27 April 2015back

Creative Internships Blog Week 29

Lauren Swain, National Theatre Wales

At National Theatre Wales (NTW) I am currently focusing on researching and qualifying the importance of business ethics in fundraising. I am translating my finds into a set of guidelines that will be part of our development strategy, with a specific focus on establishing future corporate relationships.

But what actually are business ethics?! It turns out they are predominantly when companies go beyond their legal requirements to behave in a way guided by morals and values, taking into account any implications they might have on others. Obviously, and understandably, the primary objective for many businesses is to provide strong returns for shareholders, but should this be achieved at the expense of social, environmental or moral considerations? Indeed a business will only thrive in the long-term if it also responsibly takes into account the needs of other stakeholders such as governments, employees, suppliers, communities and customers.

The arts community will be well aware of examples of non-ethical businesses and their negative impact on the arts they sponsor. There is the recent case of the Tate & BP’s partnership, where the Tate is battling controversy and protests for being involved with an oil company. Similarly the Sydney Biennale was boycotted by artists and pressured into ending its relationship with Transfield Holdings, due to its involvement in offshore refugee detention camps. As such, organisations are increasingly seeing the importance of having an ethical fundraising policy in order to avoid such controversies.

But how do you judge if a business is ethical? It seems it is essential to conduct a subjective assessment of its products or services, its founding priorities, values, goals, and its reputation, or alternatively use an independent screening company, such as the Ethical Investment Research Service (EIRS). Ethical businesses will ensure that the highest legal, moral and undiscriminating standards are observed in all relationships with the people in their business community.

The first step for organisations, the point that NTW currently finds itself at, is to identify your own core values and the general business principles that you cannot compromise on. We plan to then translate those values into a framework of guidelines and questions to ask around potential sponsorships. We hope to involve our whole staff and board in this process; sharing perspectives and ensuring there is no internal dissent later on. Obviously ethical questions do not always have a unique, faultless answer, but my research has shown me that, as core principles, a sponsor partnership should:

• Align with or aspire to the vision and values of the arts organisation.
• Positively reinforce the integrity, reputation and support of the art organisation.
• Encourage the artistic or educational freedom of our work and artistic practitioners, without exerting a negative influence on the work it enables, enforcing unachievable incentives or reducing access for audiences.

Once we approve our guidelines, we will use these strategic considerations when identifying corporates that we think are a good match for NTW. However, in seeking examples of existing policies, it is clear that other third sector charities are currently thinking about business ethics in fundraising much more than arts charities. We need to follow them in protecting our organisations, practitioners and participants with ethical fundraising policies of our own!

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