If a well-managed museum has robust programming, a large endowment, and a profitable gift shop, should they still rely on contributions and grants? Often regarded as a fundraising burden to reduce or eliminate, instead we might want to consider these revenue sources as one of the best ways to sustain and expand an institution. Sixty-six percent of History-Focused Organizations [Museums (NTEE A50), History Museums (A54), History Organizations (A80), and Historical Societies & Historic Preservation (A82)] depend on contributions and grants for at least half of their annual revenue and nearly forty percent rely on contributions and grants for more than three-quarters of their revenue (see Figure 1 below).
To maximize revenue, museums must navigate fundraising in the present and future. Understanding the donor and engagement pyramids simplifies fundraising and ensures focus. Small history-focused organizations, in particular, must invest their limited bandwidth strategically to achieve success.
Over the past year, Engaging Places has been looking over individual segments of the museum field. While these segments are unique in specific ways, as demonstrated by the data, several of them do share a common theme and mission: an overall goal to promote history. These four segments are History Museums (A54), History Organizations (A80), Historical Societies & Historic Preservation (A82), as well as the broad Museums (A50) category. By combining these segments we can focus on the history-centric portion of the museum field that makes up close to half of its revenue and consists of a whopping 89% of its institutions (see Figure 1). This block of museums is incredibly dominant within the field and a major focus of Engaging Places’ work. For ease of reference, we will be referring to them as History-Focused Organizations.
It is important to remember that as an aggregate these History-Focused Organizations still trend small. Over 90% operate on less than $1 million in revenue annually, with contributions and grants bringing in over half of that vital revenue. For these smaller museums, financial security is a constant and essential priority. While many of these History-Focused Organizations are unable to achieve large pools of investment to stabilize operations, unlike some of their larger counterparts, they can develop practices to move them in this direction.