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Unravelling the potential of digital fundraising for museums

As funding for museums seems to be shrinking and becoming increasingly competitive year over year, fundraising has become vital for our institutions. The power is in the people, truly. The events of 2020 have demonstrated the importance of communicating the relevance and importance of your museum to the public and relying on those audiences to support digitally from near and far.

When people hear the term “fundraising”, visions of dropping a fiver into clear boxes sprinkled throughout galleries, getting call to action letters in the post and even gala events featuring silent auctions and opportunities to see exhibitions after-hours are called to mind. However, while these methods are still valid, digital fundraising has been gaining traction within the cultural sector over the past few decades and with good reason.

When thinking of fundraising, it’s important not to separate digital and physical fundraising. All tactics to raise money for your museum should initiate from the same place and have clear communication. Instead of seeing a massive difference between asking audiences to drop money into a box in-person and initiating a promoted social media campaign focussed on fundraising, break down the steps and look at the similarities. The messaging should be the same even if they way that audiences “drop that fiver” is different; communicating organisational needs and how the audience can help.

In this article we’ll lay the groundwork for unravelling the potential of digital fundraising and exploring its place within the context of your work and museum.


Photo: Volodymyr Hryshchenko 

Importance of communication

Fundraising shouldn’t be looked at too differently from any other museum communication with audiences. Clearly communicating your goals and effectively weaving in impactful call to action language are the tenants of a successful fundraising campaign. Creating a fundraising strategy and associated comms takes time and should be centrally aligned with any other marketing plan utilsing language that your museum’s audience is familiar with.

Informing potential donors and contributors about how their contributions impact culture and change lives is key to fundraising. To learn more about communicating the value of museums to audiences read this article by Anna Faherty.

Digital Fundraising for Museums is economical

The financial cost of a posting letters to thousands of contacts versus hitting send on an email fundraising campaign is incomparable. Email marketing platforms, boosted social posts and fundraising/text to donate platforms are more cost-efficient and often yield similar results to many physical fundraising techniques. Psssst, we’ve written an article on effective email marketing, the backbone of digital fundraising – check it out here!

The potential savings of running a digital fundraising campaign can mean more money in your theoretical museum pocket to contribute towards your goals. However, it’s important to remember that even though digital fundraising can be more cost-effective than physical fundraising, it certainly doesn’t take less time! It can arguably take longer to devise an effective campaign complete with catchy call to action language and snappy graphics communicated via the proper platforms. When implementing digital fundraising strategies within your museum, be sure to allocate the proper staff time and budget to set yourself up for success.

Digital has no boundaries

Fundraising online offers the opportunity to engage with audiences from across the globe which not only increases the chances of meeting fundraising goals, but also provides a chance to attract new followers no matter where they are located. The mass closures of museums in 2020/21 due to COVID-19 forced organisations worldwide to pivot to digital means to maintain audience engagement.

According to a 2020 survey by NEMO (Network of European Museum Organisations) on the impact of the COVID-19 situation on museums in Europe, more than 60% of responding museums increased their online presence in 2020 since they were closed due to social distancing measures. This mass migration to online engagement continues to offer the chance to connect with fresh supporters and potential donors worldwide.

A great way to take find “your people” across the globe aka the people that are invested in your mission and want to support you, is to go beyond your email list and branch out into social media marketing. In their 2020 Digital Overview Report, We Are Social reported that “More than 4.5 billion people now use the internet, while social media users have passed the 3.8 billion mark”. These staggering numbers can translate into off the charts online engagement and financial support with the right communications and fundraising tactics.

Photo: Robin Worrall 

Better potential for engagement/evaluation

The metrics and insight tools that come along with social media and email marketing platforms can be extremely useful in determining the success of your campaigns. If engagement is low, it’s time to switch tactics or perhaps try a different platform. If engagement is high, you know you’ve got a good message + platform combination and can confidently carry forward!

If you are using an email marketing platform like Constant Contact or MailChimp, then campaign success reports are easy to pull and full of useful information like open rate and link performance. For social media metrics, different platforms have various ways of pulling that information but the most common metrics that you should focus on are engagement, impressions/reach, shares, referrals, top conversations and response rate. Looking at these figures can give a 360° view of how audiences interact with your museum online and can be key in predicting if your online engagement can translate into dollars and cents, pounds and pence etc…

As one of the oldest and most-used social media platforms, Facebook is a reliable tool for museums to use in communicating their value and fundraising messages to audiences. Approximately one-third of adults in the world aged 18+ can now be reached through Facebook advertising and more than 50% of adults across the globe aged 18 to 34. Not only is Facebook THE platform for advertising (key for spreading your fundraising message!, but it also has incredibly strong metrics tools to measure that engagement. If you would like to learn more about how Facebook advertising for museums, read our article on the topic here!

All staff support

Fundraising, whether it be digital or physical can’t be accomplished in a silo. The most successful fundraising campaigns have support across the board. For example, a video of a curator explaining why the museum needs support in order to restore certain objects will certainly go much further than a simple object photo with a call-to-action caption.

Having this top-down support can also help to spread word about digital fundraising which is important for the ‘viral’ aspect of this work. If all departments are chattering about current initiatives and thinking about how they can spread the word to different audiences that the connect with, then the chances are greater for meeting that funding goal!

What does this mean for the future?

While we’ve highlighted the merits of digital fundraising within this article, it certainly doesn’t mean that the days of dropping fivers (maybe even a tenner if you feel extra-incentivized after reading) are gone. As museums begin to open up all over the world, it’s essential to build upon the successes of digital engagement in 2020 and find a blended approach to fundraising that works with the rhythm of your museum whilst also making supporters feel galvanized and empowered.

If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this…Rather than think about what you can do with digital, think about what digital can do for you. Work smarter, not harder as museums are more “up against it” than ever after the navigating the tumultuous terrain of 2020. Watch this space for several more articles on unlocking the power of online giving through digital fundraising innovations and tricks of the trade.

Learn more about how museums are increasing their donations with digital at the MuseumNext Digital Income Summit.

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