The Hot Topic of Crowdfunding for Conservation
Judging by the packed house and enthusiastic audience for the “Crowdfunding for Museums” panel moderated by Lee Price, Director of Development for the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts at the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museum’s annual conference, crowdfunding is a hot topic in the museum world today. I was honored to join representatives from LancasterHistory.org, Carnegie Museum of Art and the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center on the panel to discuss the insights we’ve gained through Canary’s public relations and marketing work on the campaign for Pennsylvania’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts.
The campaign’s website, PATop10Artifacts.org, was built to be a user-friendly website on the model of Kickstarter and Indiegogo but without the limitations and costs of those sites for small non-profits. It raised awareness for historic conservation needs in the Commonwealth, providing a platform for regional institutions to engage their audiences in voting, sharing and donating to support the conservation of specific historic artifacts. Each item – fromhistoric manuscripts, books and films to a wig worn by a congressman instrumental in abolishing slavery – has a compelling story to tell, and the site gave it a place to tell that story. A statewide public relations campaign, social media outreach and other marketing efforts made sure those stories reached as wide an audience as possible.
LancasterHistory.org’s Barry Rauhauser, Carnegie Museum of Art’s Ellen Baxter and Schwenkfelder Library’s Candace Perry shared their strategies for engaging audiences, from developing a promotional video to creating in-person events with supporters to generate votes, shares and donations. Ellen highlighted the need to respect the intelligence of the museum audience while answering the key questions: why should I care? What is the value of the story of a town, state and nation? How can we let the community know they have the power to make a difference? As part of the Canary team that created the messaging around the campaign and advised on best practices for the participating institutions, I used her question as a launching pad to discuss the importance of tapping into civic pride, building an emotional conversation around the “why” and “how” of historic conservation, and choosing the best social media platforms for different kinds of stories. Barry mentioned their 10-10-10 event: donating $10 on October 10 for the Top 10 campaign. We agreed across the panel that it was a great tactic to use when approaching large, several thousand dollar goals: breaking it down into amounts that are less looming and intimidating so that you can drive home the message that every dollar counts.
The campaign wrapped up November 1st, having generated 5.2 million votes and over $16,000 in donations, 100% of which will be applied to the conservation of these historic artifacts. We’re fascinated by what we have learned over these last six weeks and are already looking forward to new efforts to continue to develop crowdfunding as a tool for historic conservation and other initiatives to harness the power of public engagement.
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