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Donations to performing arts organisations decreased amid COVID-19

Donations to performing arts organisations in the UK and North America have fallen during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study.

The COVID-19 Sector Benchmark Insight Report for June reveals that despite widespread initiatives to convert cancelled tickets to donations, there has been no aggregate growth in donations in 2020 in either the UK or North America.

The study, which has been published by arts management consultants TRG Arts and UK arts data specialists Purple Seven, shows North American donations fell two per cent, while UK giving fell 12 per cent during the first six months of 2020.

The data has been based on near real-time feeds from 105 not-for-profit venues of all scales in the UK, United States and Canada.

However, some individual organisations, particularly organisations with a lower initial level of contributed income, have seen substantial increases in the value of gifts.

Half of the UK-based organisations in the study increased the value of gifts received. Around 30 per cent of organisations reported growth of over 100 per cent, while 11 per cent reported growth of over 400 per cent.

Purple Seven chief executive Stuart Nicolle added: “It is encouraging to see that some UK-based organisations have used the crisis to dramatically increase the volume and value of gifts generated from their patrons.

“To flourish in the future, organisations will need to work hard to ensure this is not a one-off gesture of goodwill but the first step towards growing a more loyal audience that engages both through ticket buying and philanthropy.”

In North America, overall giving has only been sustained due to an increase in very large ($100k+) gifts. Donations of over $100,000 accounted for 46 per cent of all contributed revenue, up from 36 per cent for the same period in 2019.

The study shows that growth in the value of gifts of under $100,000/£80,000 received from the most loyal audiences. In North America, the growth in revenue from larger gifts is driven by fewer people giving considerably more, with average gift size up 55 per cent.

Analysis of donations by month reveals a trend in the US in recent months with gifts of less than $100,000 down 35 per cent in May and 27 per cent in June.

TRG chief executive, Jill Robinson, said: “It is encouraging to see the biggest individual donors digging deep in North America to support the sector. With both new major donors and some donating for the first time in many years, arts and cultural organisations need to show how much they value this support, demonstrate its impact, and maintain and develop dialogues to nurture partnerships for the long term.

“The concerning findings in this analysis are that donations are down overall and that a smaller proportion of patrons are supporting at a time when arts organisations need them most. We must prioritise communicating with our audiences and broader communities, take the time to listen to their needs and plan our work accordingly.”

Image: David Joyce / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Edited for size