CityLife Arts

UP Close and Personal with Penny Morris

Stakeholder Relations Manager at the Market Theatre Foundation

In Today’s edition of the series marking Women/s Month, focusing on women leaders at the Market Theatre Foundation, CITYLIFE/ARTS editor EDWARD TSUMELE (ET) speaks to PENNY MORRIS, (PM) Stakeholder Relations Manager at the Market Theatre Foundation.

ET: .You have been part of the Market Theatre Foundation for years playing different roles, but mainly as a fundraiser. Have you found that role fulfilling and what would you regard as your milestones over the years?

PM: My main role through all the years has been that of Stakeholder Relationship & Fundraising Manager.  It has also included organising high profile and strategic events.  Whilst fundraising in and of itself is challenging with both highs and lows networking through Stakeholder Relationship is rewarding as one gets to meet and interact with interesting people

ET: How did you get involved in fundraising and what are the challenges of this role?

PM: I got involved in fundraising for the Market Theatre Foundation years ago at the request of the then Managing Trustee, Mary Slack, who knew me from my previous careers.  She invited me to join her and to help raise funds for the MTF.  Fundraising is both a dispiriting and an exhilarating job.  Dispiriting when the proposals and initiatives you have worked so hard on are turned down.  Exhilarating when proposals and initiatives come through and the money flows and everyone rejoices.

ET: .For young people who would one day perhaps want to follow your path, how best must they prepare themselves for such a role?

PM: The skills required for fundraising are (1) excellent writing skills – these are needed because a large amount of fundraising relies solely on the submission of proposals which need to be concise and to the point and address the funder’s focus areas, (2) a good command of the English language as almost all proposals are requested in English irrespective of which country the donor comes from, (3) the ability to meet deadlines, (4) adherence to and fulfilment of the objectives of the grant agreement, (5) strict adherence to budget line items and (6) timely reporting as per the contract rules. 

Stakeholder Relationship requires networking.  The skill is to be professional at all times, to engage with potential funders and stakeholders and to be passionate and committed about your cause.

ET: .Fundraising in general, is a challenging role during the best of times, and now during the time PM: when the world’s economy is affected by disasters such as COIVID-19, it must be pretty even harder. Would you like to comment? 

PM: Fundraising for the arts in particular is extremely hard at any given time.  Funders who believe that the arts really benefit society and can effect change are few and far between. 

The arts are often seen as the ‘nice to have’ especially when up against the needs of health, housing and education – and now a global pandemic.  Whilst the Department of Sports, Arts & Culture supports the Market Theatre Foundation with an annual grant that only caters for the operations of the MTF and not its activities i.e. staging productions and running 2 training institutions in the visual and performing arts. 

To find the funds for these activities falls to the Fundraiser & Stakeholder Relationship Manager.  In the early days private individuals and companies supported the MTF but that has fallen away over the years.  The National Lottery was, for some years, a great supporter but the MTF is now denied access to Lottery funds as it is an agent of the DSAC.  Currently a lot of the MTF funding comes from the diplomatic corps and foreign trusts and foundations.

ET: Finally, what is your proudest moment or experience while working at the Market Theatre over the years?

PM: There have been many proud moments and experiences over the years.  Working closely with John Kani and on 3 occasions in the past flying to America to raise funds to ensure that the doors of the legendary Market Theatre remained open. 

And again with John raising the R1 million that saw the opening of the Market Laboratory which has recently won 3 Human Rights awards for its student productions.  Seeing the Market Theatre is still a shining beacon in the arts world as it is about to celebrate 45 years in 2021 of serving the nation and still winning numerous national and international theatre awards, as well as the prestigious Jujamcyn Award for ‘…. It having proved that art can change a society’.

Seeing the Market Photo Workshop receive the Principal Prince Claus Award for 2018 and its Head being invited to sit on prestigious international photography judging panels. Managing to raise R176,052,903 since the late 1990’s that has allowed all these wonderful things to happen.

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