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Posted on June 7, 2018
by Eric Holter

3 1/2 New Ways to Think About Online Fundraising

Your museum puts a lot of thought into how to communicate with donors through traditional means, like donation boxes in the physical space, galas and other creative fundraising events throughout the year. But how much thought is going into the way you’re reaching potential donors on your website?

Just about every museum will have a section labeled, “Give,” or a similar phrase in their main navigation. Asking for donations is simple enough, but shouldn’t a website work harder for your museum than a plexiglass box? In exploring museum websites, I find that many “donate” sections are pretty similar. Many start with a landing page that links to other subpages for planned giving, annual/operational fund, museum membership, etc. After visiting site after site, I see this exact formula over and over, with very little variation.

So when a museum does something that breaks from this pattern, it really stands out. Here are a few examples of museums that break the mold on their donation pages, or through other innovative methods.

Give Every Gift a Purpose

One very simple way to grab a potential donor is to demonstrate the value of their gift. Rather than including a generic phrase like, “Your donation will help us continue to bring art/science/history to our town/city/community,” get specific and explain exactly what a donation of a certain amount will do. The Witte Museum lists out what specific donations can do for the museum. $50 pays for two families to visit the museum. $550 funds an entire field trip.

Another great example comes from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Not only do they tell you where your money is going, they’ve added CTAs (calls to action) next to each suggested donation level to allow a potential donor to act on an immediate desire to donate.

Make Giving Easy

When a visitor clicks on that “Give” option in the main menu, what do they see when they first land on the page? Rather than leading site visitors through multiple pages before they get to a donation form, why not embed it directly on that landing page? You know they’re at least slightly interested because they clicked the menu item, so why add extra steps? The Hammer Museum offers a non-obtrusive form embedded directly on their “Support” page. Donors can even send a notification directly to the person for whom they are giving a tribute gift, right from the same page. The form on the Hammer’s website is made possible by an integration with Blackbaud. If your museum doesn’t use Blackbaud or a similar fundraising software, you can link the donation form with Paypal for a lower-cost solution that saves the museum the headache (and liability) of having to encrypt donors’ credit card information.

Request Donations through Popups

Almost every museum I’ve been to has had a box requesting donations pretty close the entryway of the museum. You can imitate this experience digitally by enabling an unobtrusive popup requesting donations on your website. A great example of this comes from NCMA, where their virtual donation box is nothing more than a small button in the lower right-hand corner of the page. Clicking this popup takes visitors to a page, where they further draw the connection between the popup and their physical donation box by including an image of the physical donation box at the top of the page.

Another example we like to point to isn’t on a museum’s website, but rather on video content the museum hosts offsite. The Field Museum’s Brain Scoop is a popular web series published to YouTube. The producers of the series take advantage of YouTube’s native settings for non-profits by adding a donation link as an unobtrusive pop-up. This reminds people watching the videos that there is a cost to the production, but allows them to support the series with as little as $5.

Crowdfunding, Museums and a Word of Caution

When thinking of sourcing digital donations, crowdfunding comes to mind for many people. And when I think of museum crowdfunding, I think of the wildly successful 2016 campaign by the Smithsonian to conserve Dorothy’s ruby slippers. At the time of the campaign, crowdfunding was touted as the next great way for museums to leverage digital to reach fundraising goals. However, crowdfunding is not as simple as setting a goal and watching donations pour in. Maren Dougherty, Executive VP of Communications and Visitor Experience at the Autry, shares in a 2014 article for the Western Museums Association eight items museums should consider before embarking on a crowdfunding campaign. Question #3 on her list: Are you ready to work hard?

A New York Times article from that same year points out that though some museums have experienced crowdfunding success, others fall far short of their goals. And since the total raised appears on the crowdfunding website, that failure is displayed in a very public manner.

The bottom line? Crowdfunding is an active endeavor that takes time and resources away from other development initiatives, whereas development elements built into your website are more passive efforts. The strength of passive digital fundraising lies in the ability to “set it and forget it,” because once you have an integrated form or a popup that links visitors to your donate page, it takes very minimal upkeep from your development team to reap the rewards from that feature. With passive fundraising on the website, you can have multiple channels in play at once and still have the resources available to devote to active fundraising initiatives both in the real world and online.

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