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The philanthropy debate

November 16, 2012

The reduction of public funding in the UK has raised the profile of philanthropy and private giving.  Keith Nicol of the Department of Culture Media and Sport wants to see more action from within the museum sector in attracting philanthropy .   Indeed many cultural institutions were born during a wave of benefactors generosity from the Victorian and Edwardin era,  such as Passmore Edwards or Carnegie.  But getting funding in today’s climate can be daunting.

John Passmore Edwards

In fact philanthropy is only one of several options in the fundraising toolkit.  Other sources of funding include income generation from sales; whether thats retail, catering, hire or events.  Accessing grant funding from local or national bodies can also be rewarding.  The Directory of Social Change produces a comprehensive guide to UK grant making bodies that is worth exploring.

Receiving help from benefactors  can be very hard, as businesses cut back from non essential spending or concentrate on well known insitutions that are either large or based in London, or both.  In fact the focus is moving away from the arts to “essentials” as the arts are not seen as a priority.  This was illustrated by the launch of the Health Lottery recently, which funds good causes that are specifically health related, unlike the National Lottery which does support the cultural and heritage sectors.  However arguably, neither of these sources of funding are philanthropy.  Lotteries normally fund grant making bodies and businesses are sources of sponsorship.


If you do go for private giving, its worth seeking out smaller donations.   But make it easy for everyone to give.  Is your donation box  in full view and your staff and volunteers well briefed? Are those satisfied visitors encouraged to make donations?  Does your website allow visitors to make online donations?  Donors like to know where their money is going, and can be very supportive if its something they like.

Taking this one step further you can use the new(ish) phenomenon called crowdsourcing.  This has largely been applied to creative media projects to source funding for films and novels.  Potential funders are requested to invest a small amount of money to speculatively fund a film or similar product.  This is now moving into the community not for profit sector through organisations like Spacehive. Something I feel museums are well placed to benefit from in future.  Perhaps thats something we should be doing rather than finding the latter day Passmore Edwards?

I would be interested to hear if there are any examples of crowdsourcing in the museum world!

From → Funding

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