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How are Museums making money online?

Recently, the subject that people want to speak with me about is how museums are making money online. 

“What’s working?” and “Who’s doing it well?” ask colleagues wrestling with challenging financial times and a desire to boost online income when activity in the museum is limited because of social distancing.

First, the bad news. 

Creating an online lecture series isn’t going to replace the income lost by a severe reduction in visitor numbers.

But museums are finding success with growing their online revenue, and these activities can contribute positively to your museum’s bottom line.

QVC for Museums

Remember the online shopping channel QVC? It’s an incredibly successful business making annual sales of over £10 billion selling everything from jewellery to vacuum cleaners through their television channels around the world.

Perhaps inspired by this model, the KMAC Museum in Louisville launched a Virtual Happy Hour on Zoom. This monthly online event showcases carefully curated collection of items from our museum shop and/or from local artists.

Those watching the Zoom event simply add a comment when they want to buy something and they’re invoiced afterwards.

The Virtual Happy Hour has consistently brought in $1000 in sales for the museum. A nice boost in revenue for an hour on Zoom!

Adult workshops / lectures

Charging for workshops and lectures is a path that many museums seem to be taking to make money online. The National Gallery in London has a busy online event schedule with course charged at as much as £75. 

But for smaller institutions which might not have the same reach as a large national museum, a little creativity goes a long way.

For example, one museum teamed up with a local brewery to offer a package where the participant gets a special brew to enjoy with an irreverent take on local history (broadcast on Zoom).

And the brewery promoted the event to their mailing list, bringing in a whole new audience. What’s not to like!

Live Tours?

Burned through all those Netflix box sets and looking for something different? What about a cemetery tour?

McLean County Museum of History is offering just that, a live tour led by an actor in character.

It’s live streamed to wherever you are for $30. What kind of tour could your museum offer? Again I think you must get creative, what about a Halloween ghost hunt streamed live from the cellar of your museum?

With no trick or treating allowed this year (where I’m at least), I’d love to have something spooky like that to tune into on Halloween, and I bet others would too.

Online auction?

An online course or a cemetery tour might bring in some income for your museum, but perhaps not the big bucks that you’re hoping for, but what about an online auction.

Many museums have fundraising auctions as an annual fundraiser, and I’m hearing that these are translating well to digital. Just this week, I heard about one that raised $75,000 in one evening.

Now that’s impressive!

How are you earning money or doing fundraising online for your museum, we’d love to hear success stories so that we can share them with the MuseumNext community.

About the author – Jim Richardson

Jim Richardson is the founder of MuseumNext. He has worked with the museum sector on digital and innovation projects for more than twenty years and now splits his time between delivering consultancy, innovation workshops and keynote presentations.

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