Ways Smart Museums Are Using Crowdfunding

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As a modern form of finance, crowdfunding is making itself felt widely. From athletes to musicians, professionals and the organizations that support them are turning to finance to raise needed funds. And recently, we've seen museums and cultural organizations use crowdfunding to raise money earmarked for ongoing operations.

And it makes sense. A recent survey in the UK showed that cultural organizations including leading museums are thinking seriously about how to adopt crowdfunding:

...crowdfunding is the activity most likely to grow next year, with 18% of those surveyed already using digital platforms and 21% expecting to start in 2015. Smaller organisations are particularly interested in crowdfunding to get projects off the ground, with 45% expecting to start in the next 12 months. 

In fact, The Smithsonian is in the midst of enjoying some crowdfunding fruits as it's already exceeded its funding goals in a campaign it's running to restore Neil Armstrong's spacesuit. That got me thinking: how are the top museums adopting crowdfunding to fundraise?

In the rest of this post, we'll look at successful crowdfunding campaigns waged by museums that led to raising of much-needed funds and support from local and global supporters of the arts. (This is somewhat of an advanced crowdfunding post --> click here If you need help deciding which type of crowdfunding is appropriate for your organization and here for what you'll need to do BEFORE launching any crowdfunding campaign.)

Museum Crowdfunding Strategy #1: Get Corporate Sponsors to Match The Crowd

Crowdfunding is very much about getting momentum. There's a psychological aspect hard at work here: backers want to back campaigns that appear successful. Museums are in a unique place to garner grassroots support and using a corporate sponsor is a great way to make this happen.

Not only is the match valuable monetarily, but it adds both credibility to a crowdfunding campaign. When the Smithsonian ran a crowdfunding campaign for its Arthur M. Sackler Gallery’s “Together We Are One” Campaign in 2013, it ended up raising $176,000 for its “Art of Yoga” exhibition.

According to Public History Commons:

The campaign was a success due in part to a corporate sponsor (Whole Foods) providing matching funds and an extensive network of ‘Yoga Messengers’ across the country who shared the donation page with yoga enthusiasts from coast to coast. 

Museum Crowdfunding Strategy #2: Start your Campaign With a Bang

It may look easy to launch a crowdfunding campaign and hit your funding goals. In fact, the great campaigns make fundraising effortless. But the truth is, behind the scenes, the biggest crowdfunding wins came from a well-planned and well-orchestrated marketing campaign. Starting the campaign with a bang that generates tons of momentum has proven to be a winning crowdfunding strategy for museums and all types of campaigns.

Here's how Maren Dougherty, Director of Communications and Marketing for the Autry National Center of the American West in Los Angeles, described how her museum generated lots of attention when it launched, leading to a successful crowdfunding campaign:

Prior to launching our Route 66 campaign, we discussed it with our board of trustees and presented it at an all-staff meeting. The morning of the campaign’s launch, we sent e-mails to our database (about 20,000 subscribers); sent press releases and pitches to individual reporters; posted about it to social media; and messaged various companies and associations related to Route 66. We received a lot of media attention that week. The catchy target amount of $66,000 for a Route 66 exhibition seemed to help, as did the fact that few other museums in Los Angeles have launched major crowdfunding campaigns.

Museum Crowdfunding Strategy #3: Find a Celebrity to Back the Project

The Oatmeal is a well-known webcomic, which lamented the fact that so many people know about Edison, but fewer recognize the greatness of Tesla.

So, the comic strip author decided to do something and turned to crowdfunding.

The Oatmeal's Let's Build a Goddman Tesla Museum was a success of Indiegogo, raising more than $1.3M off an $850k funding target to buy back Tesla's old laboratory, known as Wardenclyffe, and turn it into a museum. The power of the crowd, when catalyzed by a celebrity, is clearly super powerful. Museums should enlist the support of a celebrity, preferably one with a strong and loyal backing online, when planning a crowdfunding campaign.

Crowdfunding is a powerful mechanism for museums to raise financing. With some planning and by following some of the tips above, museums can tap into both a source of funds and fans for the future.