The Ask

How do you accomplish fundraising? The American Association of Museums recently hosted a webinar providing development advice, which we’ve condensed into ten important steps on the staircase to institutional success.

Fundraising from private sources helped create the new Nature Research Center, part of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

1. Use research to target potential donors. Use your own networks and those of others committed to your organization to “prospect.”

2. Start with those who already have some involvement in and passion for your institution’s mission. Board members should not only give, but they also should be willing to identify and/ or motivate other potential donors. When staff at Wake Forest University’s Museum of Anthropology embarked upon a fundraising letter campaign, they created a mailing list by identifying past financial and artifact donors and added Board members’ recommendations.

3. Offer benefits for donations, even if it’s only recognition. Publicize deadlines for the receiving of benefits.

4. Make a specific case for support. Let potential donors know what the institution will do with the money. Tell them about, and even involve them in, discreet projects as much as possible.

5. Before trying “The Ask” in person, make sure you have invited potential donors to a previous event, have visited them, or have gotten to know them in some other way. The Ask should not be your first contact; it should be an early step in the process of building a relationship.

6. Bring along a trustee or other person involved in your organization who also supports it financially. You and your companion should have made your own donations to your cause before asking someone else to do so. Since museum professionals usually do not have the expendable income that potential donors often do, figure out how many weeks’ pay or what percentage of your income you have given. Proportions should be more impressive and persuasive than dollar amounts. One of the webinar presenters, who is an experienced fundraiser and director of a county historical museum, asserted that it is common for potential donors to ask him how much he has given. Be prepared. If you are not committed to the cause enough to give a week’s pay, then the case you make will not seem as urgent or genuine.

7. Thank donors and update them on the way the funds they have given are used. Consider sending out the press releases you write, not only with the media, but also with your top donors and leaders in your community.

8. Focus on maintaining relationships with ten of your top donors. Keep in touch with them throughout the year by inviting them to events or just checking in with them.

9. Value the feedback you get in the process of fundraising. If potential donors are unwilling to give, ask why. Use each conversation as an opportunity to collect constructive criticism about your institution to help it become more responsive to community needs. Potential donors are not the only gauge of community engagement, but they are an important one.

Constructive criticism can also lead to financial support, as in the case of Confederate flag conservation at the North Carolina Museum of History. Over time Civil War re-enactment groups learned about the large size of NCMOH’s flag collection and complained to staff about the paucity of Confederate flags on exhibit. In the 1980s staff began to use these complaints as an opportunity to explain the need for conservation funds for specific pieces. This process of criticism and opening conversations led to the NCMOH’s successful adopt-an-artifact program.

10. Treat potential grantors, especially private foundations and corporations, as you would individual donors. Cultivate relationships with their representatives, solicit funds, and follow up by showing appreciation and reporting on the projects the grants funded.

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About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on June 29, 2012, in museum governance, museums and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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