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Building fundraising capacity: Circus Space

  • Date: 7 May 2013
  • Artform: Combined arts
  • Area: London
Two acrobats in somersault Circus Space acrobatic duo, Bertil Nilsson

London-based Arts Council national portfolio organisation Circus Space was awarded a Catalyst Arts: capacity building and match funding grant which has helped them to secure a number of donations, including a $1 million pledge from philanthropist Aileen Getty.

The £30 million Catalyst Arts scheme helps organisations with some experience in the area build their fundraising capacity and capability over a three year-period. Organisations use the funds in the first year to build their fundraising resource, with funding in the second and third year being used to incentivise donations.


Circus Space had been successful at securing funding through grants from trusts and foundations. They want to use Catalyst funding to build the capacity of their development team and to initiative a programme of individual giving.

Examples of how the funding has been used so far

  • an extra staff member has been employed on the development team and day and a half of the Joint CEO's time has been dedicated to fundraising. The two are able to work together to develop ideas, plan and cultivate important relationships
  • the organisation has invested in bespoke donation boxes which are displayed in the venue - a simple but effective way to remind visitors that they are a charity

Partnership work

Circus Space are enlisting the help of fundraising consultants to help set up their first fundraising gala event. After identifying a lack of in-house knowledge in this area they decided to get in help to raise money through an event while learning about the process as they go along.

Outcomes so far

Circus Space has received a number of donations which have been put into their Generation Fund to support the development of the next generation of circus artists. This includes a pledge of £200,000 per year for the next three years from philanthropist Aileen Getty.


Circus Space employees have had to make a significant shift in their attitudes towards fundraising - with everyone in the organisation being aware that they have a part to play in encouraging philanthropic giving. They have now become highly effective ambassadors for their organisation and its work, understanding the need for fundraising so they can articulate it to any potential supporter they might come across inside or outside of their building.

One of the biggest barriers to overcome was learning how to "make the ask" and realising that the worst that can happen is someone says "no". Conversely, the best response is "yes" alongside a game-changing cheque!

Future plans

Circus Space are about to expand the fundraising team further so that they can build on their early successes and maintain momentum.  They are also building a Development Committee and with the support and under the guidance of external consultants will be staging a fundraising gala in 2014 to coincide with their 25th anniversary.

Find out more about Catalyst

Useful links on building fundraising capacity