5 Creative Fundraising Ideas for Museums

Don't just ask for donations – use special events and other creative methods to raise funds for your museum

Even before the financial collapse in 2008, museums of all stripes struggled to raise the funds needed to continue growing. Unlike an issue-based organization like Doctors without Borders or the World Wildlife Fund, art, cultural and historic museums often don't have dedicated built-in supporters.

Also, many visitors mistakenly believe that since a museum sells tickets, it's able to raise all the money it needs through that alone.

You know different of course – you know that ticket sales alone barely keep the doors open. But in order to attract new visitors and keep the old ones coming back, you understand that updating your exhibits and adding new ones is also critical.

This is where museum fundraising comes in, which is important now more than ever…

You may already solicit donations on your website and in your community. With tight budgets everywhere though, many people simply aver the question to a later time. Most of the time, they forget about it within a few minutes.

As uncertainty about the future economy abounds, most museums have been put in a tough spot. If there was any government support/subsidy, it's gone, or at least dramatically scaled back.

There are corporate sponsors too – but more often than not, a company's assistance only goes so far and is temporary and based on how their business is doing. If they're having a bad year, chances are they'll reduce or withdraw their support.

In light of these realities and challenges, creativity in the area of fundraising is an absolute must. Continue reading for 5 of the more creative ways we've heard.

•  Host a dinner party – but serve more than just a meal…

Dinner parties are nothing new. But one creative spin you could put on your event is to dress the parts of some of your exhibits. If you're an art museum, have Claude Monet and Picasso as keynote speakers complete with the accent, style and everything. Or if you're a history museum, have volunteers dress and do skits on the events from those days.

One museum in Michigan for example brought an entire movie to real life, and provided patrons with a night of unforgettable entertainment.

In short, the more “interactive” you can make special fundraising events, the more interest you'll draw.

•  Hold a silent auction – offer “one-of-a-kind” pieces

While a silent auction may be part of a dinner gala event, they're quite valuable in raising funds for your museum. Providing the chance for patrons to win a rare, one-of-a-kind piece, and getting local businesses to donate an item can bring a good bit of money into your organization. Have an auction for that prized item, and see how high the price will go!!

•  Set aside special “family” days

Once a week, or once per month, consider holding special tours and activities for families. Parents are always looking for something to do with their kids. Have special educational programs that kids can enroll in. If you're an art museum for example, you could have special days where kids can come and learn water-color painting.

Reach out to family-oriented businesses in your area to see if they'd like to sponsor events geared toward kids.

•  Develop a cookbook or some other guide

Developing resources like a cookbook or some interactive guide can also be another huge source of donations/revenues. If you're a history museum, include recipes that would have been prepared back in those times. One benefit of this approach is the fact that you're not limited to a one-day event like the other options – a book can be sold for many months, even years.

If you want to get really creative, develop an interactive game that patrons can come be a part of.

Get a local business to underwrite the cost in exchange for advertising space.

•  Organize specialized “support” groups

Another creative avenue museums can take to raise funds is to organize specialized, or “affinity,” groups. This basically involves building a network of like-minded people who can donate and raise money on your behalf. For example, you could have one group for lawyers who support your museum and another for doctors. These specialized groups are also powerful since members will reach out and bring in new members on their own. Perhaps offer an incentive like a free personalized tour, or souvenir for anyone who joins a support group.

These are just a few ideas to consider for raising funds for a museum. Brainstorming, and careful consideration of your goals and patrons will help you determine the right kind of fundraising methods to employ.

Continue browsing to learn more, but if you're looking for comprehensive, low-cost and user-friendly museum fundraising software and consulting, contact Blackbaud to discuss your facility's needs today.

Other creative ideas for museum fundraising:

Museum fundraising and Twitter

Steps to boosting donor acquisition with ticketing

Major gift fundraising for the arts

Major Gifts Prospecting for Art & Culture Organizations

Tax Breaks for Volunteers