Sustainability at the Actors Centre
If I had been given a penny every time I heard the words “we need to become more sustainable as an arts organisation”, I actually would have contributed significantly to the very thing by donating the proceeds! This is indeed an ongoing challenge on a daily, monthly and yearly basis for most (charitable) arts organisations whilst simultaneously aiming to remain true to its overriding goals – which normally equate to keeping participation affordable or even free.
Sustainability should not just be seen in terms of financial profitability of course but also in ensuring there continues to be a demand, need and interest in what an organisation offers and who it is here to serve – financial security will then surely follow! Not really rocket science you would think but in my experience I am often surprised how organisations can easily deviate from their original aims.
As the current Chief Executive of the Actors Centre, one of my briefs, when I was appointed, was to work towards this organisation becoming more self-sufficient through increasing its earned income streams. The Actors Centre has certainly had no choice but to seek ways to do this – that is to stand on its own two feet and become less reliant on public, private or other subsidy. Not that there was ever much of this in the first place but there has been more over the years than in the current climate. Previous financial support had included substantial cash sponsorship from the main TV companies, some large donations from high profile actors and more trust funding sympathetic to the actors’ cause/artists’ development. Almost overnight much of this funding had “dried up” and left the organisation in a vulnerable position. The arts and funding landscape has also changed considerably since the Actors Centre’s original inception and there seem to be more and more charities/arts organisations vying for the same pot of money. Alongside this, very few funders/individuals see supporting the development of professional actors as a worthy cause. Hardly one for pulling at the heart strings!
The focus for the Actors Centre over the past 3 years, therefore, has been to look at decreasing its reliance on non-earned income and we have undertaken a considerable amount of work to achieve this aim – so much that I wouldn’t know where to start in this short blog. Indeed, my rationale has always been that this type of income should be the decoration on top of the icing on the cake! Non-earned income represented 17% of the Actors Centre’s turnover in the year ending 2011. In a few years we have managed to increase our self-generated income and reduce other income reliance to 7% with a similar turnover. This has been a considerable challenge as, not unsurprisingly, we are committed to keeping things affordable for our members whose spending power we know is limited. 7%, whilst a good move forward, still means though that we currently still need to bring in at least £50K from fundraising and other sources – along with finding additional income to resource possible new initiatives and any capital requirements.
There is still recognition that our organisation is one which is needed and wanted – there is nothing else like it in the UK and indeed internationally. Our sustainability is built on the continued loyalty of its customer base, those who tirelessly work for it and our rich alumni. It is these factors which feed its ongoing existence. We need to now develop the Actors Centre’s financial growth even further – not because we are in the business of making money for pure profitability’s sake (we couldn't anyway as we are in part a charity), but to ensure we provide the best and most affordable service possible to our members. This is the thing that will ensure the Actors Centre’s sustainability for the next 36 years.
I still see much potential!
Louise Coles - CEO of the Actors Centre