Tried and tested fundraising

Sue Shave, Issue 116/11, p15, 01.11.2016
A dedicated fundraiser or consultant can make a huge difference to the survival and development of your heritage organisation
Fundraising is now a top priority for most museums. Large museums have teams of fundraisers to ensure targets are met. Smaller museums often rely on the chief executive or other staff members to carry out this role. A dedicated fundraiser or consultant can make a huge difference to the survival and development of your heritage organisation.

A few years ago, an Association of Independent Museums sustainable development grant of £4,800 enabled Chiltern Open Air Museum to employ a fundraiser for eight hours a week, for 10 months initially, which allowed us to test the success of the new post.

Institutional fundraising has been a great success for us and a testament to that new post over the last few years. We have been awarded more than £600,000 by Arts Council England (ACE) and the Heritage Lottery Fund for a variety of projects and training schemes, which have transformed the organisation with new people and ideas. We have developed a good relationship with key funders and have a track record of success in delivering Skills for the Future training in front-of-house, learning, heritage building and rural skills, as well as income generation and audience development.

One type of fundraising that did not work so well for us was crowdfunding. We carried out a three-month campaign to fund the rebuilding of the Jackson Studios, used by musicians such as Elton John. The project did generate interest and contacts, but raised only a few hundred pounds and took an enormous amount of effort.

ACE funding has enabled us to test other fundraising routes. This has included boosting our annual pass income and poor retention rates by offering discounts for direct debits and posting renewal letters, rather than sending out emails. We have created a major donor campaign based on our 40th anniversary celebrations this year. With the support of a consultant, we have begun to work with our patrons on fundraising, securing donations and encouraging them to use their contacts to bring in more potential donors. Annual legacy campaigns with the support of local solicitors and a legacy consultant have also raised awareness of the importance of this variable source of income with key supporters.

Corporate sponsorship has not worked well for us in the past. We now offer packages with selected benefits, and try to approach suppliers and local businesses that have a particular fit with our museum. A good example is LoCo2 Energy, who sponsored our heavy-horse working weekend, and now provides most of our electricity as 100% renewable energy.

We also shouldn’t overlook the contribution of volunteers to generate income, from selling tickets and catering to donating their expertise. The challenge is to acknowledge their vital role appropriately – perhaps by including them in decision-making – to ensure future support