Category Archives: Fundraising

Wireless Audio Guides and Digital Donor Board at MIM

Last week I visited the huge Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, Arizona and spent four hours just walking through the exhibits.  Whenever I visit a historic site or museum, the first thing I often do is just walk through the entire place to get an overall sense of its organization, design, and content, rarely stopping to read labels or watch videos.  At MIM it took four hours.  Thank goodness for the cafe.  I haven’t seen so many guitars, violins, drums, or bagpipes in my life, but I guess that’s the point.

Along the way I spotted a couple unusual interpretive and fundraising techniques that caught my eye that might interest you:

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1.  MIM has the usual big donor walls in the lobby but next to the exit door, they have a colorful digital version for current donors along with an eye-catching donation box.  The big touch screen is divided into two sections: the top half has announcements for upcoming events and volunteer opportunities and the bottom half has a scrolling list of donors for the last twelve months.  Because it’s digital, it can be easily updated (but of course, requires someone with IT skills for maintenance).  A navigation bar lets you choose the donor category by size of gift from $250 to $5 million+.  Next to the digital display is a donation box featuring the shiny silver bell of a sousaphone with the message, “Blown Away? Join Our Band of Donors” and a window so you can see your money fall inside.  I bet this encourages kids to drop their change (or encourages kids to tell their parents to drop a dollar).  Clever eh?  And notice there’s nothing else around it–no clutter of chairs, signs, or plants to keep visitors focused on support as they leave the museum.

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2.  Interpretation at MIM relies heavily on wireless headsets that are automatically activated as you approach an exhibit.  The headsets consist of a pair of light headphones connected to a Sennheiser GuidePORT device, which is slightly larger and heavier than the old classic iPods.  The device controls volume, holds a rechargeable battery, and contains the antennae that receives the audio in the exhibit.  Most of the exhibits have a monitor showing a series of short videos of musical performances or a demonstration of their manufacture.  The videos cycle continuously and when the visitor comes within about ten feet, the headset connects to the audio. When you finish watching a video, you can take a couple steps, and watch a different video on another monitor without touching the device or punching in a number.  The exhibits can be packed tightly with video screens without worries about sound bleed and turning the exhibit galleries into a cacophony of sounds.  However, it wasn’t perfect.  About five percent of the time it wouldn’t connect to the video and I had to watch it in silence (and when it’s a musical performance, a silent video isn’t very helpful).  Secondly, visitors (especially kids) occasionally dropped their devices. Every time I heard the smack on floor, I cringed.  The admission desk provides lanyards to hang the audio system around your neck, but not all visitors use them. Sigh.

 

 

 

Introducing Amazon “Dash Button” for Historic Sites

Amazon-Dash-for-Historic-SitesIn an exclusive partnership with Engaging Places LLC, Amazon.com has introduced a “Dash Button” for historic sites and house museums. Dash Button is a simple one-touch button that can be placed in your kitchen, bath, and laundry where you store your favorite products.  When you’re running low, simply press the Dash Button and Amazon delivers your household favorites to you so you can skip a last-minute trip to the store.

This innovative technology can be used for a variety of services, not just products, and Amazon and Engaging Places is launching Dash Button specifically for house museums and historic sites.  In the last year, the Dash Button has been field-tested with Continue reading

Is it Time for a Membership Program Tune-up?

Museum Membership Pyramid QuestionOne of the basic ways to raise funds for museums and historic sites is through membership. It’s particularly valuable because those funds are unrestricted and pay for utilities, insurance, office supplies, maintenance, and yes, even salaries–those essential expenses that usually don’t excite donors.  We hope that most members will renew, thus increasing revenue while maintaining expenses, and a few will become more engaged and eventually become donors who contribute the funds that really make a difference.

On the other hand, membership programs are a continual management challenge for non-profit organizations.  The expense of maintaining a basic membership rarely covers the cost of administration (the printing and mailing of member newsletters, membership cards, and renewal notices).   Complicating matters is that it doesn’t seem that people want to be “joiners” any longer–membership  in all types of organizations, including unions, service clubs, professional associations, political parties, churches, and even bowling leagues has fallen.  If the membership piece of the pyramid is getting smaller, that means the number of donors will fall as well.

Museums and museum associations are rethinking membership to overcome these challenges by exploring some new directions and possibilities, including:

1.  Enlarging the pool of potential members (and other supporters).  Begin with a preliminary step of gathering contact information for as many potential supporters as possible.  Some may become members who pay annual dues, others will pay admission to attend events, and some will support a cause with money, time, or talent.  The Dallas Museum of Art went so far as to Continue reading

Video: Aurora Indiana Moveable Feast

Indiana Landmarks‘ “Moveable Feasts” are three summer evening events that each feature a different place in Indiana through a multi-course progressive dinner at several historic sites, along with walking tours, presentations, and films.  This 2:00 video provides an overview of the June 13, 2014 Moveable Feast in Aurora, Indiana on the banks of the Ohio River.  Cost is $50; $45 for members.

Museums and Historic Sites Climbing Out of Recession Slowly

Museum Revenue 2009-2014 According to data from the U. S. Department of Commerce, museums, historic sites, and similar institutions are climbing out of the 2008 recession but it’s been slow and rocky.  For 2009, quarterly revenues averaged $2.6 billon and for 2013 it grew to an average of $2.9 billion per quarter.  The overall upward trend is slow (red line in chart) but each passing year has improved.  Annual revenues have grown from 1 percent in 2010 to 7 percent in 2013 when compared to the previous year.   On a quarterly basis, however, it is a very rocky road. Within a single year, revenues fluctuated 18 to 38 percent, suggesting that while revenues are looking better over the long run, in the short run Continue reading

How Museums Can Optimize Revenue Through Dynamic Pricing

pricing-productsOptimizing revenue by increasing pricing for special exhibits or peak times (e.g. weekends) is widely adopted in the performing arts (e.g., matinee vs evening performances at the theater) but rarely used by museums.  A few museums, however, are beginning to experiment with dynamic or demand-based pricing to maximize their revenues.   For example, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art increased their price $2 for the last four weeks they were open before renovation began and received no complaints.  In 2008, the EMP Museum dropped its admission fee from $30 to $15 and it did not affect visitation, so in 2011 they increased prices and in 2013 they moved to 2013 to dynamic pricing. During the last 3 weeks, they earned an additional $15,000.

In “What Price is Right?”, a session at the recent AAM annual meeting, Heather Calvin (Museum of Science), Jill Robinson (TRG Arts), and Jessica Toon (EMP Museum) discussed how museums can use demand-based pricing strategies to set admission prices, service fees, discounts, and membership dues.  It was a wide-ranging presentation so I’m sharing the highlights here to Continue reading

What’s the ROI of Your Historic Site?

Jack Phillips (right) discussing ROI at ASTD 2014.

Jack Phillips (right) discussing ROI at ASTD 2014.

Foundations and donors are increasingly questioning the impact of their funds at museums and historic sites, a trend that’s growing as well in  business according to Jack Phillips and James Kirkpatrick at a session at the ASTD conference yesterday. After the recent recession, they’ve found that CEOs are increasingly asking about the return on investment (ROI) of every program and activity, including employee training and education.  Although training claims to be an essential contributor to business productivity and performance, it hasn’t been adequately measured or evaluated, and thus can’t prove their value.  That surprised me because I thought that was a struggle only for museums and historic sites.  We seem to be continually fighting to prove our worth and other than economic impact, haven’t been able to show why we matter in our communities.  It looks like we’re not alone.

Phillips and Kirkpatrick are the leaders in the field of measuring performance in business and developed frameworks that “define the levels at which programs are evaluated and how data are captured at different times from different sources.”  Although they disagree on whether the framework should have four or five levels, they both agree that Continue reading

Million Dollar Salaries at America’s Biggest Museums

Exec Compensation 2011-12A review of the latest Forms 990 of more than two dozen of America’s biggest museums identified the most highly compensated executives in the field.  Among these museums, annual compensation ranged from $228,000 to $1,822,257 and the average was $727,000.  Seven directors earn more than one million dollars per year, as follows:

Financial Management at America’s Billion-Dollar Museums

Big 5 Museums Assets 2012

The Smithsonian Institution has more than $3 billion in assets and had more than $168 million in income for its 2012 fiscal year, making it the biggest and strongest museum in America.  It’s also the leader of the handful of American museums that have more than a billion dollars in net assets, according to the latest financial reports available through GuideStar.  At the top of the list of America’s wealthiest museums are:

  • Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC)
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
  • Museum of Fine Arts Houston (Texas)
  • Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (Virginia)
  • Museum of Modern Art (New York)

This is a nice trivia question for the next museum reception but what does it mean?  First of all, the size of the museum isn’t based on Continue reading

Building Membership Relies on Research

Curate Your Own Membership at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Curate Your Own Membership at the Whitney Museum of American Art

The November/December 2013 issue of Museum, the magazine of the American Alliance of Museums, includes two helpful articles on membership, which is typically the fundamental fundraising program for historic sites.

In “Join the Club,” Daniel Grant describes several museums that have successfully broken the traditional “give more/get more” membership structure.  The Whitney Museum of American Art nows offers a Curate Your Own Membership program, which includes Continue reading