There's a reason why museums often resort to having the same fundraisers -- they have a proven success record. By all means hold a black tie gala or a silent auction, but supplement these events with homegrown ideas. Because nonprofit museums often receive a lot of their funding from individual donors, the best plan for fundraising often includes events and activities year-round aimed at different members of the community.
Ideas for All Fundraisers
No matter what kind of fundraiser your organization does, keep the well-known fundraising mantra in mind that "people give to people," and give careful thought to how you approach each person in your community, including large and small donors and new and old members. Newsletters, renewal notices and membership perks, like coffee mugs for people who renew their memberships, appeal to longtime supports. Events, such as fashion shows or picnics, and solicitation letters bring in both new and old donors.
Involve Local Business
Partnerships create a win-win scenario for museums and businesses. When the Reading Museum Service in the United Kingdom placed an Iron Age sword in the lobby of an accounting firm, the business attracted people to its buildings and demonstrated its commitment to the community; the museum built curiosity and interest in potential visitors and donors. Gift clubs are another way to forge relationships with the business community. Offer benefits to businesses tied to different monetary donations, such as printing business names in brochures, offering special networking events and giving framed "thank-yous."
Engage the Local Community
Entice community members, both new and returning, to the museum with special events; include a fundraising booth in a prominent location and add attendees to your mailing list. The Children's Museum in Denver holds plenty of activities for children and families, such as a game day, professional photography sessions and museum sleepovers that other museums can emulate even if their collections don't specifically cater to children. Or, use outreach to get new donors, such as sending out staff and volunteer docents to speak at senior centers and Chambers of Commerce.
Find a Celebrity to Help
Invite a local or national celebrity to museum fundraisers or create a fundraising event around a celebrity presentation. The Bainbridge Island Museum of Art in Washington did this because one of their members knew the poet Billy Collins. Collins did a reading for the community for a small fee and held a private reception on a different date for large donors. Other celebrities to consider include local newscasters, musicians and the stars from your local professional sports teams.
- Association of Indiana Museums: The Agony and the Ecstasy: Developing an Annual Fundraising Program
- Smithsonian Institution: Fundraising at Art Museums
- Museums Association: Case Study: Regular Donors
- Children's Museum of Denver: Fundraising Events
- Bainbridge Performing Arts: A Conversation With Billy Collins at IslandWood
Susan Lundman began writing about her passions of cooking, gardening, entertaining and recreation after working for a nonprofit agency, writing grants and researching child development issues. She has written professionally for six years since then. Lundman received her M.A. from Stanford University.