Since Arts Impact Fund launched in 2015, we’ve provided repayable finance to 21 arts and culture organisations (so far!) working to improve the lives of individuals, communities and society whilst becoming more sustainable and resilient. As the first impact investment fund specifically for the arts and culture sector, we’ve learnt a lot about what is actually needed, and have grown and adapted our offer to reflect this - with a new umbrella identity for our growing team as Arts & Culture Finance, and new impact investment offers such as the Cultural Impact Development Fund. But we can provide more than just cash.
Collectively, we’ve been approached by over 550 organisations and had direct enquiries for finance from over 300. While we’ve seen a lot of ambitious and original ideas, a large proportion of our enquiries weren't ready to take on repayable finance. We’ve worked hard to make sure we give any support we can to anyone that enquires, whether they are ready for investment or not. This includes signposting to other funding or grant opportunities, or connecting organisations with networks inside or outside of Nesta. But we saw a growing group within the sector that were on the cusp of investment but needed some extra support to get across the line.
The organisations we work with are hugely diverse in everything from artform to size, from geography to legal structure. With a growing investment support gap unfilled, we analysed the demand to look for similarities and try to understand what intervention was required. However, we found that with such diversity and disparity of needs in the sector, the support needed to be bespoke for each organisation.
We felt the best way to give each organisation the support they needed was to become an Access Point for the Reach Fund (administered by Social Investment Business on behalf of Access – the Foundation for Social Investment). The purpose of the fund is to unlock small amounts of grant funding for arts and culture organisations to complete targeted work which enable them to take on investment. By providing grant opportunities for organisations on the cusp of change and development, the Reach Fund enables a broader range of charities and social enterprises to access social investment, which they would not be able to do otherwise.
So far, we’ve helped organisations secure grant funding for business plan support, financial forecasting, marketing and comms consultancy, legal work, social impact plans, and additional in-house capacity. In some cases, the work has been an isolated short-term project to meet specific investment criteria, but in other cases, it has been part of a wider strategy to build financial resilience and eventually take on repayable finance. Some organisations already have a consultant in mind to carry out the work or wish to extend a contract or piece of work they have already started, but in other cases we’ve been able to match up the organisation with a consultant or support with the tendering process.
In every case, we’ve been on hand to support the organisation through the whole Reach Fund application process - from the initial diagnostic (where organisations are asked to rate their performance in several different areas to understand what help they might need) to the application stage (where we give 1:1 support and feedback to shape the organisation’s application and ensure strong responses) through to completion of the funded work (keeping in touch, seeing how the work is progressing, and checking in on next steps for investment or otherwise).
We continue to keep learning and aim to keep growing our portfolio with a diverse range of interventions and projects. As such, we are keen to speak to other arts and culture organisations that may be looking for this kind of support before seeking repayable finance - and we’re always happy to have a chat and see what kind of help might be suitable. We believe that arts and culture play an essential role in our everyday lives, in the forging and understanding of our identity and in growing the UK’s economy. They inspire, challenge, and educate us, and we want to ensure the stability and resilience of this important economy.