How to Raise Money to Save a Museum

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A museum may face the threat of closure for a variety of reasons, such as cuts in public funding, a reduction in donations or a shrinking endowment. While attendance may be strong, it typically doesn't provide enough revenue to keep a museum afloat. To save your museum, you can pursue several initiatives, which include creating an online crowdfunding campaign, applying for grants, launching special save-the-museum events and making an appeal directly the community.

Conduct a Crowdfunding Campaign

A crowdfunding campaign may be the cheapest and most effective way to raise funds to save a museum. A 2012 indiegogo campaign raised $1.37 million to save the Nikola Tesla laboratory in Shoreham, New York. A follow-up indiegogo campaign in 2014 raised another $518,566 to build a Nikola Tesla museum. You'll have to create the campaign, using graphics and -- preferably -- video, and provide a list of perks. Because museums are nonprofits, donors don't expect expensive perks. Use a touch of humor and imagination when devising perks. In the 2014 Tesla museum campaign, perks included engraved bricks.

Make a Direct Appeal

Buying or renting a direct mail list can be costly for a small museum experiencing financial distress. However, you can bring together a group of enthusiastic volunteers and spend a half day compiling lists of names from the community. These names can come from members of other cultural organizations, local book clubs and service clubs, according to "Fundraising for Small Museums: In Good Times and Bad," by Salvatore Cilella. Devise a strategy on how and when you're going to ask for funds from this list. For example, determine if you're going to make an appeal to save your museum via mail, phone or in person.

Launch a Special Event

A museum can use its space and exhibits to launch special events. The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston regularly conducts fundraising events, including black-tie dinners and a sporting-clays tournament. In Wales, the Cynon Valley Museum in Aberdare was under threat of closure due to council funding cuts. A save-the-museum event on St. Dwynwen’s Day revolved around the theme of love and involved the community in craft-making activities, according to Wales Online. Create an event committee and then determine how you'll raise funds -- ticket sales, sponsorship or sales of donated goods -- and the nature of the event. If your event takes place in the museum, check on liability insurance as well as entertainment or liquor licenses.

Apply for Grants

Because the federal government has created Grants.gov, you can search for grants among 26 federal agencies and then apply for a grant -- all on one website. For example, apply to the National Endowment for the Humanities in the category of Libraries and Cultural Organizations for an implementation grant to support your museum's exhibits. Museums for America offers a Collections Stewardship grant, which ranges between $5,000 and $150,000 and supports the conservation and care of museum collections. Many of these grants require matching funds as well as 501(c)(3) status with the Internal Revenue Service.

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About the Author

Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.

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