Museum Fundraising

Mark WalhimerFund Raising, Museum Planning 1 Comment

A capital campaign is a time-limited effort by a nonprofit organization to raise significant dollars for a specific project.”
All museums fund raise (I will only refer to non-profit museums for this post).  If you are starting a museum, expanding a museum or opening a new exhibition you will need to raise funds.  Museums bring in earned income equal to 30%-50% of their total operating budget, the remaining 70%-50% comes from, government funding (10%-25%), investments (5%-10%) and private donations (30%-50%).
  1. Board of Directors Support – Make sure your Board of Directors has bought into the project, really bought in.    Are they willing to personally give funds to the project?  Are they willing to make introductions? Often Boards go along with an agenda item, not wanting to kill a project, but, members are not personally vested in the fund raising.
  2. Worthy of raising funds? – Is your project worthy of raising funds?  Go out and ask your visitors, go out and ask your community, go out and speak to politicians, (collect data), if they are not interested, move on.  There are lots of good ideas, but trying to raise money for an undesired project is an up hill battle.   Make sure your project is aligned with your institutional   mission, often projects fail for lack of interest or lack of alignment with the institution.
  3. Fund Raising Leader – Create a fund raising committee.  The leader of the fund raising needs to be a well connected, out going person who can “make the ask”.  I have been at the table with lots of fund raising people who are unable to “make the ask”, if you don’t ask, you are not going to get.
  4. Research – You already have initial data from visitors, community and politicians, now organize the data.  “The XYZ museum interviewed 100 moms in Okemo area and 75% would be willing to spend $125 for an annual membership at the Okemo Children’s Museum”, “Our city needs the Okemo Children’s Museum, education of the children of  Okemo is the first priority of our township” – Joe Mayor, collect endorsements and build a database of potential donors.    Use the American Association of Museums, The Association of Children’s Museums and the Association of Science Technology Centers, they each have data regarding the impact of museums on communities.  Assemble the data into a simple 10-15 page document.  So far, there is no need to spend any money raising money.  You are doing your due diligence, proving that your community needs a museum, your community needs to expand it’s museum, your community needs a new exhibition at the museum.
  5. Plan – Create a Data Base of all of the potential funders, government agencies, individuals and real estate developers.  You need to decide if you will retain a lobbyist, a grant writer and or a capital campaign consultant.  For new museums, politicians, real estate developers, wealthy individuals and corporations are your best friends.  Create a “game plan” of how and who will approach the different potential donors.
  6. Total Costs – A capital campaign is for capital expenditures, versus operating expenditures.  It is much easier raising funds for a capital project than museum operating costs, so build operating funds into the capital raising.  If the new exhibition costs $1 million dollars, and it will cost $200,000 per year to operate and maintain the exhibit and the exhibit will have a life of five years, your capital campaign is $2 million or the total cost of the exhibition over it’s life. $1 million for the constrution of the exhibition and $1 million to endow the project.
  7. Quiet Phase – You are now in the “Quiet Phase” of fundraising.  Use your Board of Directors to raise funds to show a “proof of concept”, create a preview facility of your new museum, create renderings of the new exhibition, this work is the “sizzle” that you will use to promote your project to potential donors.
  8. Lead Gift – Secure a lead gift from a credible source; a major corporation or an influential individual, who is willing to help promote the project to other potential donors.
  9. Shop the Lead Gift – Using the lead Gift, the collateral materials and go out and speak to potential donors, work from small to big.  It will get easier to raise funds as the campaign moves forward, start with the easier leads that can be secured.   Build credibility for the project by securing corporate support.
  10. Double Edged Sword –  Corporate donors are a “double edged sword”, you want their support and funds, but be up front about what you will and will not do for the funds.  Often it is best to have guidelines at the start of the project i.e. “no corporate sponsors names will be on any exhibits, corporate sponsors will be recognized at the entrance of the exhibit, Bronze level donors will be recogized in 24 point font on the donor wall”
  11. Announcement and Donor Events– Once you have reached 50% of the capital campaign, go public.  The fund raising has momentum and is moving forward.  Create donor events.  Make sure the donor events raise money, plenty of donor events loose money, a golf tournament that costs $15,000 and raises $10,000 is a waste of time.  Often simple donor events are the best, “dads, daughters and doughnuts”, “Meet the scientist”, private dinners at a Board Members home, are often the most successful.  Gala events can be great to annouce the lead gift and announce the launch of the capital campaign once 50% of the funds have been raised.
  12. Tiers of giving – Establish tiers of giving.  $10, $25, $50, $100, $500, $1000, $10,000, $100,000.  Have a “Donate Now” button on your website with levels starting at $10.  Use your museum members as a source of donations. When you apply for grants, granting organization will be interested in your member participation and the number of donors to the museum.  Sell side walk bricks for $200
  13. Donation Box – Have a donation box at the entrance.  You might not raise that much money, but it sends a message that the institution requires donor money to operate.
  14. Grant writing – Personally I have been involved with more projects that have raised funds from lobbyists, individual donors or corporations.  The grants that I have been involved with are often so restrictive that the grant ends up driving the project.
  15. In kind donations – Don’t forget about “In-kind” donations.  Airplane tickets, computers, LCD flat screens, construction materials, building construction are all great “In-kind” donations.


The Chronicle of Philanthropy:

The Association of Fundraising Professionals

Online Fundraising:

Smithsonian Fundraising Report:

AAM, Fundraising During Tough Times:

Code of Ethics of the the Association of Fundraising Professionals:

Comments 1

  1. I have an opportunity to acquire a warehouse full of historic items of the south. I am interested in getting some information and help on how to start the museum project and fundraising efforts. Thank you. Tom

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