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How Can Museums Make Money Online

Last week we shared some of the great digital content that museums are producing to keep them connected to their audiences during the COVID-19 crisis.

Doing this makes a lot of sense. Museum professionals have a sense of public duty and we want to support our communities at this difficult time.

But with much of the world under lockdown and museums unable to welcome visitors, the sector is facing a devastating financial crisis. In the past few days institutions have started to announce lay offs. This is undoubtably just the start.

Cultural institutions have limited options to generate revenue while their doors are closed, so with web traffic increased by the public looking for entertainment and educational resources, can museums make money online?

Asking For Support

The Guardian newspaper has resisted the trend which has seen most news websites putting content behind a firewall. Instead they put a simple request for support on all stories.

“Many readers didn’t understand the challenging commercial reality facing all news organisations, but once we told them more, they expressed real interest in wanting to support the Guardian” editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner told the Society of Editors’ annual conference in 2018.

Over 1 million people have made micro donations to The Guardian, with 500,000 paying to support the publication on an ongoing basis.

This is a model that museums should consider following and relatively easy to implement. The public will likely be surprised to learn of the threat that this health crisis poses to museums, so it’s important that we take the time to explain the hole that the COVID-19 crisis has blown in budgets.

Use a simple WordPress plugin to add call for donations to your museums website.


When the Philbrook Museum of Art launched live-streamed concerts on their Facebook page, they looked to monetise this through sponsorship with local companies supporting the performances.

How could your museum support online activities with sponsorship? Perhaps a business which was going to sponsor an upcoming exhibition could be persuaded to switch this support to online content. 

As well as linking sponsorship to new activities, repackage existing resources and sell sponsorship. For example, if your museum has a Podcast with a large audience. Now could be the time to link a sponsor to this.


Many museums are in the fortunate position of attracting a lot of visitors to their websites. This can be translated into ongoing revenue for museums, who can either look for local advertisers or sign up with a platform like Mediavine to connect them with businesses looking to advertise.

The downside of course is that adverts tend to look messy and can slow down your website.

But you might have other options for selling advertising. YouTube for example. Most people expect to see advertising on the platform, so this is an easy way to start generating revenue. You will however need a lot of views to make it worthwhile.

Content Upgrades

While museums usually give content to the public without charge, a popular strategy for monetising websites is to charge for premium content.

Does you museum have educational resources which could be useful to parents struggling to homeschool their children? Perhaps some of these could be turned into PDF downloads which you could either charge for or suggest a donation.

If you’ve produced printed publications, could these be turned into digital downloads and sold online?

Museums need to walk the fine line between providing value to all and generating revenue from additional content.

A Tough Time Ahead

Our cultural institutions are facing a tough year. Those working on the digital side of museums can strengthen their position by showing that they can help their museums to generate revenue.

MuseumNext offer online learning for museum professionals striving for engaging, relevant and flexible professional growth content. Learn more about our virtual museum conferences here.

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 spends his time championing best practice through MuseumNext.

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