In my work as a museum, library, and archives consultant, I’ve had a great amount of exposure to the fundraising world. Money is so often needed in order to meet museum missions, and grants are often a popular way to secure funding. Through my role as a grant writer and reviewer, I’ve decoded the top four museum funding ideas that are often well received by granting agencies.
Idea 1: Behind the Scenes Projects
I’ve been at many museum sites (modest to prestigious) where there’s a need for storage, cataloging, and technology to make day-to-day processes more efficient. While granting agencies shy away from funding work the museum should be doing anyway, they are interested in helping museums make their daily work more time and cost efficient.
For example: Best practices would have a museum catalog their museum objects using collections management software for controlled inventory and digital accessibility purposes. However, acquiring a faster scanner and updated software can go a long way to making the job easier. The museum can state it’s putting space, personnel, and computers towards the project, but needs additional funds for upgraded technology. Granting agencies will agree upgraded technology will enable museum staff to catalog objects more quickly – saving on personnel costs, in addition to providing access to more objects online than previously possible.
Tip: Have clearly defined deliverables including how much time and money will be saved. The more you can show “bang for the buck” the more attractive your proposal will be.
Idea 2: Museum Projects with the Community
Granting agencies and private donors are very interested in museum projects that involve communities who participate in larger cultural movements. Race and lack of diverse representation are current political issues playing out across the Western world and in museum spaces. Museums that engage in this dialogue are garnering a reputation for integrity of service to the communities whose collections they represent—coming to the attention of both granting agencies and donors.
For example: A local historical society museum is in a city where increasing civic engagement is happening. The museum has collections from the civil rights movement in the late 1960s to early 1970s and wants to document the current movement by collecting oral histories and artifacts from modern-day community leaders. The museum needs funding for recording equipment and wants to hire a consulting oral historian in order to professionally capture oral histories. Granting agencies will be impressed the museum is taking an active role in engaging its local community, and will realize this is a special project in addition to the museum’s daily work. Further, granting agencies are currently very focused on funding collection and exhibit projects that aim to be truly diverse and representative.
Tip: When documenting a community that has historically been oppressed and disadvantaged, it’s imperative to approach the project respectfully. For the grant application, a museum must include letters of support from the community and have a plan for community members to be involved in all aspects of the project.
Idea 3: Make the Museum (More) Digital
In 2018 it’s hard to forgive a museum that doesn’t have an online presence for its objects and exhibits. We’ve reached a stage where technology-savvy museum goers are the majority of the museum audience and are unequivocally the museum’s future. Providing online access to museum objects and exhibits is becoming a mandatory part of a museum’s regular function. Unless 100% of the museum’s objects and exhibits are online, there’s room for growth. While finances, staff training, and the overwhelming nature of changing technology are often cited as barriers, granting agencies are increasingly requiring an online presence as part of the project they fund. The good news is, there are plenty of grants out there to help you catch up.
For example: A small, rural museum has secured enough volunteer interest to digitize a portion of their collection; however, the cost required to digitize, catalog, and publish objects online is prohibitive. They recognize if they share the cost of acquiring software, they will be able to move forward on their project. Granting agencies find collaboration, shared costs, and funding multiple museums in one proposal as win-win-win and will award more points when vetting your proposal.
Tip: Be thoughtful and communicate how the museum will build online work and access into a sustainable practice.
Idea 4: Collect & Display New Things
Museums are not naturally static or stationary. By collecting artifacts from contemporary sources such as new industries, cultural movements, and artistic expressions, the museum ensures a more accurate and representative future collection. “The Present is the Future’s Past”, and there’s no time like the present to make sure your museum is on point with current acquisitions. While granting agencies typically don’t fund object acquisition, they are very interested in funding fresh exhibit ideas that tap into things people are currently doing, experiencing, and care about.
For example: The Portland Art Museum launched an exhibition (portlandartmuseum.org/exhibitions/animating-life/) for local animation studio Laika (www.laika.com/). In addition to their more traditional art exhibits, they chose to push beyond convention and include a current form of appreciated art. While it would have been easy for the art museum to focus only on the artistic aspects of the Laika films, it instead chose to include the science, technology, and history Laika films have drawn upon. The museum tapped into the excitement and enjoyment surrounding Laika from multiple perspectives (art, science, technology, history)—and the tremendous funding support they received proves it was a lucrative idea.
Tip: Convey potential exhibit impact by demonstrating how the proposed museum exhibit is relevant to contemporary interests.
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