A journey in arts fundraising

19 April 2023
Art, Heritage and Cultural
Standard Content

Lauren Smethurst is a Young Arts Fundraisers Board Member, and Development Officer at HOME, an arts centre in Manchester. We sat down with Lauren to learn about her journey into arts fundraising, hear about how RAISE has supported her and discuss the importance of connection and community in the sector.

What led you to begin a career as an arts fundraiser?

I'm from Macclesfield, in North West England, and I've always been passionate about the arts. After completing my BA in Theatre and volunteering at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2018, I studied on an Arts Management Masters at the University of Manchester. I finished my MA in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. My Masters dissertation looked at the obstacles to accessing entry level arts management roles and the importance of networks such as Young Arts Fundraisers (YAF), who make people feel comfortable and supported at the start of their careers.

As part of my Masters, I did a placement with the Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme (RTYDS). Here I worked alongside the Executive Director who was experienced in arts fundraising. She introduced me to the Chartered Institute of Fundraising and encouraged me to apply for a RAISE bursary to undertake the Introduction to Fundraising course and to attend CIoF Cultural Sector Network Conference 2020 in London. Attending the conference allowed me to meet people from across the UK and connect with Young Arts Fundraisers (YAF) and I remember leaving London feeling very energised and inspired about pursuing an arts fundraising career.

These opportunities enabled me to join Manchester International Festival (MIF) as Development Administrator in 2021, and to work in my current role as Development Officer at HOME, where I work across multiple income streams. I am now a National Development Board Member for Young Arts Fundraisers (YAF), a network for early career fundraisers working in the arts sector.

How has building networks and connecting with fellow fundraisers empowered you?

Connecting with other arts fundraisers has been critical in my professional development, particularly during the pandemic, when there were minimal job opportunities in the sector. The support of YAF through online events and networking allowed me to stay connected with others in the arts at this time – I honestly don’t know if I would’ve continued on this career path without YAF’s support. Networks are so important for those working in the arts, particularly those at the start of their careers.

I am fortunate to be part of a wonderful early-fundraiser network in Manchester that has been valuable to my professional development and wellbeing. It’s fantastic to have a network of likeminded people who are at a similar level to bounce ideas off.

You have been a recipient of RAISE bursaries. How has this supported you and your fundraising career?

RAISE support has enabled me to attend conferences that I otherwise would not have been able to. I have really valued the chance to take experiences and knowledge from conferences in London and bring it back to my roles in the North West. Recently RAISE supported me to attend the Major Donors conference in March 2023, allowing me to take time to travel, spend the night in London and network. I wouldn’t have had these opportunities without RAISE.

And finally, do you have any advice for people beginning their journey in arts fundraising?

  1. Put yourself out there. Try to connect with as many people as possible, ask for half an hour over coffee or a chat on Zoom. I was surprised by how friendly people are. That’s one of the best things about working in the arts, people really want other people to thrive and feel connected.
  2. Reach out to juniors and seniors: Stay connected with peers at a similar career stage as you, but at the same time, try to reach out to people in more senior roles. Ask them how they got to where they are, what roles have they done, what have they learned along the way. Don’t be intimidated by people in senior roles – they were once where you are.
  3. Learn from your mistakes: Writing bids and being rejected is not the best feeling in the world, but those bumps in the road are just a part of the experience and will ultimately help you grow.
Lauren Smethurst
Lauren Smethurst
Development Officer at HOME
Members Only Content