Australia’s major performing arts corporate and donation revenue in 2017: increased but volatile

By Dr Jenny Wilson and Bethwyn Serow

The release of the 2018 report, Tracking changes in corporate sponsorship and donations by the Australian Major Performing Arts Group (AMPAG) shows that revenue from sponsorship and donations is up for Australia’s major performing arts companies overall, but that the increase is volatile and uneven across the sector. NiTRO Editor Jenny Wilson highlights the 2018 findings and, in correspondence and conversation with AMPAG Executive Director Bethwyn Serow, explores what this might mean for creatives who study, work and practice in tertiary education.

What is AMPAG’s ‘Tracking Changes’ report?

Tracking changes in corporate sponsorship and donations 2018 is a report based on an annual survey of fundraising by the 28 Major Performing Arts companies in Australia. The survey of all Major Performing arts organsations is conducted annually and considers revenue generated from corporate sponsorship, donations and fundraising events within the major performing arts sector. The report is produced in partnership with Creative Partnerships Australia.

How was the data gathered?

The data was gathered from 28 major performing arts companies who responded to a survey that asked a number of questions on sponsorship and donation revenue. Companies also provided information on costs associated with fundraising including staffing for fundraising.

The participating companies represented companies with large, medium and small turnovers across all forms of performing arts:

Music: Adelaide Symphony Orchestra; Australian Brandenburg Orchestra; Australian Chamber Orchestra; Melbourne Symphony Orchestra; Musica Viva Australia; Orchestra Victoria; Queensland Symphony Orchestra; Sydney Symphony Orchestra; Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra; West Australian Symphony Orchestra

Opera: Opera Australia; Opera Queensland; State Opera South Australia; West Australian Opera

Dance: Bangarra Dance Theatre; Queensland Ballet; Sydney Dance Company; The Australian Ballet; West Australian Ballet

Theatre: Bell Shakespeare; Belvoir; Black Swan State Theatre Company, Circus Oz; Malthouse Theatre; Melbourne Theatre Company; Queensland Theatre Company; State Theatre Company of South Australia; Sydney Theatre Company

What does the 2018 report show?

The 2018 report shows that across the major performing arts sector revenue from combined corporate sponsorship, donations and fundraising events increased in 2017 by 16.1% compared to 2016 raising a total $111.1 million. 65.1% of this was received as donations; 32.2 % was from corporate sponsorship and a net amount of 2.7% came from fundraising events. Private giving made up 19% of total income in 2017.

Donation income has continued to increase at a faster rate than corporate sponsorship but donation income for individual companies is variable year on year, with individual companies often reporting substantial increases / decreases from year to year as a result of targeted fundraising campaigns, individual one-off donations, substantial bequests. In 2017, 14 companies reported an increase in donation income greater than 20 per cent while nine companies earned less from this source compared to 2016.

Corporate Sponsorship reported an overall decrease in 2017, which was evenly spread with 14 of the 28 companies reporting decreases whilst the remaining 14 companies reported an increase of $2.0 million in corporate sponsorship. There has been a move away from ‘cash’ sponsorship towards in-kind contributions that offer cost savings. 

Generally, NSW companies dominate fundraising/event income results, with nine NSW companies making up 83.9 per cent of the 2017 result.


Has employing specialist fundraisers helped to generate the increased income?

Major performing arts companies employed 77.7 full-time equivalent (FTE) people in 2017, an increase of 2.4 FTE on 2016 levels, but the additional income raised is much greater than the added cost of employing specialists.

Are there any differences between states?

New South Wales companies reported the largest proportionate increase of the sector which was due to strong results in donation earnings. NSW and Victorian companies make up 82 per cent of the total number of donations made in 2017.

Western Australian companies reported the strongest growth from corporate sponsorship with South Australia/Tasmania as the only other states to record an increase in 2017.


And what about different art forms? 

Total Private sector earnings in 2017 compared to 2016 showed:

Art form Earnings $ Change % Change
Dance $31.5 million +$8.1 million +34.6%
Music $35.1 million +$2 million +6.1%
Opera $12.7 million -$1.4 million -10.2%
Theatre $31.8 million +$6.8 million +27%

Dance and Opera results are due to the results of the dominant large companies in each of these art forms. Opera results are more volatile year on year - the overall drop of 10.2 per cent reported in 2017 was due in part to Opera Australia’ s 2017 results which were impacted by the temporary closure of the Sydney Opera House. 

Theatre results are much more widespread with the majority of companies reporting increased levels of earnings compared to 2016.

Music companies have reported more volatile results with four companies reporting strong increases, two companies reporting moderate to negligible increases, and four companies reporting a decline.

Donation income for dance companies is a result of all five companies reporting modest to substantial increases while the Dance sector’s increase in corporate sponsorship has been driven by Queensland Ballet with changes across other dance companies negligible


Does the size of the company make a difference to its revenue generating success?

Companies are treated as ‘large’ if their 2015 turnover exceeded $15m, ‘medium’ for companies with a 2017 turnover between $9m and $15m, and ‘small’, less than $9m.

Large companies have reported annual growth since 2002. Large companies’ growth in 2017 earnings is largely due to Sydney Theatre Company, Australian Chamber Orchestra and The Australian Ballet. The remaining large companies collectively reported a marginal decrease on 2016 levels. Medium companies report 5 years of growth however it is a more a volatile picture with seven of the companies increasing earning and three reporting a decline. The small companies’ increase is due to four of the companies increasing.


What can performing arts students planning a career in the industry draw from this report? What advice would you offer?

Box Office is a critical for the financial stability of an organisation however unless your work is pitched at the commercial market it rarely covers costs - even when the reviews are stellar. In addition, there are multiple ways in which the performing arts can reach audiences and impact lives-that are not adequately supported by the market, for example arts education and targeting groups where barriers limit their access to the arts. Having insight into the organisations’ philanthropic or sponsorship  priorities  and being prepared to support those aims is valuable.

What is encouraging is the growth in donation and the growth in the numbers of donors over the last 18 years, this suggest there is increasing recognition of the value the arts. However, we also know the field is very competitive and growth is not a given, it takes long term strategic engagement and can be unpredictable.

Emerging artists and creatives can benefit their future opportunities by also developing skills to enable them to translate the value of the work they create to a range of very different potential stakeholders. Understanding that what motives philanthropists is very different to why a corporate partner might choose to support an artist, or an organisation is critical. 

There are very concrete skills and processes that can be learned around growing private support, Even if you are not the leading fund-raising team, getting an understanding of who and how support within the organisation in which you work takes place is invaluable knowledge for the future.


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