Arts & Culture Finance Fair Highlights – 2. Sustainability and investment readiness

In this second part of our highlights from our recent Arts and Culture Finance Fair, we’re going to be talking about two inter-related topics – financial sustainability and investment readiness.

The springboard for this is a session delivered by Jules and Alison from one of our funding partners, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, and Tom and Molly, from the Culture and Creative team at Bates Wells Braithwaite, a leading charity and social investment law practice looking at how arts organisations can more innovatively use the assets they have.

We’ve previously touched on this in our recent blog about Marmalade, the grassroots social enterprise conference.  A key theme of the early discussions in the Asset Audit group at Marmalade was how to recognise the many dimensions of value within arts organisations (economic, cultural, intellectual property), and how to optimise your organisation along all those dimensions: e.g. how to drive commerciality without sacrificing artistic innovation or creative risk . Jules and Alison showed their immense knowledge and sympathetic understanding of operating in the sector, whilst also using examples and ideas of how they have helped organisations to create additional income streams, through grant and investment funding.

Tom and Molly had lots of helpful theoretical and practical advice; from how to incorporate your enterprise, to when to create a wholly-owned trading subsidiary to avoid unnecessary corporation tax, to making sure you’re aware of when you might be incurring VAT liabilities and how to optimise this in membership schemes, whilst balancing the risk of making donation elements of contributions voluntary. Both sets of speakers touched on intellectual property, and understanding how you might be able to earn money from the things that you, as an organisation, have learned how to do – whether this be through scaling up or replicating an enterprise or intervention, or by training and consultancy to help other organisations gain the same skills.

Knowledge of such details, if they’re relevant to your project, is key to investment readiness, which is what the session given by Sarah Thirtle from Creative Industry Finance and Whitni Thomas from Triodos was all about.  Both were very aware of the capacity and resource constraints typical of arts and culture organisations, and both organisations can provide tailored business and impact planning advice through various programmes. The emphasis was on collaboration, and on helping organisations gather and present the information they have as well as how business and strategy planning as an exercise can be hugely productive in terms of crystallising aims and opportunities of organisations, even if it ends up demonstrating that an organisation is not ready to take on investment quite yet. They also highlighted the need for strong governance practices and processes, and a clear picture of how decisions are made and results accomplished.

Further investment readiness support can be applied for from Big Potential Breakthrough. It can be a really helpful exercise for an organisation to go through, and a new pair of eyes prompting a filing spring-clean; resources review; audit of Board skills; even review of Board papers format can give you clarity, focus and inspiration as an organisation , whether you end up deciding social investment is part of your future or not.