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Conversations with Silvia Melchior, Head of Individual Giving at the English National Ballet.
By Alexia CASANOVA
We are only a month away from the Culture Business Conference in New York. As a taster for the conversations to come, we thought we’d interview a few of our talented speakers. We talked to Silvia Melchior, Head of Individual Giving at the English National Ballet about engaging patrons and helping them to focus on philanthropy rather than benefits. Here are some of her tips about successful individual giving strategies.
Focus on what works
When I asked Silvia about ENB’s main challenges regarding fundraising, she immediately replied “Not having access to our booking data”. Like many other touring institutions, ENB has no official venue. The dance company tours in various theatres who have control over ticketing and data which makes it extremely difficult to develop low-level individual giving. “For this reason, we strategically have to focus on the Patrons scheme (individuals giving between £1200 to £10000 a year) and major donors as the return on investment is higher”.
Invest in what you have
“I think it makes a lot of sense to invest in keeping the supporters you already have; more so than in trying to find new people,” confides Silvia. For her, this is a crucial, yet often overlooked, approach to effective fundraising. She adds: “I have seen organizations put a lot of effort into finding new blood, at the risk of neglecting those donors [they] already have; but actually, the people supporting you now are the ones who are most likely to develop into bigger donors or leave a legacy for you in the future.” Working local is also an excellent way to build a solid base of donors. Silvia and her team will soon face a new challenge as ENB will be relocating from Kensington (West London) to Canning Town in East-London in 2019. “We need to find out as much as possible about our future new neighbors so we can structure our schemes around things like: what time do these people finish work? What sort of events are they interested in?”
Engage your patrons
“It’s not enough to just get somebody to give once; you then need to make an effort to really engage them or you will lose them in the long run,” says Silvia. Donors enjoy seeing the results of their gifts. Alongside their regular giving scheme, English National Ballet also launches regular appeals for things like pointe shoes or talent development. “We also encourage people to back a specific production,” explains Silvia. She adds that giving supporters access to behind-the-scenes action is also a wonderful way of engaging people: “we really try to bring them into the creative process so they get to know the choreographers, they get to know the people working on the piece, they see the dancers in rehearsal.”
Philanthropy over benefits
We mentioned that offering behind the scenes access to your patrons is a great way of engaging them. Most institutions offer benefits to their donors, but Silvia warns us against focusing too much on the freebies and VIP perks, especially if your list of patrons is growing. “When you set up a scheme, if you focus too much on the benefits side of the deal and on what people get back rather than getting them to think about what they are doing for the organization […] I think you get yourself in a situation where it’s really hard to change them back to thinking philanthropically,” she explains. “When I joined we had about 70 patrons we now have 170. We found that we had to restructure the scheme to accommodate the larger numbers and might need to take some of the benefits away or offer them differently. This is quite a hard thing to do if people have been focusing on getting those benefits in the first place.”
Silvia Melchior will be speaking in more details about philanthropically-driven giving models and new approaches to fundraising appeals at the Culture Business conference on the 28th of June. If you wish to start a conversation with Silvia during the conference, it might help to know that besides individual giving and ballet she is a fervent fan of Japanese animation.