Earlier this year I was incredibly surprised to learn that I had been accepted onto The National Archive’s Fundraising Cohort. I’m not part of a big service at the Royal Northern College of Music Archives. In fact it’s just half of me there. That doesn’t stop me from having big plans for it, though, including fundraising.
At the start, the Cohort met once every four to six weeks and over the period of a few months we accumulated an arsenal of methods to support our services. The main thing I was delighted to discover was that it’s all about the plan. I love a good plan.
Resilience and wanting change
See, the Cohort is more than just learning how to fill in bids. It’s about resilience. The archive sector is generally pretty good at writing fundraising bids – we’ve been doing it for a long time. It’s things like corporate sponsorship, crowdfunding, working in tandem with higher-ups etc that we are, on a whole, a little less confident with.
Truly resilient things are not unchanging. They are adaptive.
I’m not too far wrong in generalising that archivists have traditionally worked in isolation. Or at least their services have, unless their parent organisation was particularly enlightened to the benefits of treating their history and heritage as a living, active asset (and there are MANY benefits).
Viewing your role as something which necessarily includes active advocacy, rallying and change has only recently been relevant to the profession. We used to mostly just get left alone.
Now, I love my work and I tell everyone about it. I love showing off the collections and getting people enthused. So, the timing of this Cohort was perfect. I was only a year into my role at the College and I was already poking at various teams to try to support the wider College agenda – student engagement and education, marketing, research, community engagement, estates, hell even the cafe. You name it, I was talking archives with it.
I was, however, mainly making it up as I went along. Find an opportunity, jump on it, work with it. This works really well on short-term contracts. Making the most out of the time I have with a collection to ensure I’m doing the most that I can for it.
For a permanent position at the College, however, this wasn’t going to cut it in the long run. I needed a Grand Plan. So, working from the guidance in The National Archive’s documents for Archives Accreditation, I drafted up a five-year plan (I’m very proud of it, it’s beautiful). Within the priorities listed, lies fundraising. The College’s archives is very unlikely to be cash rich but I need it to be resilient.
Attitude, preconception and reputation
What does it need to be resilient against, though? Funding cuts? Always. Resource realignment? Definitely. What about things like, attitude, preconception and reputation? Absolutely these, too. It’s not just about resilience to practical overarching factors and the obvious contenders in your SWOT tables. What you may need to change, is people.
The archives sector still has a pervading caricature as loud as its search rooms are silent. Boring, dusty, old, irrelevant. Dead. This attitude, preconception and reputation (whether it be true of any one particular archive) does not make for a resilient service in a time when organisations are actively looking to cut costs and lighten the load.
I want to share with you something that has made a tangible difference to the attitude, preconception and reputation of the College’s archive service within the College as well as the wider heritage networks I’ve encountered. All made possible because of the Cohort’s first lesson: the case for support.
Case for support
A case for support answers the following questions: Why should people and organisations see us differently? Why should we go out of our way to explain to them what should be obvious, that history and heritage is worth investing in and engaging with? What should they listen to us and support us?
Try it. Think about what your service is and what you’d like it to be. Take some time and think of five things that you want to happen and then give a reason for each. Be precise, be practical and passionate.
Try out different ones and have different ones ready for different audiences. The College’s outreach and engagement team are going to want different reasons for supporting the Grand Plan than, say, estates. Each is thinking, “Yeah but what’s in it for me?” Pre-empt that attitude by getting to know them a little and then find which part of your service caters to their own mission, vision and objectives. Study their forward plans and have a brew with the a team member.
For weeks afterwards the module on building a case for support, I carried this around with me in my head and used it whenever I was talking about the service and because I’m me and hardly miss an opportunity to share, I ended up getting a lot of practice.
The results were brilliant. I got different departments on board with various plans, not just accepting in writing but actually enthusiastic and energetic joined-up collaborations and project planning. All because now they get it. They understand what I’m trying to do and why I’m trying to do it and they’re confident that I can actually pull it off.
There is lots more that the Cohort has helped me realise and I’ve been fortunate enough that I could share it with some of my freelance contract work as well as embed it in my work at the College. For that reason, it’s really worth getting involved in the training days and talking to Cohort members if you can. You will learn a lot and hopefully make some practical changes to the resilience of your service and to attitudes, preconceptions and reputations.
Questions? Drop me a line, I’d love to chat with you about it.