Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Invisible Factors for Financial Sustainability

Quick post to say that I LOVE this post from GuideStar’s Trust blog about the unnoticed factors in building a nonprofit organization’s longterm financial sustainability.

In short: make your organization good from the inside out, and you’ll be on solid footing to address challenges as they come.

Top Revenue Builders for Nonprofits

Free Fundraising Webinar Series

Okay, I get that fundraising and development isn’t everyone’s favorite topic in the nonprofit world, but it’s crucially important, especially in this day and age. AAM has partnered up with Alexander Haas fundraising counselors to present a series of three free webinars about how fundraising and development are changing for the years ahead.

There’s a full description and registration information on their website.

Museum Admissions Fees

This is a bit older, but it still discusses the question in a variety of interesting lights: The Cultural Calculation: Museum Fees.

On the one hand: museums need any source of revenue they can get, and shouldn’t be selling themselves short. They are great enough that people should be willing to pay for the quality product they receive.

On the other hand: museums are a cultural resource, and any museum that relies on admissions to support any significant portion of its budget is not in a very good financial position for the longterm. Expecting families to shell out as much as $100 to visit your museum for a few hours is not exactly growing your audience and working with your community.

Speaking purely for myself, I tend to lean toward free admission. I know that I couldn’t afford to go to nearly as many museums as I do without my reciprocal admission benefits. I also think that pricing out families in the middle-income range and catering only to those who can spend significant amounts of money on a cultural visit is not the way to build audience. (Yes, families can purchase memberships to visit one museum multiple times, but we want them to be visiting multiple museums and broadening their exposure, right?)

I suspect few museums are willing to share the nitty-gritty details of their funding, but how much are museums really taking in from their admissions fees – 5%? 10%? Anything more and I’d really start to worry about so much of the budget depending on such a highly unpredictable and varying revenue stream.

What do you think, Tufts community? Yea or nay to museum admission fees?

The Pitfalls of Non-Profit Accounting

So sorry for going dark for a little while – it’s been an eventful few weeks for your industrious blogger. We’ll be back to regular posting this week. As always, if you have any suggestions for posts or would like to contribute by guest posting, please email me: amanda.gustin[at]tufts[dot]edu.
If you’ve seen the news lately, you know that author, mountaineer, and lecturer Greg Mortensen, famous for building schools in Afghanistan through his book Three Cups of Tea and its concomitant foundation, the Central Asia Institute, is in more than a bit of trouble. The accounting at his non-profit has gone awry, and it appears that he’s not doing everything he said he would.

Over at The Atlantic, economics blogger Megan McArdle has an interesting post about “instant development,” or, the perils of expecting one messianic genius to change the world. She cites John Krakauer’s initial expose into Mortensen’s business practices, as well as a very thoughtful post from Swarthmore professor Timothy Burke about exactly what projects make the most sense to fund.

There are more than a few parallels to start-up museums in this story. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Keep your books straight. Beware of mission creep. Focus on the smaller, less-glamorous practical results.

The Foundation Center

Remember our post a while back about skills every museo should have?

Well, one of them was grant writing. In that spirit, we’ll be talking about a few ways to educate yourself about writing grants. They may not be the flashiest, quickest way to fundraise, but they are an important piece of the puzzle. Being able to point to your resume and say “yes, I wrote and secured that grant to fund that program/conservation/collection assessment” is a great big plus for anyone seeking a job.

First up is The Foundation Center. This is a HUGE website and resource, and primarily exists to connect grantmakers with grant writers across the nonprofit field, not just museums. At its heart, the Foundation Center is a searchable database of all places you can find funding. It’s really so much more than that, though. The Center also provides research reports on all aspects of fundraising, and extensive training opportunities for those interested in learning more.

There are a few ways to get that training.

1) The Grantseeker Training Institute is the Center’s most comprehensive overview of how to set about finding, writing, and administering grants. It comes highly recommended. It’s a bit pricey, at $795 for a week of training, and is only offered in certain locations.

2) One-Day Training Sessions. These run about $195 per session, and are more tightly focused than the Training Institute. They’re also offered more widely – there are several coming up in Boston this spring.

3) Last, but most certainly not least: free webinars. Lots and LOTS of them, on all sorts of interesting and useful subjects. They’re 60 minutes each, and if you watch even a handful you will be well on your way to understanding all sorts of issues with grants, foundations, fundraising, and nonprofit management.

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