Backstage at The Lowry: Rhiannon Mckay-Smith, head of development


My journey into fundraising was a happy accident really. After graduating with a degree in Geography, I tried out various roles in consumer PR and event management, before realising that I wanted to work for the not-for-profit sector. I started at Kew Gardens – raising money for conservation projects, medicinal plant research and art festivals, before moving to the Young Vic Theatre in London. It was at the Young Vic that I really got the arts bug, and was excited to see the Head of Development position at The Lowry advertised when I was planning my relocation north in 2011.

Our team raises income from individuals, companies and trusts and foundations to support The Lowry’s theatre, galleries and community programme. Asking people for money is probably a lot of peoples’ worst nightmare, but I really love the role. It’s incredibly diverse – in a single day I might be pitching a sponsorship idea to a company in the morning, sitting in on a dress-rehearsal as part of a ‘Insight Event’ for our patrons in the afternoon, before hosting a fundraising dinner in our galleries. It gives me the chance to work creatively in a creative environment, and The Lowry’s fantastically eclectic programme of cross-arts and engagement projects, means that you can always create bespoke funding opportunities that really excites a donor.

We’ve created a huge portfolio of ways people can support The Lowry but it is the strength and impact of The Lowry’s Learning & Engagement programme that underpins our fundraising ‘ask’ and it never fails to inspire people to support The Lowry. I’m lucky to have a team that works incredibly hard. We also rely on the goodwill of other departments and we’re forever asking cheeky favours off them – from supplying obscure statistics to meeting donors to giving us backstage access to impress a sponsor.

I really enjoy getting to know our donors–their knowledge of arts and commitment to The Lowry is inspiring. It’s really rewarding helping people become more engaged with The Lowry. One of my favourite ways has been hosting ‘Safari’ events – taking people on a back-stage journey around the building to visit the LS Lowry archive room, underneath the Quays Theatre stage, before popping into a Studio to watch the Lowry Young Actors rehearse, or our CAT dancers do a techniques class. I’m really proud of launching The Lowry’s Christmas Appeal. What was an old-school fundraising idea of bucket collections after our Christmas Shows has grown to generate over £20,000 a year to fund incredible projects with young people from our local community. As a fundraiser I also like how you get to become an expert on things you previously knew little about. When we worked with the Jerwood Charitable Foundation I was able to work really closely with the Lowry Studio team to articulate and build a professional development project for emerging theatre makers that could really excited the funder. Seeing the impact that funding has makes it a really satisfying job.