Relationships – the corner stone of successful fundraising

Judy Niner from Development Partners highlights how a new fundraising approach paid off for Dorset Museum.

A multi-million pound fundraising target is a tall order for any museum. But for one based in a small provincial town and with no significant record of fundraising, it could have been described as a bridge too far. Yet that is the monumental challenge Dorset Museum took on – and overcame.

The result isn’t just a fantastic, transformed museum, a cultural centre for the whole of Dorset. It’s also a new way of working together,
of collaborating and developing relationships with audiences and with funders.

Success was never inevitable. It came from perseverance, focus, and a compelling case for support which brought out the value of the stories behind the collections and the romance of the county. It took five years.

It also took faith. Trustees with little experience of fundraising invested in consultants and staff and followed the advice they were given. They allowed us the time we needed to plan the campaign, brand it, and cultivate essential relationships. They put up with long, frustrating waits before results started to come in and the ambitious target was chipped away. They understood that the campaign was vital to the future of the museum, not just for the money it would raise towards the Tomorrow’s Museum project, but for the relationships it enabled the museum to build. Relationships which, if nurtured, will strengthen the organisation for years and decades to come.

This was a big campaign, but the lessons learnt from it are as relevant for a small discrete project or ongoing revenue work, for the smallest of organisations and the biggest. Take time to plan your fundraising and construct the case for support; focus only on those things that are going to bring the best results and don’t be distracted; do everything with the long-term in mind. You will need to invest time, certainly, and possibly money. Bring in external help if you don’t have the right level of expertise within the organisation. You will also
need patience to allow relationships, the cornerstone of successful fundraising, to develop.

Congratulations Dorset Museum, you have created something wonderful. Thank you for letting us help you make it happen.

Judy Niner, Development Partners

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