Financial Stability Museum Magazine Small Museums Tech

Fundraising success will come to small museums that implement a set of best practices. – American Alliance of Museums

A $100 dollar bill stands at an angle made up of blocks with construction equipment placing the blocks on either end.

A $100 dollar bill stands at an angle made up of blocks with construction equipment placing the blocks on either end.

If I had a greenback for each time a well-intentioned board member, volunteer, or employees member recommended one of the above fundraising ideas, my group would have a Harvard-like endowment and run a wholesome surplus annually!

Alas, in my virtually 20 years working at small museums, I’ve discovered that most fundraising conversations or brainstorming periods concentrate on three largely flawed concepts:

  1. The Fast Repair Concept: there’s one fast, straightforward means to usher in all the cash we’d like to run our museum, and we simply want to work out what it’s.
  2. The Bake Sale Concept: you possibly can remedy a $100,000 fundraising problem by promoting $2 cupcakes (or mugs or bricks or scarves) to your family and friends.
  3. The Let’s End Fundraising Concept: in case you are profitable with this specific fundraising effort, you will be carried out—by no means once more having to increase cash to help your group.

Sadly, these mindsets restrict our small establishments, typically severely. Let’s transfer away from these flawed mentalities and towards fundraising best apply. It’s not arduous to do; it simply takes some planning—after which sticking to the plan.

Why Not Be the Best?

Following fundraising best follow means specializing in three issues: monetary sustainability, philanthropic help from people, and creating a profitable
fundraising course of.

Monetary Stability

Frame conservator Bill Adair describes his work to Dumbarton House staff and volunteers at his studio. At Dumbarton House, acquisition and conservation of collections items, like this tri-part over-mantel looking glass, are funded through a mix of contributed and earned income.Body conservator Invoice Adair describes his work to Dumbarton Home employees and volunteers at his studio. At Dumbarton Home, acquisition and conservation of collections gadgets, like this tri-part over-mantel wanting glass, are funded by means of a combine of contributed and earned revenue.

It’s straightforward to get so slowed down within the annual price range particulars that we concentrate on monetary viability moderately than sustainability. Typically, financially viable organizations are ones that are bringing in additional revenue than they’re spending. Definitely, that’s important, however being viable doesn’t guarantee that your museum has the monetary assets to be sustainable in the long run.

In accordance to John Durel’s publication Constructing a Sustainable Nonprofit Group, a sustainable group is one that, by means of useful circumstances and good skilled practices, generates sufficient monetary and group help to assure its continued existence on an indefinite foundation. A key to establishing monetary sustainability is to diversify revenue streams, making certain that all of your eggs aren’t in
one basket.

For a small museum, this implies creating a good combine of funding sources, together with contributed revenue (primarily from people plus some grants and company sponsorships), earned income (program charges, rental occasions, present store, and so forth.), and earnings from the endowment or invested funds. You additionally need a good combine inside these numerous teams so that you’re by no means overly reliant on one grant program or one “angel” donor.

Philanthropic Help Comes from People

In accordance to Giving USA, the overwhelming majority of philanthropic help within the US comes immediately from people—both by way of donations throughout their lifetime (72 % of complete giving in 2017) or as bequests (9 % of complete giving).

Merely put, no small museum can maximize its fundraising alternatives relying solely on grants or company giving. Profitable fundraising in our nation means asking particular person donors to contribute to your mission—and in 2017, greater than $18 billion was directed towards arts, tradition, and humanities. Fairly than chasing aggressive grants or elusive company presents, most small museums can be best served creating a robust main presents program targeted on people who care about (and, higher but, are engaged in) your mission.

Fundraising Is an Ongoing Course of

Each employees and board members want to let go of the notion that fundraising is one thing they want to examine off and be carried out with to get again to the “real work.” For the chief director and board, fundraising is the “real work,” and it ought to be a half of all employees and volunteer duties. With out sufficient funds, we will by no means really advance our mission nor obtain our organizational imaginative and prescient, and fundraising ensures
that we’re continually recruiting and interesting stakeholders in our effort.

To make sure your fundraising course of is ongoing, comply with these 5 steps.

  1. Determine. Who’re your prospects? How shut are they to your group? How a lot do they care about your mission? How a lot capability have they got?
  2. Domesticate. How are you going to construct a relationship with a potential donor? What’s his or her particular curiosity in your museum and its packages? Who inside your group is related to this prospect—or who might be?
  3. Solicit. What will you ask for? How will you ask—junk mail, phone, face-to-face, peer, on-line?
  4. Acknowledge. How will you acknowledge presents? Tax receipts ought to be provided at a
    minimal—and are required for presents at $250 and above. Will you listing names in a publication? Print/e-mail an annual report? Personally name?
  5. Steward. How will you keep up a correspondence with donors after the present? You need to inform donors how the undertaking is progressing, their present’s influence, and what’s subsequent for the group. This part ought to lead again into the cultivation part. Keep away from leaping straight from acknowledging one donation to soliciting the subsequent. Donor communication ought to be greater than fundraising asks.

Making use of Best Practices

Armed with these best practices, you possibly can contemplate implementing fundraising concepts.

First, all the time begin together with your strategic plan. This ought to be a written, long-range doc targeted on the subsequent three to 5 years. The strategic plan will embrace not solely your group’s mission (what objective it serves) but in addition your imaginative and prescient (what influence you need to have). Your strategic plan objectives will have funding implications based mostly in your solutions to the next questions: What’s your imaginative and prescient for the longer term? What steps will you’re taking to attain that imaginative and prescient?

How a lot will that value?

Subsequent, create a improvement/fundraising plan to attain that imaginative and prescient. Did that simply cease you in your tracks? Hold shifting by asking and answering these questions: How a lot would you like to increase? For what?

A young white woman stands in front of a group of people outside the front of a red brick brick building holding a placard which appears to be a map. Schooling Supervisor Stephanie Boyle leads a hard-hat tour at Dumbarton Home throughout HVAC alternative and window conservation efforts in February 2017. Grant funding helped Dumbarton Home leverage personal donations to fund these capital enhancements.

Who wants to be concerned? What do they want to do? By when? How a lot will it value? How will you consider success? How will you report on progress?

As you’re constructing the fundraising plan, rigorously contemplate the prices and advantages of every fundraising technique. A board member as soon as requested me, “What is the easiest way we can raise the most money?” That caught with me and has helped me prioritize fundraising strategies ever since. Under are some widespread methods small museums increase funds, with some issues for every.

Museum memberships/associates: Who’s your audience? How will you entice them to be a part of? How will you retain them engaged as soon as they’ve joined?

Annual attraction/annual fund: How are you going to encourage main presents? Are you specializing in member renewals? How do you domesticate and acknowledge donors?

Particular solicitations/project-based fundraising: What people/teams have the best curiosity on this undertaking?

Grants: How are you going to domesticate connections to native/regional/state funders? Have you ever researched grant choices forward of time—earlier than you could have a want to apply?

Company sponsorships: What’s the popularity of a potential sponsor in your group? Keep away from “strings attached” gives.

Deliberate giving: How are you going to encourage donors and prospects to embrace your museum of their wills? The place are you able to make obtainable the suitable language for donors? (Deliberate presents are an necessary half of a long-term fundraising plan, however they sometimes are usually not useful for present fundraising wants.)

Galas and occasions: Do you’ve gotten a robust committee and an permitted finances? Are you able to get donations to cowl most prices? Is that this a true fundraiser or solely a friend-raiser?

Earned income—rental occasions, present outlets, program charges, admissions: Do your charges undervalue your website or program? Nevertheless, don’t run amok with non-mission-critical earned income efforts. For instance, weddings may be profitable for a lot of websites, however you don’t need to squeeze out mission-relevant area journeys, excursions, and workshops. Attempt for a cautious stability.

In the long run, success actually does breed success. When you get that first grant award or main present, you will have skilled credibility. And that will provide help to obtain the subsequent grant or present and will encourage others to be a part of the trouble.

Profitable fundraising begins by accepting that there’s nobody fast funding repair. As an alternative, stick to best practices, contain each member of your employees and board, and punctiliously align your fundraising efforts together with your strategic objectives. Sure, it’s extra work than one nice bake sale, however this course of can truly lead to long-term monetary sustainability.

7 Ideas For Fundraising Success

  1. Plan, plan, plan. Contemplate your numerous fundraising choices, collect stakeholder enter, strategically determine the best path ahead, and safe board or committee buy-in. That method, key gamers agree concerning the choices being pursued—and why different choices will not be—and are engaged within the course of from the outset.
  2. Talk together with your accountant/treasurer. A quantity of years in the past, we thought-about operating a fundraising journey through which individuals would pay a charge to be a part of the tour and can be required to donate at a sure degree. Sounds nice, proper? Our accountants reminded us, nevertheless, that IRS tips prohibit required donations—presents have to be voluntary to qualify for tax advantages. They saved us from a vital headache.
  3. Develop a fundraising plan that aligns together with your price range and strategic plan. Your employees and board may be nice at brainstorming methods to generate profits. However you want to align the event plan with the organizational price range and strategic plan so that you progress ahead with solely these nice concepts that you possibly can afford, help your mission, and will transfer your group nearer to your imaginative and prescient.
  4. Begin small, however intentionally. Launching one well-considered fundraising effort will probably show extra profitable than making an attempt to begin six new initiatives in a single day.
  5. Contemplate the prices and revenue margin earlier than diving in. Not all fundraising strategies are created equal, and never all will profit your group in the long run. Rigorously think about the short- and long-term employees, volunteer, and monetary assets concerned in any fundraising initiative.
  6. Domesticate present donors. Private touches and relationships are on the core of profitable fundraising packages. Retaining present donors is far less expensive than recruiting new ones. For small museums, this sometimes means administrators should prioritize main donor cultivation and stewardship.
  7. Maintain the fundraising message constructive. Disaster appeals lose their effectiveness if each annual fund letter is a plea to assist maintain the doorways open. Additionally, donors need to spend money on organizations that are profitable, well-managed, and making an influence—so current your museum in that method.


Sarah Sutton, Is Your Museum Grant-Prepared?, 2018

Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko and Stacy Klinger (Eds.), “Financial Resource Development and Management,” Small Museum Toolkit, E-book Two, 2013

Salvatore G. Cilella, Fundraising for Small Museums, 2011

John Durel, Constructing a Sustainable Nonprofit Group, 2009

Karen L. Daly is the chief director of Dumbarton Home in Washington, DC