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Reaching your fundraising audiences

Reaching your fundraising audiences

Our Standards Support Officer, Lesley Scott, talks about her work with The Firth of Forth Lobster Hatchery and how museums can effectively communicate with their audiences online.

As administrator of a seasonal aquaculture charity, The Firth of Forth Lobster Hatchery, and working full time in museums, I soon realised online content was the only way I could reach my audience and engage with them all year round.

A white woman with dark sunglasses holding a round plastic lobster hatching disc up to the camera Lesley holding a lobster hatching disc used to hold baby lobsters

I was inexperienced in writing web pages, setting up social media channels and unclear of how to get donations in and into the bank account online. I started small, asking those that had done similar things to help and paid for the work I knew was outside of my skill base, such as building a website. As a niche charity I found linking with my local community and other aquaculture groups helped spread the word. I soon realised I had to limit my ideas, as they were only attainable if other volunteers could take them on or help, so some big dreams have been put on the back burner. But by not overstretching myself the charity has benefited in the long run. You might now be in the position that you are wondering how you are going to reach audiences, market your organisation and fund raise online when this is something you haven’t done before.

As a niche charity I found linking with my local community and other aquaculture groups helped spread the word.

Lockdown has seen closed museums use increasingly imaginative ideas to continue to reach their audiences, all advertised and brought to the publics’ attention through social media channels. It is apparent that an online presence has never been so important and will continue to be so going forward. With social distancing the new normal coming out of lockdown may prove challenging if not impossible for many smaller, independent and volunteer run museums to be able to collect donations. It may not be economically viable for some to even open in 2020 with safe distancing levels reducing daily visitor numbers and additional cleaning measures increasing staff or volunteer input.

So how can museums make up the shortfall in loss of revenue online, keep their profile high and reach their audiences?

If you ask an IT professional, they would say that it is comparatively straightforward to put a link to your fundraising platform onto your museum webpage or social media channel. In principle this is true, but for the uninitiated it can be a steep learning curve, especially if you don’t understand how people use social media and how to reach your audience. Getting familiar using twitter, facebook and instragram are a good way to start connecting with your targeted audience as you use photographs or films to engage and can have multiple administrators to share the workload with, whilst working from home. Having a dedicated fundraising page on popular sites such as Justgiving and UK Fundraising mean you don’t need to add to your website, if you have one, immediately and can use social media channels to advertise and link to your fundraising page.  Special events and fundraisers will need to be thought through more creatively and with appropriate controls in place. To reach wider audiences use your social media channels and look at all your forms of communication such as e-mail signatures, links on your and other websites, e-newsletters, references onsite in audio guides and embed donation codes in video/film clips. This is an area a designated media volunteer group could help with. Whatever you do always make sure that you thank all those that donate and use social media to promote or update of where you are in relation to realising the amount or ask you were going for. Remember fundraising might not always be for monetary value, you may be looking for volunteers with particular skills or for donations of equipment. Take the time to discuss and understand what will make your museum resilient and stand out in these difficult financial times. Remember to share the workload or limit what you look to achieve, even if it is just you and the dog.

Here are some simple steps and ideas to start and build on your digital and fundraising knowledge

Initial steps
  • Look to upskill the museum workforce in digital resilience through free online resources they can do now at home whist isolating, such as
  • Work out how much time do you have to give to dealing with donations, enquiries, bank transfers, administration etc? This will inform what methods you incorporate in-house to collect donations and help with planning any your online appeals.
  • Sign up to receive announcements from funding providers such as MA, AIM, MGS, NLHF and UK Fundraising. Many are currently looking at specific COVID-19 funding pots so being on mailing lists you can hear about what is out there for you and get your application in in good time.
  • Be aware there are some financial benefits brought in for not-for-profit organisations. HMRC has agreed to relax a few gift aid rules because of COVID-19 pandemic
  • Covid-19 advise for museums is continually being updated so keep up to date on the MGS website with links to a wealth of useful information.
  • Visit Scotland has some top tips for social media during these times.
Fundraising going forward
  • Keep local at first; launch a local appeal. Decide exactly what you need to survive be that revenue or IT skills. Look to contact your loyal followers and friend base for help with the current situation, contact your local press and find the help to build your confidence and your fundraising direction.
  • Understand that you need now more than ever to be flexible to how people donate, so do your research. Look at what other museums have used as an online fundraising platform and what donation devices you could use within your building when you re-open if cash is not to be used as readily.
  • Make sure that whatever site/platform you choose online, use it as a tool for you and note that the key to success is developing a strong, specific, attainable, tangible and bite sized ask if fundraising. If your campaign is for something specific use that for the wording in all media and hashtag posts.
  • Enhance online fundraising by promoting the cause through signage (even if not open) outside your building, in shop windows, community boards, emails signatures, newsletters, and local press. Get creative, show your museum is a community space worth having.
  • Ensure all your staff and volunteers, even those in lockdown, are involved and understand the ask. They can help with communicating, mail drops and creative activities in your community.
  • Plan ahead and have an idea of what you are going to post online. You can set up a few posts or a regular feed in advance so your time is well utilised and make social media work to bring people to you as they can find you by using the hashtags you use. Spend time looking at what hashtags are most unique to you.
  • Get nostalgic. Putting up on social media images from your archive or objects from your collection can help to provide the emotional involvement from the reader to encourage them to donate.


Published 11 June 2020