Museums and the Economy, Setting the Stage

Welcome to WestMuse, the new blog for the Western Museums Association! My name is Allyson and I will be one of your numerous bloggers. I thought for my inaugural post I would try to stay relevant to the upcoming issue of the WestMuse newsletter (a benefit of membership in the Association), which will focus on the economic downturn and how museums are coping.

In the newsletter itself, development officers and museum directors will talk about what they are doing and how they are approaching the current financial landscape. As a freelancer, I will instead talk about what *other* people (museums and other non-profits alike) are doing and point out some great resources that museums can turn to for advice, help and suggestions for strategies.

What Are Some Other Non-Profits Doing?
Jeff Brooks over at Donor Power Blog cites several strategies from this report that seem to be helping non-profits to stay afloat. He points out that one of the main keys is “to respond to conditions with relevant action.” That means *not* just going about business as usual, but instead adjusting your development tactics to fit the climate.

Some of these adjustments include:

  • Employing “more one-on-one contact with key donors”
  • Changing “the style of the message in communications with donors”
  • Developing “communication materials on how the ministry is responding to the changing economy”

According to another report that Jeff cites, another key action is to diversify revenue streams–something I have been advocating at conferences for a couple of years now. As Jeff summarizes this report,

“Nonprofits with diverse revenue streams, good management, and what could be labeled ‘learning cultures’ appear to be coping markedly better than others.”

He also goes on to state that one of the primary reasons for fundraising success in this study was that the organizations were asking more. Those organizations that increased their focus on development activities, particularly individual donor relations, were faring better than those who did not.

What About Seeking Grants?
Over at the Chronicle of Philanthropy, advice for grant-seekers is being offered courtesy of a session from the Association of Fundraising Professionals conference being held in New Orleans. Some of the pointers include the following:

  • “Opportunities for new grants lurk in some unexpected places”
  • Look to your local banks–sometimes family foundations will appoint a bank vice president to manage the foundation. “When visiting a bank…should check to see if anyone there is a contact person for a foundation, and always be prepared to give a quick, concise speech about their organization’s mission and needs.”
  • “Stay in touch with foundation program officers, who can sometimes tell you if new money become available because another grantee is unable to use the money.”
  • When you do apply for grants, make sure the budget matches the program descriptions and don’t mark line items as “miscellaneous”
  • Include an evaluation component even if the grant-maker does not require one. If you cannot hire an evaluation specialist, check with your local universities to see if there is a student interested in the project as part of a thesis.

Will the Economic Stimulus Plan Help My Museum?
Michael Seltzer has a very useful post over at the PhilanTopic blog that serves as a basic FAQ for nonprofits hoping to benefit from the Economic Stimulus Act. Questions he addresses include: “How do I find out which types of programs are eligible to receive funding?” and “Where can I turn for assistance and counsel?”

What do Some of the Experts Recommend?
Katya’s Non-Profit Marketing Blog reports that fundraising consultant Mal Warwick is advising non-profits to do the following:

  • “Be careful how you talk about your financial woes right now as an organization.  Don’t whine about how you are running out of money.
  • Tell donors all the steps you are taking to stretch your dollars and more effectively run your organization.
  • Brag about your efficiency.
  • Then show how all those things mean their gifts will result in more impact than ever.
  • Show how you’re a far better investment than all those other failing institutions out there!”

This advice comes from his new book, Fundraising When Money is Tight.

What About Museums Specifically?
Bringing the discussion out of the realm of generic non-profits and back specifically to museums, the New York Times reports that,

“More than before, institutions big and small have adopted the same mission: to transform once-hushed museums into vibrant cultural centers where the activities go far beyond what’s hanging on the walls.”

As a result, MoMA is hosting yoga classes and the Hammer in LA will host a bike night. The Exploratorium has just announced that this Thursday will mark the first of their Thursday night events in April, “After Dark.” The Exploratorium will be joining other Bay Area museums such as the California Academy of Sciences, the Oakland Museum of California and the DeYoung in offering this sort of evening event. Meanwhile the Brooklyn Museum continues to dominate the social media scene for museums, increasing its involvement with its community by leaps and bounds with each new program. With 1st fans Twitter Art Feed and their YouTube Quick Capture for community voices and their involvement with Wikipedia, the Brooklyn is everywhere in cyberspace.

Hip new advertising is also being employed, designed to catch the attention of younger audiences and emphasize the importance of museum permanent collections. The Met’s “It’s Time We Met” campaign features photographs of items on display taken by visitors. Ads for the Getty feature people going about their daily lives with artworks for their heads, the take-home message being that the Getty “stays with you.

2 comments on “Museums and the Economy, Setting the Stage

  1. levenj says:

    really nice overview on all this — and LOVE how you bring in the yoga and new ad campaigns under the same “roof.”

    well done!

  2. Tharp says:

    The Mal Warwick advice is spot on. The WMA should think to apply some of these themes to its membership solicitations.

    While we haven’t done anything like this at our Museum, the Moab Music Festival http://www.moabmusicfest.org recently sent a very good letter to all donors hitting each of these points.

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