1:1 with Jayne Watson
Jayne Watson is CEO of the National Arts Centre (NAC) Foundation who leads a team dedicated to supporting arts education and programming at the National Arts Centre, a thriving hub for performance, creation, and learning in Canada.
The NAC Foundation has achieved record fundraising goals during Jayne’s leadership and has championed new initiatives like its first-ever national fundraising Campaign that raised more than $25M for a national Creation Fund aimed at helping Canadian creators think bigger about new works in theatre, music and dance. Jayne joined the National Arts Centre in 2001 as Director of Communications and Public Affairs. Prior to that, she served as the Director of Communications at Export Development Canada, and held senior communications roles in the Office of the Speaker of the House of Commons and Canada Post Corporation.
Nicole: When it comes to fundraising, what’s trending? What’s timeless?
Jayne: I see three main things that are trending; millennials (and how they will give differently), social media, and technology. What’s timeless, though, is that it still has to be about relationships. People don’t give to institutions, they give to people.
Nicole: In your conversations with donors, why do people continue to support the arts? Have you noticed a change in these motivations over the years?
Jayne: There is nothing like the shared communal experience of being in a theatre watching a live performance. We live in a media-saturated world where technology is ubiquitous, making these kinds of experiences less common…which is one of the reasons why it’s so vital to ensure that opportunities for these performances continue to exist. Our donors feel that art is an important part of life and over the ten years that I’ve worked in fundraising, that sentiment hasn’t changed.
Having said that, there are many pressing social issues, and the economy has gotten more complicated. This has made the arts a more difficult case to make in some respects, as it’s easy to get drowned out. Only 3% of people donate to arts and culture, which accounts for just 1.3% of the total value of donations in Canada. Still, the people who give to the arts seem to be motivated by the same thing.
Nicole: Are you surprised by anything that you see happening? Or perhaps not surprised?
Jayne: I’m not necessarily surprised by anything I’m seeing. I am delighted, however, that when we have conversations with people from the next generation of philanthropists, they are eager to engage. These conversations are similar to those that we have with their parents as well. They want to see impact, return on investment, and results, which is what our donors have been asking to see for at least the last ten years.
Nicole: Fewer Canadians are making tax receipted gifts, a trend that continued in the recently released Canada Revenue Agency stats from 2017 on this form of giving. What does this mean for how we raise money?
Jayne: I think this means we need to go out and talk to those who are under 50 years old. We need to get in front of them as soon as possible, because it may take up to a decade to get the kinds of gifts we need.
If you want long-term relationships with people, you don’t just start talking to them when they’re 70. You start building that relationship when they’re 40 or younger.
Nicole: On that note, younger Canadians (those aged 18-34) say they are inclined to give directly to causes through crowdfunding rather than to a charity. How do charities attract young people to give?
Jayne: We have chosen not to do any mass crowdfunding initiatives to try and attract young people. What we are doing is thoughtfully approaching next generation philanthropists (including the children of our long-term donors) , and cultivating meaningful relationships with them in ways that genuinely engage them and their interests.
We also very intentionally created opportunities to get younger people physically into the building, both as patron at performances or just simply to make use of our beautiful new facility. We believe that getting people over the hurdle of walking into the building is an important first step in building a relationship with us. So, we opened a café on the main floor of the building, provide free Wi-Fi and we also offer a type of yoga /meditation classes in the space.
Nicole: The next generation is also so important given the impending wealth transfer, now predicted to be upwards of $1 trillion over the next decade. So would you say these kinds of investments in relationship building are a must?
Jayne: Absolutely. When it comes to the wealth transfer, at the bare minimum, organizations should have a planned giving program for those who won’t be leaving all of their wealth to their children. But I’d also say that cultivating the children of your major donors is another great way to “pass on the torch” of supporting you.
Nicole: In what ways are you engaging your donors, whether it’s for cultivation or stewardship purposes?
Jayne: We have a great advantage as an arts charity because it makes for some really fun engagement opportunities. For example, we can bring donors to open rehearsals for the National Ballet, the National Arts Orchestra etc.
We also try to give some of our most significant donors a more up-close and personal experience. A few weeks ago I took a donor to our Creation Campaign to a workshop for a new work that this campaign has helped fund. It was such an amazing experience for the donor to be able to sit and see the creative process in action. But the most impactful moment occurred when we introduced ourselves to one of the artists and she immediately began to talk about how important our funding has been to their work. She went on to say that the creation fund is making a huge difference in the arts ecology across Canada, and that if it wasn’t for this fund, they wouldn’t have been able to do the work that they are doing. The donor who was with me had donated about $100,000 to this fund, so this was music to their ears.
Nicole: Let’s talk about cost of fundraising, which continues to be a pesky and persistent issue. What needs to be done to finally stop making this a key focus when it comes to charities?
Jayne: At the Foundation, we are very sensitive to this and work hard to ensure that we maintain a reasonable cost of fundraising. In addition, we make sure that we’re transparent about our financials, and we are absolutely respectful and conservative when spending money wherever we can be.
At the same time, we aren’t apologizing for the fact that fundraising costs money. I find that it’s the people who aren’t your donors, including certain “ranking” organizations or the media, who are the ones talking most about this. I’ve never had a major donor ask me about our cost of fundraising. Our donors are more concerned about seeing the impact of their money, and how NAC is making a difference in the performing arts in Canada.
Nicole: One of the things we are keeping our eye on is the need for succession planning and leadership transitions, given the volume of retirements from senior positions expected over the next decade. It’s estimated that upwards of 78% of organizations don’t have a formal succession process for their leadership positions and that only 41% of organizations have identified potential future leaders. What’s your reaction to that?
Jayne: Personally, I’m a bit of an outlier because I didn’t have a whole career in fundraising. I came over from the NAC about ten years ago to fill the role of CEO here at the Foundation. I personally think there are smart people out there who could be great fundraisers who didn’t necessarily grow up in the fundraising world. I also think that there is lots of potential within organizations to grow and develop from within. A few years ago, two fairly senior team members left within the same year. We tried to go out and replace them, but we couldn’t find anyone who fit. We then decided to go to the next two senior people and cultivate them into senior leaders, and they are the ones who ended up taking those positions.
Nicole: We’ve seen lots of instances where a transition to fundraising from outside the profession didn’t work so well. To what do you attribute the success you have had moving into the lead fundraising role for NAC?
Jayne: I think the fact that I knew the institution really well played a big part. I was used to telling the story of the NAC to a variety of different stakeholders, so I didn’t have that learning curve either. I’m also lucky enough to have a personality that lends well to this kind of transition – I’m a people person, I’m quick on my feet, and I can adapt to situations easily.
Nicole: What’s an issue facing the sector that relates to fundraising that isn’t getting enough attention in your opinion?
Jayne: Thanks to the #MeToo movement, challenges around about sexism and workplace harassment are being discussed more now than ever. However, I think this happening less in the fundraising sector than it is in other sectors. It’s important that it gets attention because we know that many fundraisers are women, and they tend to start out in the business young. We need to make sure that they’re not being put in unsafe/unfair situations, and we need to make sure that we have their back if they wind up in one.
Nicole: What are some of areas of challenge or concern that you find yourself thinking about and grappling with?
Jayne: There are a few things I’m really watching and thinking about. The first is having strong volunteer leadership. It’s a competitive business, so finding engaged board members can be challenging. And since it’s so important, it can be a stressor sometimes. I also don’t want to give up on the corporate community. I want to make sure that the arts, and the NAC in particular, are not forgotten as corporations change their CSR priorities. Additionally, retaining good team members is crucial to success. As an arts organization, our compensation can’t quite compete with some other types of organizations. However, we do make a concerted effort to provide an excellent working environment with opportunities for interesting projects, professional growth, and a fulfilling level of responsibility.
Nicole: What are the things that you believe should be on every charity’s agenda right now as it relates to their fundraising?
I would say that being able to tell a compelling story about the impact your organization has is something that all charities should focus on. I would have said the same thing five years ago, as well. This is always important.
Jayne Watson: In Brief
Where do you look for inspiration?
I really admire my brother, who is the Mayor of Ottawa. He is a terrific public servant who is really dedicated to making his community better. I try to follow his example.
Who (e.g. company, sector) outside of the NFP sector do you think has done a great job of dealing with the disruption they have faced?
Small scale retail has done a great job at adapting to the more digital, global economy. A great example of this is Shopify, which started here in Ottawa actually. The fact that this platform empowers small scale sellers to run a professional looking online store to a global market is pretty amazing, I think.
Where / how did you learn about charity and philanthropy?
When I was growing up, we didn’t really call it philanthropy or charity, but my parents were great examples at being socially conscious. Whenever we had a fundraiser knock at our door asking for donations, my father always gave them something. Both of my parents volunteered for various causes as well.
What was your first experience with “charity” – either giving or receiving?
Growing up, we went to church on a regular basis. When we were little, our church was fundraising for some new stained glass windows. My brother and I put on a mini carnival in our neighbour’s backyard to help raise money; I think we raised about $100. Our names are still on the window with all the other donors who contributed.
Why did you make the switch from the NAC to the foundation?
Peter Herrndorf, the CEO of the NAC at the time, and Gale O’Brien, the Chair of the NAC Foundation Board, called me out of the blue and pretty much made it hard for me to say no. Initially, I thought they were making a mistake. But they made the transition sound very natural, and they thought my skill set would be valuable to the Foundation. So I took it on, and I’m happy I did.
What do you love about the work that you do?
I love the fact that I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the most interesting artists and donors in the country. Magic happens when these two groups are brought together, and I love being a part of that.