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Innovative fundraising in the arts

March 22, 2011

Cranach's crowdfunded Three Graces; photo: Louvre

In an era in which natural disasters provide constant opportunities for humanitarian giving, how do arts institutions convince individuals to part with their hard-earned money in order to expand services, buildings, or acquisitions?

When there is a “donate here” box at your local museum, how much money do you put in the box? Do you put in any at all? Do you do so because you feel that you have to take that physical action or else you’ll look bad? Or maybe you fall into the class of arts appreciators who really want to contribute something in this way. Those boxes are almost always made of clear plexiglass. Why? Because you can see that other people have put money in, and you can see your own donation go in too. This works in a physical space, but what if you want to involve individual (i.e. not just corporate) donors?

This post surveys methods of engaging arts consumers through online and mobile giving and presents relevant case studies.

Giving methods

Between internet and mobile there is a range of donation methods:

  • Click to donate online (large or small) + various visualization tactics on an institutional website
  • Donation platforms integrated into social networks like Facebook Causes
  • Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and others (here’s a great list of crowdfunding platforms including a number of them targetted at arts producers). The latest entry – We Did This – is specifically targetted at arts funding!
  • WeDidThis: art for everyone, funded by everyone from WeDidThis on Vimeo.

  • Daily donation: a new type of “groupon” just cropped up – Philanthroper suggests a daily donation “deal” with a profile and financial info. The concept behind this is the same as the small impulse purchase that drives us to buy useless spa coupons.
  • Text to donate via sms or land-line phone number – the automated version of the ol’ telethon.

Some interesting donation websites

The million dollar homepage is a project by a 21 year old student entering college and worrying how to pay for it, so he sold a million pixels on a website for 1$ each (minimum purchase was a 10×10 block). Each pixel block is a link and was guaranteed to be online for at least 5 years (but it’s been over 6 now and it’s still up). The result is graphically horrendous but it sure did provide plenty of press for Alex Tew who was interviewed by the Financial Times and newspapers worldwide, and was even attacked (digitally) by hackers demanding a ransom. This project proves that people are willing to spend small amounts of money for visibility or recognition in an innovative digital way.

Can arts organizations do something similar to this? Absolutely! Websites can be made to visualize the results of a capital donation campaign of any sort. For example, a non-profit that funds restorations could ask people to sponsor the cleaning of one centimeter of a painting, or a museum’s expansion plan could be represented by purchasing one brick and showing the building grow upwards.

Another way to visually reinforce giving is to create a narrative that unfolds as people give. That’s what A Girl Story does (Launched June 2010 by ad agency Strawberry Frog). It’s a series of videos about a fictional Indian girl named Tarla who depends on your donations to continue going to school. While the campaign was live, you were only able to see the next step in the videos when the campaign goals were reached.

The current trend seems to point to involving single donors alongside larger campaigns. Not only does this increase potential funding, it also helps engage arts consumers who rightly feel that a piece of what they’ve supported is theirs.

Case study: Louvre purchases Cranach with your help

The Louvre developed a dedicated website to raise 1 milion euros towards the 4 million euro purchase of The Three Graces by Cranach from a private dealer, having already secured the first 3M from large corporate donors. They used the expertise of Studio DeMarque, a digital marketing company who appears to have done the work pro-bono (their logo is in the lower right hand corner of the website). It was an unprecedented success: from November 13 2010 to January 31 2011, they raised 1.2 million euros from 7000 givers whose names will be listed in the gallery that is showing this work right now (March 2 to May 30 2011). In thanks, donors are cited on the website and in the gallery, and they receive a card with free entrance to see the work during those dates.

The guestbook feature allows digital donors to express thanks and provides insight into what motivated them. Dominique  T (page 4) expresses admiration for the website itself which he says is a work of art equal and appropriate to the Cranach and thus clearly worth support! People frequently write about their honour and pleasure in being able to participate in the acquisition of the work for a museum that is important to them for many reasons (from the writer who says he’s visited on Sundays for the past 60 years to the commenter from Spain who says she hopes to visit France soon and see the work there).

The excellent website is indeed an essential part of the success of this campaign. It is a rare case of a seamlessly produced and fast-loading use of flash with integrated video. There is text, video, and zoomable photos that help explain why this work is so important, which clearly convinced 7000+ people. Two downsides: there is no link to the Louvre’s main website, and this donation platform is entirely anti-social. Might they have doubled their volume had each person been encouraged to share their action on facebook?

What works

Here’s a “take-away”. Good online funding campaigns:

  • have a specific, defined goal (ending date or amount)
  • provide specific, visual and multimedia information about exactly what your money will support
  • use innovative technology to gain the favour also of the press (and thus expand potential viewership)
  • are shareable and take advantage of social media’s ability to influence our actions.
2 Comments leave one →
  1. lauracasarsa permalink
    June 12, 2012 11:32 am

    Really a great interesting post! I’m studying art management and today i have a Fundraising exam…this information are going to be’ very usefull for me!thanks for sharing this!

    • June 12, 2012 8:00 pm

      That’s really great! Hope you do well on your exam.

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