National Opera Review: Applause please for our Opera donors

National Opera Review: Applause please for our Opera donors

National Opera Review Cover - fundraising for nonprofit performing arts

National Opera Review Cover - fundraising for nonprofit performing arts

On 25 September 2015, the National Opera Review Discussion Paper was released by the National Opera Review Panel. The Discussion Paper considers the financial viability, artistic vibrancy and audience access of Australia’s four major opera companies.


In this 380 page discussion paper, I found some notes and points that are interesting from a fundraising point of view for any non-profit organisations in the performing arts sector.

  • 4.2.2 Private Philanthropy (page 108)
  • 4.2.3 Corporate Support (page 109)
  • 4.2.4 International comparisons (page 110)
  • 12.2 Generate Additional Private Sector Revenue (page 310)


I have summarised and commented the main ones in this article.


What does the report reveal about donors?

Donors to Australia’s major opera companies are generous, increasingly generous. They were not bowed by the Global Financial Crisis as were those in the USA and UK, although the rate of increase in giving has slowed.

The National Opera Review discussion paper gives credit to private donors. Pre Global Financial Crisis annual increases of more than 25% have not been maintained, but an annual increase of 15.8% is creditable.

National Opera Review - fundraising for nonprofit performing arts


Private donations also held up much better than corporate sponsorship over the period.


What does the report reveal about Corporate Sponsorship?

The report notes that corporate support grew at only 1.7% per year over the period 2004-2013. While this is concerning, I think Australian business deserves some credit here. In WA and QLD, where mining reduced the impact of the Global Financial Crisis, corporate sponsorship doubled over the period.

So overall, business’s support for opera was reflecting the prevailing businesses conditions. It is to be hoped that a rebound in profitability will usher a return to business support of opera and other performing arts.


My thoughts on raising more money from private sector support

In this discussion paper, the document doesn’t make recommendations for improving private support but it does discuss some options:

  • target-setting,
  • government matching scheme,
  • building fundraising capability of staff and board members,
  • and more attention to bequests.


Australian governments rejected Bradley review recommendations for matched funding schemes and fundraising capacity-building in the higher education sector. The major performing arts have had one round of matched funding to encourage endowment-building, it will be interesting to see if this sector has more success than Higher Education in getting government action in support of improving fundraising capability.

Shortage of talented fundraisers is a serious problem in the arts sector as it is in others. Previous mentoring scheme have helped a little, but a more concerted effort would be beneficial.

We see very little investment from the performing arts in prospect research or specialist advice or research on fundraising effectiveness, and it is hard for cash-strapped organisations to make these investments, but it would be worthwhile.

The paper steps into the unpopular area of considering a great fundraising emphasis at the board level. Opera companies are coming late to the reality that generosity towards the art form is a necessity for all board members. Even government appointees should be made with this consideration in mind.



The sections on private sector support reach positive conclusions:

private sector support, particularly from individuals, has become an increasingly important and relatively resilient element of income for Australian arts organisations”

– Page 110


building significantly greater private sector support is an area of potentially much greater upside which requires a greater investment despite all that has been done to date

– page 313


But I fear these points will be lost amongst the bigger funding issues addressed in the National Opera Review.


Submissions can be made in response to the discussion paper. Perhaps some submissions will stress the return on investment of good fundraising. Donations for unrestricted purposes offer a very high net-return on investment for performing arts companies — very much higher than any earned revenue.


Dr Daniel McDiarmid

Dr Daniel McDiarmid

Principal Consultant at AskRIGHT
Daniel is a highly experienced and innovative fundraising professional with more than 30 years of success raising funds for higher education, research, religious and other organisations in Australia and New Zealand.

To find out how Daniel can help your organisation, contact
Dr Daniel McDiarmid

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