Fundraising, Part 7: Arts and culture groups focus on donors

By Todd Cohen

[This article was written for Blackbaud.]

Museums have shifted the focus of their fundraising to better address demand from donors who want to know the difference their gift makes, says Ford Bell, president of the American Alliance of Museums.

“It’s not enough to say we want another picture or exhibit,” he says of fundraising appeals by museums. “Donors want to know our impact on the community.”

With donors receiving a growing number of funding requests from nonprofits that address basic needs such as shelter, food and clothing, Bell says, museums have been doing a much better job talking about the diverse roles they play in their communities.

The 17,500 museum institutions in the U.S. that range from art museums to zoos provide 18 million instructional hours a year, often offering targeted programs for a broad range of audiences.

Those audiences, to name just a few, include patients with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers; children on the autism spectrum; new Americans; children and families involved in the juvenile justice system; and people concerned with hunger and food security.

“Museums are engaged in a wide variety of community issues today,” Bell says. “We really have hidden our light under a bushel. People don’t think of us as educational institutions.”

Museums also are using a variety of fundraising strategies, depending on donors’ age, interests and capacity to give.

Recognizing that younger donors are looking for results and want to be involved in the organizations they support, for example, museums are creating “an experience that’s meaningful and relevant for them,” Bell says. “Museums need those younger generations to feel the museum is a place they want to be part of.”

So museums are offering travel opportunities, taking people to lunch, meeting with them personally, and inviting them to serve on the board.

And donors who make larger gifts are receiving more personal attention, including events designed specifically for them.

Whether targeting younger donors or major donors, museums increasingly are using digital and social media to communicate, and refining their message to be more relevant, Bell says.

The key is to “show them what you’re doing in the community, and also to engage them in that work,” Bell says. “There’s still a problem in the museum field. People still feel we hang stuff on walls. People have to see we’re making a difference in the community.”

Whether for young adults or new Americans, he says, “we’re trying to get them in the door.”

Next: Public benefit groups diversify fundraising

The series:

Part 1: Growth tied to capacity, cultivation, communication.

Part 2: Healthcare groups invest in capacity.

Part 3: Higher education cultivates major gifts.

Part 4: Data key for independent schools.

Part 5: International affairs groups refine message.

Part 6: Religion focuses on fundamentals.

Part 7: Arts and culture groups focus on donors.

Part 8: United Way diversifies.

Part 9: Conservation groups connect with donors.

Part 10: Communication, planning key for human services.

Part 11: Peer-to-peer strategy fuels medical research.

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