manager at Sydney Theatre Company. There are also chapters in Victoria, Australia Capital Territory, and Western Australia. For more information about the CDC, visit their LinkedIn page.

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