Financial Resources

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Financing Your Project

Project financing is a topic that causes many cultural heritage institutions, particularly smaller ones with limited or no paid staff, to not consider implementing the types of projects our contributors report in Positioning Your Museum as a Critical Community Asset. To address this concern we required our contributors to report on projects that could be completed for under $1500.00, assuming access to normal business equipment, supplies, and personnel. In addition, our contributors told us about their “go to” resource to obtain $1500.00 to fund a special project. We posted the same query to the museum professionals who subscribe to the Museum-L Listserv. The responses we received were less about specific resources and more about strategic approaches. From both our contributors and other museum professionals, we received a considerable diversity of feedback as follows:

  • In our contributors’ case studies, labor was intentionally excluded from project cost estimates. However, labor for those projects can be a substantial expense if the needed skills are not available from the existing museum staff. A substantial number of our case studies directly or indirectly relied on skills of students to carry out the projects. As Robert Connolly, Holly Solis, Brian Failing, and Suzanne Francis-Brown note in their contributions to Positioning Your Museum as a Critical Community Asset,  engaging university students as interns, volunteers, and for class projects can be an effective means to implement projects.
  • Nonprofit Tech For Good is typical of a growing number of organizations that consult on digital fundraising. Several of our contributors find the site useful because of its weekly e-newsletter that contains 10-15 links to relevant reports or infographics, links to free introductory webinars, and an extensive archive of curated material on nonprofit fundraising. The site is administered by Heather Mansfield, the author of two volumes on social media and fundraising for nonprofits. Of particular value Mansfield advocates integrating multiple social media tools, each with its own function, into a nonprofit’s total social media and fundraising program.
  • Perhaps the most common and diverse set of responses we received from our Museum-L query and the volume contributors focused on funding from local organizations and special interest groups. For example, a Visiting Nurses Association in South Carolina helped to fund educational outreach trunks. Rotary Clubs and other civic organizations were favored funders for small projects. The Manassas Museum reported a long-standing relationship with the local Women’s club for funding projects in the $2000.00 range.
  • Melissa Prycer notes in her case study for Positioning Your Museum as a Critical Community Asset, as did several of our Museum-L responders, the ability to tap into existing government small grant programs. For example, in an email response Kathie Gow from the Hatfield Historical Museum in Massachusetts wrote that “each city and town has its own cultural council, a subsidiary of the state cultural council. We’re a small town, and our cultural council usually has about $4,000 annually to spend, divided up among 8-15 applicants . . . There’s also the nonprofit fundraising organization connected with our small school system. They have about $10K they raise each year and offer grants between a few hundred dollars and a few thousand.” As well, local and regional arts, libraries and humanities endowment organizations were considered by our volume contributors as favored resources for funding.
  • Special issue organizations serve as information clearinghouses for funding specific focused projects. For example The Tennessee Environmental Education Association publishes a monthly e-newsletter that contains a list of relevant grants and resources.
  • Corporate sponsorships were another prime means our contributors reported for funding opportunities. Local businesses can be approached to provide in-kind services such as printing, construction materials, or supplies. Major corporations routinely offer small (and large) grant awards for community based projects (e.g., Home Depot, Walmart ).
  • Crowdfunding for nonprofits that are both 501(c)3 and nonprofits in name only is a fast growing means to achieve small to moderate amounts of funds in a matter of weeks.  Kickstarter and gofundme are examples of crowdfunding organizations. Typically, the crowdfunding organization receives about 8% of the funds raised as a service fee. The crowdfunding organizations only make money if campaigns are successful so they provide excellent advice on how to organize the effort. Our volume contributors Gustavo Valencia and Elizabeth Cruzado successfully raised over $2000.00 in less than two weeks as partial support for their ongoing project on the north coast of Peru. Of importance, simply being listed on a crowdfunding platform will not be the reason for a campaign’s success. Rather the platform only acts as a host for the fundraiser to tell their story and accept donations. The fundraiser must promote the campaign through their social media outlets and other sources.
  • Our contributors provided several caveats and recommendations for fundraising. Foremost was being accountable to and communicate with donors. Even if the total funds requested is $500.00, presenting a budget along with the request assures the potential donor that the project is well conceived with a greater probability to succeed. Further, success begets success. Having a successful record of past programs to show funders provides more assurance of future success. Our volume contributors report the importance to follow-up donations with an acknowledgement of the gift coupled with reporting on the progress of the project so that the donor knows their money is well spent.

A Few More Ideas

  • Network for Good’s 60-Day Fall Fundraising Plan is a useful resource for first time campaigners.  The plan demonstrates the need for a well thought out approach that builds for two months prior to the actual launch of the campaign.  Waiting until the week before Thanksgiving to take advantage of Giving Tuesday or end of the year fundraising opportunities is simply too late to be effective.
  • Classy describes themselves as ” . . . the world’s fastest growing fundraising platform for social impact organizations. . . From cutting-edge health programs to educational advancement, our customers are tackling the world’s greatest challenges . . . ”  Regardless of whether one chooses to use the Classy platform for fundraising, the organization provides useful blog posts on a variety of topics such as how to organize a crowdfunding campaign, a donor retention handbook, and creative ways to thank donors.
  • Crowd Crux’s Top Nine Fundraising Blogs for Nonprofits has links that routinely offer fee-based services but also provide considerable no-cost best practices information to guide fundraising activities.
  • The Association of Fundraising Professional is “an association of professionals throughout the world, advances philanthropy by enabling people and organizations to practice ethical and effective fundraising. The core activities through which AFP fulfills this mission include education, training, mentoring, research, credentialing and advocacy.”  Membership in the AFP is fee-based and allows access to considerable fundraising resources including reports and webinars.  Not necessarily for the novice museum professional needing to raise modest sums of money, but certainly of value to the mid-sized institution.
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