Arts and social advocacy nonprofit BIG hART has boosted its advocacy and fundraising efforts with governments and big businesses since claiming the business and charity of the year categories at the Telstra Tasmanian Business Awards in July 2017.
The awards win have paved the way for ongoing discussions around new digital social inclusion projects, including meetings with senior executives from NBN and Telstra, as well as Tasmanian government ministers.
According to BIG hART chief executive Scott Rankin, the nonprofit entered the awards because it was interested winning a corporate award in order to improve its credibility in advocating programs to help disadvantaged communities.
“We entered the charity of the year category, and we went on to win the charity and small business of the year award for Tasmania. That took us to the national finals,” Rankin says.
“We were able to leverage being a finalist in the awards into discussions with corporate Australia, philanthropists, ministers, government departments and policy forums. It ended up being very successful for us because we’re a campaigning arts organisation.”
BIG hART was founded 25 years ago in the northwestern Tasmanian city of Burnie, which at the time was the poorest city in Australia’s most disadvantaged state. Since then, it has helped 300 artists and 8,000 participants tackled social issues through art across 50 communities.
“We started off looking for alternative, non-welfare approaches for working with the most disadvantaged in the community. We have expanded to become a national organisation that works where there are entrenched problems and the welfare response is inadequate,” Rankin says.
“All of our projects have a creative basis. Often, when people think of art, they think of the content of what’s being made rather than the process of making it. If you look at the creative process behind making good theatre, film, apps and visual art, you have a whole array of literacies, engagements and disciplines.
“We use the processes of making art, working with professionals, to create really great content that gets into international festivals and wins awards, and at the same time help the participants and their communities benefit from the process of creating it.”
Additionally, the organisation has a strong advocacy arm in order to “help to change the issue itself” and make sure it is “not reinventing the wheel every five years and dealing with the same problem”.
According to Rankin, around two-thirds of BIG hART’s $3 million annual turnover tends to come from corporate donations, with government funding and self-funding (from sources such as tickets to film festivals or theatre exhibitions) making up the remainder. The organisation hopes to become entirely self-funded within the next 10 years, allowing it to become a grantmaker.
“The work that we do in our sector is to do with long-term relationships and information sharing between funders and ourselves. Sometimes those funders or taxpayers need to take responsibility for some aspects of that work,” Rankin says.
“All of those relationships take time to build. But the Telstra Awards allowed us to have a conversation with Telstra itself and NBN around the key issue of digital inclusion in certain sectors (such as young people, low socioeconomic and rural areas, etc.).
“We wouldn’t have had those discussions without going through this process, and subsequently being able to address the Tasmanian Cabinet about why social inclusion is a critical issue for justice in the 21st century.
“They’re high-power discussions that are translating to funding for projects on the ground. And it’s not just funding an issue, it’s funding projects that are very innovative and, if successful, will have a pretty big opportunity to influence other organisations, including Telstra itself.”
Rankin’s advice to similar organisations is that while entering business awards can be an intensive process, it also presents a good opportunity for self-evaluation and networking.
“Keep your antennae out for those people who are within organisations like Telstra who want things to happen are in big buildings in Sydney and Melbourne and often don’t get a chance to get out far to Central Australia or see remarkable stories of change,” Rankin says.
“Feed them, because within big organisations there are many people with a big desire for change that goes beyond corporate social responsibility and staff volunteering.
“There is a strong desire to hand on a better country to our grandchildren, and often what it takes is getting out there and showing results to people who are within positions of funding or supporting real change.”
BIG hART is is Australia’s leading arts and social change organisation. More information about its current projects can be found at bighart.org. Nominations for the 2018 Telstra Business Awards are now open at telstrabusinessawards.com.