11 Best Museum Fundraising Ideas for 2024

Museums today are getting creative when it comes to attracting visitors – and donors. With the continued decline of public funding for museums, many arts and culture institutions must continually diversify their fundraising sources.

Let’s discuss some of the best ways for museums to fundraise in the coming year.

Picture frames with a money symbol inside

1. Host themed events

Museum-at-night special events like torch-lit tours, mystery games, silent discos, or “last-chance” exhibit closing parties attract new visitors and create a splash on social media.

Themed events related to the museum’s permanent collection or an exhibit can be a fun way to attract a wider audience. These events can incorporate elements like lectures, performances, or special tours alongside fundraising and member-drive activities.

Think about what makes your institutions’ exhibits, collections, and research unique. Drive your fundraising by developing a themed event around something core to your museum’s identity. This approach can produce a memorable event and an opportunity for community members to connect.

2. Revamp membership options

Another strategy for upping your fundraising is to take a look at your membership options. Are you catering to different budgets and interests with your memberships? You might include a basic level with free admission, a mid-tier with discounts and exclusive events, and a top-tier with VIP perks and special access.

You can also create memberships focused on specific interests, like a “Young Patrons” tier for families or an “Archaeology Enthusiast” level with behind-the-scenes tours of relevant exhibits.

You can deepen members’ connections to your institution by focusing on community building as well. Organize member meet-ups, volunteer opportunities, or special social events to foster a sense of belonging amongst members.

3. Organize a crowdfunding campaign

Your museum has likely already become “very online.” There’s no way – and no reason – to avoid the siren song of social media and digital advertising. If you’ve built a robust following on social media, the time could be ripe for a crowdfunding campaign.

Crowdfunding campaigns generally work best when centered around a very specific and time-bound goal, such as funding a specific exhibit or raising enough money to acquire or preserve a special piece. Some museums, however, like Japan’s National Museum of Science and Nature, have had incredible success crowdfunding for operational costs as well, so brainstorm what makes the most sense for you and your community.

4. Install donation kiosks

By installing donation kiosks, you create a convenient and accessible donation experience for museum visitors. Kiosks allow visitors to make impulsive donations on-site, inspired by their museum experience. This captures donations they might forget to make later online or through traditional methods.

Make sure to strategically place your kiosks in high-traffic areas like exits, gift shops, or near popular exhibits. Ensure the kiosk is user-friendly, accessible, and accepts a variety of payment options (like credit cards, Apple Pay, etc.).

5. Plan an online auction

Online auctions marry the fundraising opportunities of a traditional silent auction with the ease of collecting online donations. It’s a match made in heaven.

Because online auctions transcend geographical limitations, your online auction can reach a wider audience and younger demographic. And you can use social media to amplify your auction’s reach (and to attract new museum supporters).

Museums can offer a wider range of auction items beyond just physical artifacts, including experiences and exclusive access. The online platform also allows museums to showcase the stories behind auction items and how the proceeds contribute to their mission, fostering a deeper connection with donors.

6. Curate subscription boxes

Curated subscription boxes are a trendy and engaging way for museums to raise funds and connect with audiences. As with lots of fundraising ideas, it pays to begin by thinking about what makes your institution special.  Is there an interactive or immersive exhibit at your museum you want to highlight? Is there a theme that would particularly resonate with your community right now?

You could focus on a specific exhibit, historical period, or other area of your museum’s collection to create a theme. For example, an art museum could offer a “Modern Art Explorer” box, while a natural history museum might create a “Dino Discovery” box.

Each box could include a curated selection of items like replicas of artifacts, educational materials, high-quality art prints, and DIY craft kits related to the theme. Collaborate with local artists, artisans, or educational companies to create unique items for the boxes, adding value and supporting the local community.

Hot tip: Including a “mystery item” in each box generates excitement and keeps subscribers engaged. And remember, if a monthly subscription box would require more resources than your team has, consider a seasonal option!

7. Allow patrons to “Adopt an Artifact”

The “Adopt an Artifact” idea is a creative and engaging way for museums to raise funds for artifact conservation, preservation, and acquisition.

In this kind of fundraiser, patrons symbolically “adopt” a specific artifact from the museum’s collection for a defined period (usually a year). Different adoption levels often come with varying donation amounts and benefits.

“Adopt an Artifact” programs foster a deeper connection between patrons and the museum’s collection. Make sure to choose a diverse range of artifacts with interesting stories, historical significance, or visual appeal to drive engagement! Showcase the program on your social media.

8. Offer paid educational workshops and programs

Museums can leverage paid educational workshops and programs to generate revenue while fulfilling their educational mission. Offer a range of workshops and programs catering to different interests and skill levels. This could include art workshops, history lectures, science experiments, or even behind-the-scenes tours with curators.

Incorporate hands-on activities, discussions, and opportunities for participants to engage with the material. This fosters deeper learning and a more memorable experience.

9. Sell museum merchandise for a cause

Museums can turn their gift shops into fundraising powerhouses by strategically selling merchandise that connects with their cause. Tie products back to the museum’s collection or exhibits, and link the sales to a specific fundraising goal, like acquiring new artifacts or educational programs.

Make merchandise unique by partnering with local artists or designers, and consider creating limited-edition merchandise to make the campaign feel more special.

Cause-related marketing partnerships are a win-win for museums and businesses. Museums gain financial support and wider exposure, while businesses enhance their brand image and connect with a targeted audience.

Look for companies whose mission or values align with the museum’s focus. For example, an environmental science museum could partner with an eco-friendly clothing brand.

And remember – go beyond just logos on brochures. To build a deeper partnership, consider creating co-branded events, product lines inspired by museum exhibits, or educational programs.

11. Explore trusts or foundations

Collaboration with corporations, foundations, and other cultural institutions can open doors to new donor networks and funding opportunities aligned with shared goals.

Tips for successful museum fundraising

Before you dive into one of the fundraising ideas above, make sure you’ve got the basics covered:

  • A compelling website with an easy-to-use virtual donation page
  • Fantastic content that uses storytelling strategies to demonstrate your institution’s areas of expertise and contributions to the community
  • A robust email marketing strategy for staying in touch with members and donors

Keeping your digital strategy strong will go a long way towards the success of any new fundraising project you choose this year.

Museum fundraising FAQs

Read on for some answers to common questions about museum marketing and fundraising.

Why is museum fundraising so important?

Museum fundraising is critical for allowing museums to sustain their core mission, such as preserving collections, supporting educational programs, and developing new exhibits. Fundraising can also cover operations costs like staff salaries, building upkeep, utilities, and more. Fundraising helps bridge the gap between ticket sales, memberships, and often-declining public funding, ensuring the museum’s doors stay open.

What is the most profitable museum fundraising event?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to the most profitable museum fundraising events – what works best for your institution will be based on your museum’s areas of expertise and donor base. However, considering potential profit and ease of execution, one of the most popular options is a silent auction (either at an in-person event, or completely online).

Silent auctions offer flexibility for attendees and can be less intimidating than live auctions. They also require less staff on the day of the event. The key is to curate attractive items that will generate excitement and competitive bidding.

How can museums identify potential donors?

Museums can identify potential donors by cultivating existing supporters (such as email subscribers or one-time visitors) and using data analysis and prospect research to find new donors. Museums can leverage donor databases and wealth screening tools to find individuals with a history of charitable giving and an affinity for causes aligned with the museum’s mission.

In addition, museums can use social media to target specific demographics with relevant content and fundraising campaigns. Online surveys, SEO-rich content, and lead capture forms can help identify potential donors interested in specific exhibits or programs.

By implementing these strategies, museums can build a pipeline of potential donors who are passionate about their mission and more likely to contribute over the long term.

What are the biggest challenges facing museum fundraising?

One of the biggest challenges for museums is donor acquisition and retention. Attracting new donors and keeping existing ones engaged is crucial, yet competition for charitable dollars is high. Museums need to find ways to stand out and demonstrate their value.

In addition, public funding for museums has been declining for decades, which places more pressure on private donations and earned income. This is further strained by rising operational costs and the potential for lower attendance figures compared to pre-pandemic times.

Despite the inherent challenges of fundraising, it is possible for museums to marry online content marketing efforts with incredible attractions for visitors – and in doing so,  serve the institution’s mission while also driving membership and fundraising efforts.

Need help fundraising for your museum?

Navigating the challenges of museum fundraising today requires a robust and creative marketing strategy. Partnering with an agency that speaks museum will help your institution reach its fundraising goals for 2024. Contact Big Sea today to get started.