The donor friendzone, target pressure and other advice from artists who fundraise | Part 1

On a lovely summer day in December 2016 at the MPavilion in Melbourne, the ACF brought together artist, curator and writer Irene Barberis with co-founders of innovative classical music group anon., Thomas Lo and Nicole TJ, for a conversation on fundraising and the ACF.

In Part one of this discussion, Irene, Thomas and Nicole will discuss fundraising strategies and approaches.

ACF: Firstly, let’s talk about what your fundraising strategy was and continues to be.

Irene: I have an amazing story about how I got into fundraising.

Around 10 years ago, I invented this research centre called Metacentre and I knew it was a really good idea and I developed it and made sure that everything I did with it was as perfect as I could get it. I had never raised money before or thought about raising money but to do this particular project, I had to raise money. So I followed what I was told by the RMIT fundraising people and I ended up in Hong Kong, in a multi-storey building, in an interview with this gentlemen, asking for about $250K, which is what I wanted.

We sat in this room and he looked at my document and said ‘oh, this is just a small Melbourne thing’ and I said ‘no it’s not, it’s a small international project’ and he looked down and he said ‘but you’ve only asked me for $250,000, ask me for $500,000.’ And I said ‘$500,000’ and he said done. And then I walked out in about 3 minutes with over $600,000. That was the beginning of my fundraising.

So I am full of optimism when it comes to fundraising because you never know. What that taught me, and he was telling me as a top businessman, he was telling me to never go below what you feel you need. So my main strategy has been to go really high, make sure every aspect is as perfect as you can possibly get it, as known as you can possibly get it (because there are always unknowns thrown in there).

Thomas: Fundraising for us is something that is very new. I can’t confidently say that we have a long term strategy but we are definitely building towards one and so far we have had short term strategies focused towards a specific event or project that we have. The one that we ran earlier this year was targeted at a trip that we were doing to the states. It was an opportunity to present at TedX in the States but we also lined up masterclasses with the top schools in New York.

Similar to what Irene did, we set out a vision for the trip, what would we hope to achieve and where would the funds be targeted towards. Part of it was the performance, part of it was the education and masterclasses and part of it was travel.

One of the most frequent comments I receive is that artists are uncomfortable about asking, or don’t know how to ask. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Irene: My donor has become my friend. And this is what happens. When you do big projects, people realise that they are actually participating in the project, they are not just giving a little bit of money, they are actually becoming part of it, and in the end, they get excited and you find that people want to continue to give. By allowing people to give, it is actually benefiting people, not just the project, because it is allowing people who otherwise could not participate in arts projects to actually participate. If you begin to think like that, then you have a different relationship with people. You’re not just asking them for money, you’re allowing them to participate in a fantastic project. This is a slight shift, but it’s a big shift.

Thomas: It is more about how we create a community of people who value the stuff that we do.

Do you have any practical tips about continuing to engage with donors and keeping that relationship alive?

Irene: Most of my donors have become my friends, so we email. They are all interested in how the project is going. People write to me and ask where we are up to and I let them know. So I try and keep it, not on a business level, but as friends at this point.

Nicole: For us, Facebook and social media are definitely the most convenient for regular updates, on a daily or weekly basis. We also do monthly email newsletters and this reaches a slightly different audience.

All three of you have spoken about how your donors so far have been audiences and friends, have you used your fundraising campaign to engage with new donors and networks?

Irene: I have said that the ACF platform is like an old friend, everywhere I go with the Tapestry of Light, there it is. I am able to, no matter who it is, I introduce them to my ‘friend’. Until it is finished, that is the way I approach things.

Nicole: For us, we are always meeting new people and something like the ACF allows us a platform to easily get the campaign up. We use the ACF as an opportunity to reach out to new people that we have met but they have not necessarily been to a concert yet. For example, when we were running the ACF campaign this year we also did a showcase to support the end of the campaign and the start of the trip. We put on a small intimate event for about 40 people and that was an opportunity to share what we were going to do post-campaign.

I think a lot of people don’t realise just how much time and energy has to go into running a successful campaign, whether it is a shorter campaign like anon.’s or a longer one like Irene’s. 

Irene: I don’t have specific time set aside each week for fundraising. It is embedded into the project. Wherever I go and wherever I speak and however the project is developing, the campaign is embedded in there. So mine sort of comes and goes.

Thomas: We obviously did not know how hard it was. And this was despite the briefings that we went to beforehand and the advice that we got about daily commitment and planning. It was probably one of the hardest few weeks that we have had. Our pozible campaign lasted four weeks and our ACF campaign lasted two weeks. In some ways they were very different. There are always spikes – in the beginning everyone is really interested, and we had a good video to show and then it is about how we maintain that interest. Then at the end, there is another spike. For the ACF one, we didn’t really have that much time to plan, everything was sort of on the go. The execution was quite hectic.

Nicole: Despite the amount of planning and the expectations that you have beforehand, there is such a huge amount of pressure to hit the target. So when you are running the campaign, the target is always there, 24/7. And it just reminds you constantly that you have to do anything and everything that you can to get there. Flexibility and responsiveness is definitely the key to keep going.

Nicole and Thomas, you ran a really short, two week campaign. Do you think running a short campaign was the right decision and what lead you to that?

Nicole: Deadlines. We had a hard deadline of having to be in the States so everything worked backwards from there. We only found out six weeks before that deadline that we were going to the States. It started very naturally from there – how can we create a story around this? What is the value? What’s our vision?

After two weeks, we were creating the video in Tom’s garage. Every weekend there was a milestone that lead us to the project. Despite it being only a two week campaign, the lead up was a lot longer. I don’t know how different it would have been with more time, it just meant that with the shorter timeframe we had to be on the ball and things moved a lot quicker and we just had to make it happen.

You were just living and breathing the campaign for that two weeks.

Nicole: Correct!

To finish, what are the top three tips that you would share with other artists that are about to embark on their first fundraising campaign?


  • Be thorough in the preparation of the project;
  • Believe absolutely in the project and its benefits and;
  • Don’t aim too low. Those are the three things that will create a really good campaign.


  • Planning, absolutely. You have to make it your number one priority, especially if it is a shorter campaign.
  • It is living, breathing, believing that you need to get there at all costs and that is what will drive you there. There will be a number of times that you will feel like giving up, this will happen on a daily basis.
  • Think from your audience’s perspective, think why it would be relevant to them and why they would be interested.

Thomas: Think about what kind of value your donors will get out of supporting. Are they now a part of your group, will they grow with your group or are they just helping that specific project?

Thanks to Irene, Nicole and Thomas for taking the time to share their thoughts and insights into fundraising and campaigning through the ACF.

Keen to know more? Check out Part 2 of this discussion here