The timing of this blog coincides with the launch of the Achates Philanthropy Corporate Philanthropy Prize that celebrates first-time giving by a business to the arts, which sits alongside the Achates Individual Philanthropy Prize. The £5,000 prize in each case goes to the arts organisation and is irrespective of the size of the business donation.
However this blog is entirely independent and represents the views of Falcon Windsor – even though those views unsurprisingly coincide to a significant degree with those of Achates! And here’s my plug for the Achates team: they do incredibly valuable work helping arts organisations find funding. If you’re thinking of donating to the arts and want to make sure your donation will make a difference, Achates would be only too happy to help – www.achates.org.uk.
Imagine a world with no films, dance, painting, concerts, sculpture, poetry, novels, plays, musicals… pretty grim, isn’t it? And I bet if you asked pretty much anyone in our society whether they’d prefer a world like that, they’d say no. After all, the endeavours we loosely call ‘the arts’ have been part of what makes us human since the Garden of Eden (a rather beautiful artistic concept in itself, if you think about it, and one that has inspired masterpieces across the artistic spectrum).
Now hang on a minute, I hear you ask – this is supposed to be a corporate reporting blog. What’s this got to do with reporting?
Where arts and reporting meet
The obvious place that the arts and reporting meet is money. If the arts appear in annual reports at all, you’ll tend to find them in the sustainability or corporate responsibility section, usually if a company has, for example, made a donation to a local arts organisation, or supported volunteering with kids in an artistic space. And many companies do support the arts in some way – if, that is, they can make it fit with their sustainability strategy or their corporate purpose.
Because of course today, in corporate terms, it’s all about value. What value is the company getting from its investment? What ‘impact’ is this investment having? How can the company be involved in a way that isn’t just about giving a donation? Giving is no longer giving without thought of return (to some degree corporate giving never was, although old-style philanthropy, when the Chairman sponsored his wife’s favourite opera company or art gallery, had a different concept of return). In simplistic terms, there has to be a measurable return or it can’t be justified to shareholders…. or so the argument goes.
How do you measure the value of a donation to the arts?
I wholeheartedly support the principle that money should be spent wisely to make a difference – but how do you measure the return on investment or the ‘impact’ of something like a donation to a theatre? Or a dance group? Or sponsorship of a budding poet? In some areas the arts have succeeded in meeting the measurement criteria – think of the brand recognition companies get from supporting big names like the National Portrait Gallery or the ENO. But for smaller, less visible arts organisations – of which there are thousands – it can be a harder sell, and many companies tie themselves in knots trying to answer this kind of question. People know it’s worthwhile to fund their local acrobatic troupe (just think of their kids clamouring for the free tickets) but find it very hard to prove it in a way that reporting demands. How do you measure the good that comes from, for example, bringing people together to enjoy a pantomime?
Why should companies get involved?
To look at it from another angle, why should companies give money to the arts at all? Isn’t that something for the state or the individual to do? To me it’s straightforward: business has money; the arts need money. The state can’t do it all – it has other things to fund. And if the arts were available only to those who could afford to pay, then much of their richness (no pun intended) would be lost.
If business is genuinely about creating value for society and not just making a profit – as most annual reports claim these days – then come on, create some value. What might be considered a rounding error in a global company’s annual report could make all the difference to, for example, the flowering of a new art form – or indeed just the simple pleasure that various forms of the arts bring to millions of people every day. And what of demonstrating the value? To take another popular reporting term, think about the negative value of a society without the arts.
And what will the shareholders say about how you’re spending their money? Well, shareholders are people too. Ask them to imagine that world for themselves.
WIN A £1,000 DONATION TO YOUR FAVOURITE ARTISTIC CAUSE!
I never ask people to do things I’m not prepared to do myself, so I duly consulted FW’s shareholders* who have, as a body, decided to make a £1,000 donation (with no measurable return to FW) to an artistic cause suggested by one of our blog readers. The only condition is that the cause is a registered charity. Please make your suggestion by posting it in the comments box – the winner will be chosen by FW’s shareholders and announced with the publication of the May blog.
* In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that the shareholding body comprises one C. Bodanis!
THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED AND WE ARE UNABLE TO CONSIDER ANY FURTHER NOMINATIONS. THE WINNER WILL BE ANNOUNCED ON WEDNESDAY 3 MAY 2017.