#FundingWeek: Alternative Funding Sources

Miranda Rowlands

Miranda Rowlands SHARED Enterprise Project Officer

Miranda Rowlands is the SHARED Enterprise Project Officer at Norfolk Museums Service.  SHARED Enterprise is a Catalyst Umbrella Project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is supporting museums in the East of England to explore and develop alternative ways of raising money.  As a voluntary fundraiser, Miranda has raised lots of money for charity by organising and hosting gala dinners with auctions of celebrity memorabilia, as well as through online giving.

“With ongoing funding cuts biting hard these are challenging times for museums.  Perhaps the biggest challenge is meeting the shortfall in core funding.  Most grant-making bodies will fund projects, but not salaries or overheads, yet many museums are struggling to cover those costs.  Project funding is good, but as one colleague said at a recent training day, “the icing on the cake is all very nice, but first we need to have the cake”.

So museums need to find sources of unrestricted funding; money that can be used for any purpose.  Most museums generate some income from entry fees, retail, catering or donation boxes.  But what about alternative funding streams?

How good are you at raising funds from the following sources?

Individual giving – this covers everything from major donors and legacies to online giving and donation boxes.

  • Do you research and cultivate relationships with potential major donors?
  • Has your museum ever been the beneficiary of somebody’s will?
  • Do you have an active online giving page?
  • Do you have a prominently placed donation box?
  • Is your front of house team trained to invite visitors to donate?

Events – anything from cake sales to open days to black-tie gala evenings.

  • Could you use any of your regular events to promote your fundraising campaign and generate more income?
  • Do you have a friends group or volunteers who could organise fundraising events on your behalf?
  • Have you considered writing to local businesses to ask for raffle prizes?
  • What about asking celebrities to support you by appearing at an event or donating an item to be auctioned?  From personal experience, it’s surprising what you can get if you ask politely!

Membership schemes

  • Do you have a season ticket or membership offer?
  • Could you offer a corporate membership scheme?

Business partnerships

It’s about much more than just asking for sponsorship.  Business partnerships work in many different ways.  For example, product development; marketing a combined offer with a local attraction; or in-kind support (e.g. supplying a Corporate Social Responsibility team to maintain the grounds).


Over a short campaign (typically around 3 months), the public donate money to support a project, for example to restore a particular object.  If the fundraising target is reached, the museum gets the money and the donors usually receive a small reward.  If the total is not reached, the donors get their money back.  It’s not unrestricted funding, since the money has to be used for the stated purpose, but more and more museums are finding creative ways to incorporate crowdfunding campaigns into their strategies.

Which funding streams you choose to develop will depend on how much you need to raise and what resources you have available to do so.  But regardless of the size of your museum, your fundraising is more likely to succeed when you have a strategic approach with a clear message that involves the whole organisation.

If you’d like support to develop your fundraising skills, visit the SHARED Enterprise website for training and resources

SHARED Enterprise Norfolk Museums Service Heritage Lottery Fund

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