Dorset History Centre (DHC) and Dorset Archives Trust (DAT) 2009-2013

While friends' groups are beneficial for supporting volunteering and advocacy for archive services, this case study focuses on how an archive service can assist the revitalisation of a friends' group, so that it is better placed to improve its fundraising capability. 

Summary of activity

Dorset History Centre is home to the Dorset Joint Archive Service delivering a pan-Dorset service for Bournemouth Borough Council, Borough of Poole and Dorset County Council. 

The Dorset Archives Trust is a registered charity (Number 1000142) whose aims are 'fundraising, educational lectures and social events to help fund the collection, preservation and storage of Dorset's archives'. The Trust was set up under its former name 'Friends of Dorset Archives' in 1990 and currently has around 130 members. The name 'Dorset Archives Trust' was adopted in 2009 with further constitutional amendments in 2012.

Member benefits include a twice-yearly newsletter, visits and an AGM, including talks. 

Membership fees (2013) are:

  • individual subscription - £8.00 per annum 
  • joint/family subscription (two or more people at same address) - £11.00 per annum
  • group subscription (from societies and organisations) - £13.00 per annum

There are seven trustees, including the Chair and Membership Secretary and the County Archivist is one of the Trustees.

In the year ending 31 March 2012 (most recent published information) DAT earned £5,817 and expenditure was £1,541.

Budget and funding sources

Income and expenditure figures represented a substantial increase from the previous year, however, the average income over the last five years (2013) is around £4,300 and the expenditure around £3,000. Most of the money raised by DAT is transferred to DHC. Recently this has been spent primarily on preservation equipment such as packaging and boxes to support DHC's volunteering programmes.

Membership fees have been fixed for some time, although the fee levels may be revisited once the profile of DAT has been raised.

Challenges and opportunities

In 2007 the Joint Archive Advisory Board commissioned a report to consider ways of generating income to stabilise the archive service budget. 

One recommendation that was accepted was the 'development of the Friends of Dorset's Archives into a more ambitious Dorset Archives Trust, working to shared aims and purposes but as an independent, supportive charity'.

Thus there is a strategic imperative to generate more income through DAT. In order to do so DAT needs to:

  • draw in more fundraising experience and develop its capacity to fundraise
  • develop a closer relationship between members of the Trust, and in particular Trustees
  • improve staff and volunteer group understanding of how the organisations can work more effectively in partnership

DAT does not currently have a distinct profile - information about the Trust is only accessible via the Dorset County Council website - and payment for membership fees is by cheque or standing order. More work needs to be done to raise the profile of the Trust, to encourage more members and more donations, and to encourage membership from across the county and beyond - currently members tend to live in or near Dorchester, with virtually no membership in the Poole area.

Responding to the challenges and opportunities

Dorset History Service is looking to identify individuals with useful contacts and expertise to join DAT and enhance its Board of Trustees. The new chairman of DAT (2013) has instituted a more business-like approach, organising monthly planning and development working parties. DAT is now adopting a more consistent approach to marketing which will underpin a recruitment drive. An HLF Catalyst award will support training and skills development in marketing. 

Developing DAT's fundraising capacity would allow it to approach individuals and trusts who may not wish to donate to the council, but would be happy to fund a charitable organisation. In the past DAT successfully applied to the AE Cooper-Dean Charitable Foundation for a £10,000 grant to facilitate the cataloguing of the Cooper Dean Estate archive but much of the bid-writing work was supported by staff of the archive service.  Ideally members of DAT would be taking a more proactive role in future.

A new website is under development to improve the profile of DAT and make giving to the trust easier. The new website will also provide information about DAT's 'Sponsor a Box' scheme. This scheme allows individuals to donate (£10 per box) to support DHC's re-packaging programme. In return sponsor's names will appear on the DAT website and a label is added to the sponsored box with the name and date of sponsorship. The Trust is also currently testing using Localgiving.com as a way of encouraging donations.

To date (December 2013) DAT has:

  • developed for the first time an events programme, linking to collections held at DHC - including a nationally renowned speaker giving a presentation to a paying audience
  • started a 'Document Purchase Fund' to tap into financial support by linking the need to purchase documents at auction to the members of DAT

Future Developments

DHC has applied for HLF funding to support work on the archives of Banks of Kingston Lacy, one of its largest collections. If the bid is successful then DHC will work closely with DAT in any fundraising and promotional activities.

DHC hopes that the Trust might take a greater role in brokering relationships with depositors in future, in particular in encouraging depositors to provide dowries for collections offered to the archives.

One area that the Trust would like to develop, is a legacy programme, to make it easier for individuals to make bequests to the support the work of the archive service.

Find out more about Dorset History Centre and the Dorset Archives Trust.

For more information about this case study contact Sam Johnston, County Archivist: S.J.Johnston@dorsetcc.gov.uk

This case study complements the Guidance note 'Using friends' groups to support fundraising'.