At a time when many learned societies are experiencing static or declining revenues, the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) has seen steady growth in its income and the activities this enables. This is in part due to the Society having four main sources of income, rather than just two or three as is more usual with similar organisations.
The Society’s charitable activities benefit from this diversity of income source which includes: membership subscriptions, the Society’s commercial enterprise company, charitable operations such as scholarly publishing and event fees, and fundraising.
Over the last 20 years, all four income streams have grown and the Society’s total income has risen from £1.72million in 1996 to £6.5million in 2016. Of the Society’s total expenditure in 2016, 82 per cent was on charitable activities and 1.5 per cent was on fundraising activities.
Fundraising from a wide range of donors has become essential to the Society’s growth and development. The Society’s approach is driven entirely by the needs of the strategic plan and is highly targeted. In each five-year strategy, eight to ten new projects are identified and then fundraised for, including applying for grants from trusts, foundations and statutory sources; bids to major donors; and capital appeals such as membership giving.
The most successful elements of externally-funded projects are incorporated into the Society’s core activities and funded from growth in other sources of income or by support from Corporate Benefactors. At any one time, the Society has just six or seven Corporate Benefactors, many of whom are long-standing and valued partners.
Between 1998 and 2016, more than £35million was raised from more than 1,250 donors across the whole spectrum of supporters. Their belief and encouragement in what the Society does, and their financial support is hugely appreciated. The Society’s substantial development over this period could not have been achieved without their help.
For the current strategic period, from 2017 to 2021, some clear fundraising priorities and challenges have been identified. By far the largest is the final phase of the 25-year extension and refurbishment of the Society’s home, the Grade II* listed Lowther Lodge. This includes major repairs to the south façade of the building, which faces onto the garden; redecoration and upgrade of the Lowther and Council Rooms neither of which have been touched for more than 25 years; essential repairs to the oak floor in the Main Hall; and renewal of the front forecourt. It is anticipated that this work will cost a total of around £1million, and a major capital appeal will be set up along with an approach to the Society’s membership and other donors for help.
Other capital developments are already funded and due to be completed in 2017. These include the first phase of a new website, a new telephone system, and a new sound system for the Ondaatje Theatre. The latter completes the upgrade of the Ondaatje Theatre services – lighting, AV and sound system – that has taken place over the past four years, replacing the now out-of-date technology installed when the theatre was last refurbished 16 years ago.
There will be incremental development and enhancement of many existing charitable activities, while a number of new projects have been identified that are dependent on raising external funds. For some we have already completed the fundraising, but for those listed below we are currently seeking new or additional external funding:
- Boosting the Society’s work as a professional body in support of geographers in the workplace, their ongoing professional development, accreditation, and networking.
- Raising standards and the aspirations of pupils through the study of geography in those regions and schools in England where there is a marked underperformance and/or little uptake of geography at GCSE.
- Enhancing young peoples’ skills for the future – with a focus on field skills, GIS and data skills – by helping school teachers to gain confidence and upskill in these important areas.
- Maintaining Discovering Britain walks and trails and the Britain from the Air exhibition as key features of the Society’s public engagement programme.
- Extending the series of public discussions with factual briefings and fact checks on topical issues with a strong geographical component, building on the Society’s reputation for excellence and independence.
The Society is also seeking one new corporate sponsor to support the Society’s work in education, while sustaining the valued partnerships with existing Corporate Benefactors.
Finally, a new legacy campaign to encourage Fellows, members and other supporters to remember the Society in their wills is to be launched. The aim is to create a lasting £10million endowment, the interest on which will pump prime the Society’s development in perpetuity. The Society warmly thanks all those who have helped with funding and expertise over the years and those who continue to do so.
This was published in the November 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.