Association of British Orchestras


Laura Willis

Development Director, London Philharmonic Orchestra

I think my route into fundraising is typical of many of my colleagues in the sector when I say fundraising wasn’t something I set out to do. In fact, I knew very little about the world of arts fundraising when I began my job search. I studied music at university and knew I wanted to work an orchestra, but was more drawn to the Concerts and Orchestral Management as this felt more ‘known’ to me. I am so glad I discovered fundraising which has given, and continues to give, me a fast-paced, exciting, varied and challenging, but ultimately hugely rewarding, career.

I started my career at the Association of British Orchestras as an intern. This provided me with a solid grounding in administrative work and office life as well as a fascinating insight into what goes on behind the scenes in the orchestral sector. It was through attending the ABO’s training days, Specialist Managers Meetings and the Annual Conference, and by meeting lots of people working in the sector, that I got to understand more about the world of arts fundraising and realised just want an interesting and varied career path this can be. My first fundraising role was at the London Philharmonic Orchestra as Corporate Relations and Events Officer, helping to organise the many events of the Development Department from private dinners after a concert to the annual black-tie fundraising Gala, and providing administrative support for the corporate fundraising such as booking tickets for sponsors, raising invoices and attending meetings with prospects. I’ve since worked my way up the ladder to my current role of Development Director at the LPO, gaining valuable experience at two other organisations, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and the Design Museum, along the way.

I love that fundraising combines two of my main skillsets; creativity, resourcefulness and strategic thinking and the more mathematical side of brain that enjoys getting stuck into the figures and finances. I’m regularly challenged by my work and the job is never dull! Fundraising requires patience, diplomacy and resilience but the rewards are significant and make the hard work worthwhile. The feeling of success and accomplishment when you secure a new donor or sponsor, or when the project you’ve been raising money for is realised is immensely satisfying. I’m also fortunate to have had some amazing experiences through my work, such as dinner at Buckingham Palace and travelling to Japan to look after a sponsor on tour, as well as meeting all sorts of fascinating people.

The Development Department at the LPO is a team of seven. We have two Development Assistants and four Managers, one for each of the main fundraising income streams; Individual Giving Manager, Corporate Relations Manager, Development Events Manager and Trusts and Foundations Manager. As a team it is our responsibility to raise a set target each year to support the Orchestra. This can be raising money for specific areas of work or projects, such as the Education and Community programme or a tour, as well as raising general funds to underpin the core work of the Orchestra. There are so many different ways to raise money which something I really enjoy; from looking through the database at our regular bookers to see who might want to join as a Friend and enjoy attending some rehearsals, to putting together a really creative package of activity which aligns with a company’s brand values and mission (we’ve even organised musicians performing on safari in Botswana for a sponsorship!). As well as bringing in new funds it’s vitally important we look after those who have given money. This includes sending thank you letters or making phone calls, inviting supporters to rehearsals and events to meet the musicians and preparing funding reports to name just a few ways.

My role as Development Director is to oversee all aspects of the Orchestra’s fundraising, working with the Chief Executive to set the fundraising forward strategy and to ultimately ensure we reach our target each year. My day to day work is incredibly varied. One day I might be sitting down with the Artistic Director to talk about the artistic plans for the next few years to see where there are fundraising opportunities and needs and the next I can be writing a report for a major funder about all the incredible things their funding has helped us achieve. I also look after the relationships with our highest-level donors so I’m often keeping in contact with them through emails, calls or meetings and I work closely with the Board and administrator of the American Friends of the London Philharmonic Orchestra to plan and deliver fundraising events in the US.

The aspect I love most about my job is the people. Fundraising brings you into contact with a wide variety of people, from meeting the participants of an Education project whose lives are being enhanced by music on a funder visit to escorting some of the biggest names in the industry to a post-concert dinner. And of course, we get to spend our time talking to and building relationships with the supporters whose passion and commitment to the organisation is infectious.

Annual Conference

The next ABO conference will take place in Bristol,
hosted by Bristol Beacon, from 24-26 January 2024.