Attract Charitable Donations Through Education Programs – American Alliance of Museums

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With earned income streams blocked by the pandemic, attracting charitable donations is more important than ever. Here are some ways that education programs can raise donations. Photo credit: alexandra lammerink on Unsplash

In this series of articles, EdCom The Trends Committee takes a closer look at the emerging phenomena identified in the 2020 edition of TrendsWatch of the Center for the Future of Museums. In this article, they focus on the overarching topic of charitable income, with case studies from the Edgar Allen Poe House Museum, the Fowler Museum at UCLA, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Museum of the Moving Image and from Jacksonville’s Museum of Science and History.


A months-long hiatus in ticket sales, fundraising events, space rentals, café and gift shop sales, and exhibition loans has left many museums in financial difficulty, with few ways to recoup their earned income. This put them in a precarious position: AAM released a report in late July indicating that up to a third of the museums it surveyed were at significant risk of closing permanently by next fall, or that their directors did not know if their institutions would survive.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced these closures, many museums turned to charity to make up for lost earned income. TrendsWatch defines charitable income as “a support [that] can help bridge the gap between what the public is willing to pay to enjoy what the museum offers and what it costs to run the museum. The economic uncertainty surrounding the pandemic has limited the amount of philanthropy, but not stopped, as many donors have continued or increased their giving levels and plan to continue doing so in 2021.

Charitable income is therefore particularly critical as museums operate with limited capacity or remain completely closed. With less opportunity to pay museums directly for products and services, more people will have to make a conscious decision to support them as causes. How can educators play a meaningful role in stimulating these charitable giving? How does community building help incentivize charitable giving? How to creatively sound the alarm bells in times of financial crisis? These are the questions we want to answer in this article.

Create a community near and far

Educational programming is one of the few concrete tools to virtually engage clients with our institutions. But that doesn’t necessarily help with income. Asking your audience to buy tickets for an experience they prefer to have in person is a tough sell, and the COVID-era world is full of free content. Instead of creating a barrier to entry with the sale of program tickets, some institutions are finding opportunities to tap into the philanthropic impetus of patrons and build community along the way.

Pay What You Can Programs

During the pandemic, the Edgar Allan Poe House Museum in Baltimore began offering virtual tours and programs on an all-you-can-eat model. This extra step in the sign-up process may not result in massive giveaways, but it compassionately communicates that programs are not free to produce, and ties a philanthropic impulse to an immediate reward – the program itself. As one museum staff member tells us, “Overall people seem to like the payment model you can. At the start of the pandemic… we found that more often than not people chose to pay more than the suggested donation. It went down after a while. We will also often see people paying for a regular admission and then adding a face amount for a second or third seat. All are appreciated!

In some cases, programming like this can provide an outlet for the philanthropic impulses of those who donate relatively small amounts. A 2015 Forbes article explored the effect of paid programming on the amount of customer payments, citing an experience that found that strengthening a “community standard” based on social relationships rather than two-way communication resulted in a “greater willingness to pay more.” If museums wish to adopt a payment model that you can, then educators are responsible for demonstrating the overall value of the museum as a community institution worth pursuing. maintained, rather than the value of separate programs.

Member-only programs

Membership programs come in all shapes and sizes, but if the ultimate goal is to encourage charitable giving from this pool of members, it is important to create a strong sense of belonging and community. Educational programs can be a method of developing this sense of community. At UCLA’s Fowler Museum, for example, the Textile Council offers exclusive programming (now virtual due to the pandemic) that provides curators, collections and behind-the-scenes access to what the museum knows its audiences love. more: textiles of the world.

In addition to this exclusive access, the programs also offer opportunities to socialize with people of similar interests. The Fowler creates a sense of community by occasionally inviting members of other organizations with overlapping missions to join a program, where they can be briefed on the museum and its mission, and be invited to remain as a patron of the council at long term.

As TrendsWatch reminds us, “Savvy museums treat engagement as a continuum, focusing on ways to move people from membership (transactional) to donors (mission driven). A group that has an intimate knowledge of the museum’s reputation, collections, mission, and even long-term goals can be a museum’s most valuable charitable community, when the time is right. The key asks! And by thanking, acknowledging, and working in good faith to provide meaningful programs to clients, we can help people feel like they are contributing to the educational mission of the organization.

Community funding

TrendsWatch also highlights projects funded by crowdfunding as an alternative route for mission-driven philanthropy. An example of this comes from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, which launched a Kickstarter campaign calling on people to support a major education initiative to “make the diaries of Holocaust victims and survivors accessible to all.” by helping us catalog, translate, and publish them online. This type of campaign focuses on a low-key project or program that can build community, even among a distant fan group. They may not have a personal relationship with your museum as visitors or program participants, but rather identify personally with the project.

In New York City, the Museum of the Moving Image is appealing to its community for an influx of money from the crowds so it can reopen after the pandemic forced it to close for several months. Campaign donors are attracted to “cool rewards” such as an original cell phone campaign. The simpsons or a bespoke puppet from Jim Henson Company puppet maker James Wotjal, Jr. Carl Goodman, executive director of the museum, says: at. ‘ While many of our members and friends have supported the campaign, we also see this as an opportunity to reach new audiences, especially those who live outside of New York City, with the new online programs we developed during the campaign. pandemic and plan to continue offering even after the building reopens.

A little help from your friends

In some cases, people outside the museum realm have been compelled by the dramatic impact of the pandemic to conduct creative field campaigns bringing new people into museums, in an urgent effort to communicate what is at stake for the community. if they lose them.

In Jacksonville, Florida, for example, a popular local band called Skyview performed at a benefit concert to support the city’s Science and History Museum. Edmund Whisler, vice president of educational services for the museum, explains: “Thanks to the generosity of the Skyview group and the sound technicians, we were able to organize this event in the form of a benefit concert with minimal expenses, where MOSH was able to keep all the profits. of ticket sales. Having an influential voice outside your institution to defend yourself can generate a sense of solidarity in a worthy cause and spread your need to new audiences. And a well-designed community partnership, which is often the work of educators, can at the same time underscore your museum’s mission.

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