Blog Archives

Statewide Endangered Artifact Campaign

Thanks to one of our project partners, NCPC, for this guest post.

North Carolina’s Most Endangered Artifacts is a statewide preservation awareness and fundraising campaign sponsored by the North Carolina Preservation Consortium that promotes the survival of tangible heritage in our state’s archives, historic sites, libraries, museums, and other collecting institutions.

detail of a flag for which the Orange County Historical Museum is hoping to raise conservation funds

detail of a flag for which the Orange County Historical Museum is hoping to raise conservation funds

From North Carolina’s mountains, through the Piedmont, to the coast, artifacts attract students, scholars, and tourists. Native North Carolinians and newcomers enjoy a quality of life enriched by artifacts of history and culture. Artifacts are used for education by school teachers, college and university professors, and people engaged in life-long learning. These artifacts include paintings, sculpture, ceramics, furniture, textiles, rare books, manuscripts, documents, maps, photographs, films, sound recordings, natural history specimens, monuments, and historic structures. Connecting with an artifact can be a transformative experience so significant artifacts are placed in the stewardship of cultural institutions. We trust that artifacts there will endure.

Unfortunately, many artifacts in our state’s cultural institutions are in danger. All artifacts decay over time due to the internal vice of their composition. Temperature, humidity, light, and pollution are harmful. Hurricanes, fires, and floods are also risks. Even long-term exhibition and handling can damage artifacts.

Conservation can save damaged and decaying artifacts for future generations. Professional conservators apply art and science to their craft. However, it can be costly. North Carolina collecting institutions need your help. Many do not have the funds to pay for conservation. Without intervention these artifacts will perish.

To nominate an artifact for NCPC’s new campaign, click here.


Behind-the-Scenes Tours

AcklandStorageHas your institution ever tried or even considered storage area tours? Recently, there was a spirited discussion about this topic on the RCAAM listserv (Registrar’s Committee of the American Alliance of Museums). Comments revealed serious considerations and a range of opinions about the activity.

Pros:                                                                                    Cons:

Additional access to your collection                                  Security risk

Increased public understanding of the time                     Staff time requirements                       and expense of collections care

Several years ago a panel of security experts produced” Suggested Practices For Museum Security As Adopted by The Museum, Library and Cultural Properties Council of ASIS International AND The Museum Association Security Committee of the American Association of Museums” (Revised June, 2008).  The guideline asserts that storage tours are an additional security risk for collections and recommends against them. Where educational tours are necessary, the document recommends a written policy defining the safeguards to be taken and the responsibility of each person assigned to the tour. The policy should:

  •  limit the size of the tour to no more than 25 maximum for large rooms with a staff member assigned for every 7-8 people. Smaller groups are advisable for small spaces or those with small or especially valuable items.
  • address allowing members of the tour or class to leave to go to the restroom without an escort and what to do if someone becomes ill and needs to be escorted out of the room.
  • prohibit the use of cameras in collection storage where security equipment or procedures might be photographed.
  • provide a holding area for attendees’ personal belongings. Parcels carried by members of a tour should not be permitted in collection storage. In one instance, museum staff put belongings on a cart inside the door to the vault. “We let them know that their items are safe behind locked doors and that we ask them to do this, as neither we nor they want to accidentally knock something off a shelf.”

Do storage tours raise money? Responses indicate that tours do not generate monetary donations (even when wealthy guests come through)but do prompt offers of objects for donation. Several museums charge to take these tours, so they can become a revenue source. (Several charge $15-$25/ person.)

Is there an effective compromise to satisfy both security and access concerns?

  • One museum accomplished this by escorting visitors along the front of the large storerooms, where they could look down the long rows of shelves. The end section of each row had one or more particularly interesting objects stored on it, and the “tour guide” would be prepared with a talking point for each.
  • Another recommendation from is to pull artifacts from storage for a program to explain various collections care principles, especially the costs and labor involved in providing appropriate storage. This format works well for one professional who found that tour participants are too visually overwhelmed to focus on collections care messages while in storage.
  • A third compromise is to post photos of collections storage on your institution’s social media sites (eliminating, of course, any sensitive security information).

What lessons have you learned about storage tours at your institution? Do you know of any other strategies to address the disparate goals of security and access?

Thanks especially to Lana Newhart-Kellen, Collections Manager & Registrar at Conner Prairie; Lisa Kay Adam, Curator and Registrar of the Museum of South Texas History; Malia Van Heukelem, Preservation Management Specialist, University of Hawaii at Manoa Library; Janice Klein, Collections Consultant; and Wayne Phillips, Curator of Costumes & Textiles, Louisiana State Museum for their contributions to this post.

Creative Fundraising Ideas

Thanks to Laura Ketcham, Coordinator for the Federation of North Carolina Historical Societies, for the ideas presented in this post. Thanks also to Belle Long of the Joel Lane House and John Love of the Belmont Historical Society for their contributions.

Historical organizations, like many other non-profits, have had to get especially creative with fundraising ideas during these tough economic times. A few groups have ventured beyond the well trodden realm of special dinners, concerts, walking tours, and silent auctions. They are trying to address community needs and harness local resources while building their own capacities.

Making rag dolls is one of the possible birthday party activities.

Two years ago the Joel Lane House in Raleigh began offering its site as a birthday party venue. Features include dressing up in period costumes, an age-appropriate guided tour of the 1770s house, a choice of one of 4 staff-led colonial craft activities, and games. Parties last one hour and can include up to 15 people. The Joel Lane House charges $10/ person for this event. Curator Belle Long reports that this continues to be a successful fundraiser.

A view of the Stowe Park Special from a vintage postcard

The Belmont Historical Society, just west of Charlotte, has joined forces with a local business to raise money for a special project. As an ongoing fundraiser, Pace Recycling (between Mt. Holly and Stanley) channels revenues from metal scrap to the Belmont Historical Society upon the individual deliverer’s request. The Society then directs these funds toward restoration of the Stowe Park Special miniature train and one passenger car and the renovation of a shed as a “depot” to house these vehicles. Stowe Park, a popular entertainment destination in Belmont during the mid twentieth century, is an important part of the community’s cultural heritage. In four months the Society has raised $100 as a result of recycling and, in combination with other fundraisers, it is about a quarter of the way toward its goal of $30,000 for the train restoration project.

Sometimes fundraising benefits extend beyond the actual dollar amount raised. The Belmont Historical Society’s project is also raising awareness about the community’s past and encouraging members and visitors to recycle. The Joel Lane House’s idea not only builds on its educational mission but also provides a service to families with school-aged children at a reasonable cost, while reaching out to that important demographic.

What unusual fundraising projects has your organization tried? Were the results successful, whether financially or otherwise?

Holiday Ornaments

There is still time to create and/ or consign holiday ornaments as special souvenirs that your site can offer to visitors, while generating revenue. As we’ve discussed here previously, customizing affordable products from your collection can be a form of public access. Consider working with local artisans or larger manufacturers to design unique objects. Regional arts councils and festivals are good sources for finding craftsmen nearby.One ornament maker in Pinnacle, NC uses okra pods, shells, cotton bolls, starfish, gourds, and sweetgum balls to create santas, angels, lighthouses, and animals. The emphasis on local materials could help promote the distinctiveness of your site. Check with such artisans to find out whether consigning their wares in your giftshop is an option. This arrangement allows your institution to sell unique, locally made items with no financial risk.

Several of North Carolina’s cultural heritage institutions sell a range of brass ornament designs successfully. Both the North Carolina Museum of History and the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History offer ornaments with state and regional symbols and building motifs. Similarly, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum’s gift shop sells a very affordable ornament showcasing five lighthouses.

A Brevard, NC company called the Charleston Mint is one producer of customized brass ornaments. They welcome small quantities and promise a brief processing period.  If you start now, you can offer a unique gift for your institution’s supporters and potentially earn revenue in the process. Once a design has been approved, it will take only 4-5 weeks before your organization receives the ornaments. Pricing varies depending on quantity, packaging, colors, and dimensionality and can be anywhere from $6.00-$10.00 per piece. An order of approximately two hundred, then, will require a cash investment. However, if your institution’s board and other volunteers like the idea and can commit to purchasing a certain number of ornaments before ordering, then you can proceed with little financial risk to your institution.

The Mint Museum’s gift shop has successfully customized products based on museum artifacts in its “Collection Connection” series. Staff derived three brass ornament designs from an oil portrait, a frame, and a statue in the museum’s collection. In addition to the potential revenue such customized products can raise, your institution would be offering an additional form of access to its collections. As the Mint Museum’s website announces, buyers feel like they can “take home a piece” of the museum. At the same, time your organization would be promoting its mission by emphasizing the distinctiveness of  its collection, building, and/or locality.

Growth with Gratitude

Thank-you notes are a crucial step in the fundraising process for cultural heritage institutions. Build them into the work flow for all your developmental appeals. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

  • Send thank-you notes promptly. Most fundraising experts recommend within 48 hours of the donation’s arrival.
  • Hand written notes are best. Avoid using cards or stationary with the words “Thank You” pre-printed. If this phrase is built into the note, it beats your words to the punch. Here’s what Miss Manners recently had to say on the subject. A good thank-you note “means that you are actually using paper, and that the words ‘thank you’ are not printed on it, but written by your own hand.”
  • Use name recognition advantageously. The notes are most effective when a high-ranking official in your organization signs them, or- even better- a staff or board member, whom the donor is likely to know on some level. Some organizations build thank-you-note writing into board meetings routinely.
  • A compelling image can help nurture the emotional connection between the donor and your institution. The drawing above is a thank-you note the Nasher Museum staff received from a school group. Especially if school children benefit in some way from donor funds, their artwork can be a great source for thank-you-note imagery. Some institutions, such as East Carolina University, have produced touching YouTube videos to distribute to donors and to showcase some of the programs that ECU’s fundraising campaign enhanced. These links are convenient to share through email correspondence and can be very effective at helping to build donor relationships. But videos should not replace the handwritten note.
  • Gratitude is part of building relationships with donors. Hopefully, a thank-you note will not be the last correspondence you have with the donor. Larger donations warrant calls, visits, and/or personal invitations to attend special events throughout the year.
  •  There is a raging debate among fundraising professionals about whether or not to include a self-addressed envelope for further donation into a thank-you package. Click here (and be sure to read the comment section) for good pro and con arguments. Rather than asking for more money right away, try to open lines of communication regularly and invite feedback from donors, as well as other community members. The more people who want to invest themselves (financially or otherwise) in your institution, the healthier it will be.

Artifact Adoption Addendum

part of a wedding dress currently up for adoption at the Museum of the Albemarle

It’s been awhile now since we’ve posted information about North Carolina’s Adopt-an-Artifact programs, and we have several points to add to keep you as up-to-date as possible on this potential conservation fundraiser for your institution.

  •  A member of our NC C2C team, Adrienne Berney, recently presented on the Connecting to Collections Online Community’s webinar on “Adopt-an-Object” programs. The recording is now available for you to access at your convenience by clicking here.
  •  Another presenter in the webinar was Meegan Carr from the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky. That institution has been very successful with its Adopt-a-Quilt program, which charges participants $250 to adopt each quilt for one year.  One of the best methods they’ve used to get the word out about this donation opportunity is by posting adoption placards, which include the donors’ names, beside each adopted quilt in the museum’s gallery. Gallery guides have been trained to point these out and to promote the importance of the adoption program.
  • The Museum of Anthropology at Wake Forest University has raised funds successfully for conservation each year since 2008. Although not termed “adoption,” the institution’s annual campaigns have focused on a single artifact each year and raised funds for its conservation. Its direct method of publicity and donor relationship-building, as well as its deadlines for donation, are two important features worth considering for artifact adoption programs.
  • Since the webinar aired, our staff has heard back from Wanda Stiles, Curator at the Museum of the Albemarle. She reports that their program has been a great success and has been publicized primarily through local newspapers and their institution’s newsletter. The museum has raised thousands of dollars—enough to conserve three significant textile artifacts: a log cabin silk quilt (conservation cost nearly $10,000 for this piece alone); an 1859 second day dress; and an 1844 wedding vest.

Please join in the conversation on this type of fundraising program with your comments about the possibilities of artifact adoption at your own institution.

Ideas for Cultural Heritage Advocacy

Kudos and thanks to Professor Benjamin Filene, Director of Public History in the Museum Studies Program at UNC Greensboro for his recent op-ed piece in the News & Observer. Filene lamented legislative actions that have shrunk spending on cultural heritage in recent years, with especially painful cuts to our state’s Department of Cultural Resources divisions—the NC Museum of History and NC Historic Sites.

Museum guru Nina Simon, currently Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, has pinpointed two beneficial results, or “ripple effects,” that healthy cultural sectors provide for their communities. (Although Simon’s discussion focused on arts organizations, these same arguments can apply to the value of state and local history institutions.)

  • “A vibrant, thriving economy: Neighborhoods are more lively, communities are revitalized, tourists and residents are attracted to the area, etc. Note that this goes well beyond the usual dollars-and-cents argument.”
  • “A more connected population: Diverse groups share common experiences, hear new perspectives, understand each other better, etc.”

In the conclusion to his op-ed piece, Filene discussed a third ripple effect.

  • the added layers of meaning that cultural sites and programs can offer to individual lives: “The arts and culture sustain our sense of who we are individually and collectively – of where we came from as a people and our sense of possibility for what we might yet become.”

As difficult as it is to quantify the economic impacts of cultural organization, these additional “ripple effects” are purely subjective and qualitative. As proponents of North Carolina history and culture, we can also argue that our museums and historic sites foster a greater sense of place for everyone, and this point builds upon both Simon’s and Filene’s ideas. Cultural heritage institutions make us all aware of the stratigraphic layers of human occupation on this land. In our hyper-mobile, electronically linked world, a connection to the land is a universal human truth that most of us do not want to evade completely. The reminders of that bond and how people have re-shaped it over time can help to sustain and enrich our communities—leaving the work we do vital and evolving.

What other ideas do you have to help justify public spending on cultural heritage? What arguments have had some success in your own communities?

Specialized License Plates

Specialized license plates in North Carolina identify the cars they mark with a variety of organizational emblems. Universities, fraternal organizations, NASCAR drivers, charitable foundations, and even a few museums raise money with specialized plates. Car owners pay $20 – $30 annually for each plate and these funds are divided between the fundraising group and the State. $10 per year for each license plate goes into a special state fund for building visitor centers, beautifying highways, and promoting tourism. As a result, most cultural heritage organizations benefit indirectly from the specialty license plate program.

A few cultural heritage organizations have designed their own plates, gathered enough subscribers (300) to send the designs into production, and received donations of $10-$20 per purchased plate each year. The Department of Motor Vehicles’ list of 100 specialty plates includes two representing museums—the Maritime Museum’s “Protect Wild Dolphins” plate and a plate promoting the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum.

As with most fundraising programs, the potential of specialty plates takes time to realize and effort to publicize. The Department of Cultural Resources gained legislative approval several years ago for another specialty plate to commemorate the Civil War Sesquicentennial. As of this posting, DCR has pre-sold less than one third of the 300 necessary to move the design into production and has had to extend the deadline for pre-sale. If enough license holders buy these plates, DCR will be able to promote the Sesquicentennial in a new way and have a recurrent funding source for commemorative events and State Historic Sites battlefield preservation projects.

The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation has been among the most successful beneficiaries of the specialty plate program.  The Foundation has raised over 3 million dollars with its distinctive gold background and blue and green landscape design. According to Chief Executive Officer Carolyn Ward, “At a time when tax revenues are stretched to the breaking point, we have used this funding to build restrooms, boardwalks and other amenities that have made the parkway a more enjoyable and safer experience.” This recurring funding source, however, is currently in jeopardy as a result of a bill in the state legislature that would eliminate full color plates by 2015. The controversy may be taken up again by the State Senate in 2013.

Has your organization considered the specialty plate program as a fundraiser? What plate designs are popular in your community?

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.

Creative Conservation Funding at the Museum of Anthropology, Wake Forest University

This post is by Kyle Elizabeth Bryner, Registrar and Collections Manager, and Sara Cromwell, PR, Marketing and Membership Coordinator. Bryner and Cromwell originally presented this information at the North Carolina Museums Council Annual Meeting, March 2012.

View of collections in the WFU Museum of Anthropology's new storage space--storage supplies were the result of a 2010 fundraising campaign.

First, determine what collections the museum holds. A full object inventory is a priority – if you do not know what you have you cannot plan for your needs! Obtain conservation assessments, create long range conservation plans – work closely with trusted conservators. Create a list of objects in need of conservation and prioritize by severity of damage, interpretive importance and ease of conservation.

At the MOA, we choose objects based on the previous criteria but also on a rotating schedule. Objects are conserved based on world region, culture and availability of funds. Accidents happen and sometimes an object is moved to the top of the list for immediate repair.

Ask fellow professionals for recommended conservators or use the American Institute for Conservation (AIC) resource center to find a recognized professional. Obtain estimates. Laugh at estimates. Choose the bid that is right for your museum. Brainstorm ways to obtain funding.

Work with other members of your museum staff to identify funding sources. Step outside of your comfort zone – ask everyone for ideas! Cooperation on this type of project helps you to educate others about what you do and also to understand their positions in the museum. Collaboration allows museum departments to share resources and build goodwill.

Identify past and present financial donors to the museum. Identify object donors who may contribute to object conservation. Ask for recommendations for potential monetary donors from board members.

Collaborate among departments to create the “ASK.” Clearly define what funds are needed, why they are needed and how a donor’s support will make a difference. Offer incentives for financially generous contributions. Plan events and interpretive opportunities to educate donors about the conservation projects.

The MOA’s development and collections departments created a letter campaign to attract donors to conservation projects. MOA’s Advisory Board was involved in developing the letters and the Board President signs the letters each year. Initiated in 2008, with the conservation of a Native American hide robe, the “Save Our Hide” project raised over $1300. At the time, this was the most raised to date for conservation.

We send letters in November to encourage year-end giving and structure the donation form to encourage higher levels of giving. The average gift amount has shown an upward trend. Due to the restrictions of being a university museum, MOA accepts cash or check, and recently moved into the 20th century by accepting credit cards by phone.

We were reluctant to depend solely on the untested letters, so we also applied for grants. The initial conservation project received additional funds from the North Carolina Preservation Consortium and the IMLS – Bank of America, American Heritage Preservation Grant program. The granting agencies applauded our resourcefulness in preemptively soliciting individual donors to the project.

Funded projects:

2008- Painted Native American Hide. Amount raised: $1,340 in donor funds. $4,645 from grants.

2009- Yan Ka Di Puppet from Mali. Amount raised: $1,635 from donors.

2010 – Conservation and Storage Supplies Drive – Amount raised: $1,305 from donors.

2011 – Barongsai Masks from Bali. Amount raised from donors to date: $1,075.