Micromecenatism 2.0: crowdfunding for cultural institutions in 5 steps


Crowdfunding again? This term, as others related to digital in the cultural field, is likely to become the classic “buzzword”, the magic word that is believed to be a solution to all kinds of economic problems of cultural institutions, which are increasingly looking for new forms of funding to support programs and projects.

We already dealt with crowdfunding in a past blog post, where we analyzed the ingredients for a successful strategy on Kickstarter, one of the main platforms used for this practice. Today, there are more and more channels that allow museums to structure a crowdfunding  campaign, and between the various examples we can also mention the very Italian Innamorati della Cultura. The possibility of obtaining micro-donations has opened the way to new practices that differ from traditional fundraising campaigns, reserved for substantial investments of companies or initiatives of generous individuals.

In order to think things through once and for all on what it means to organize a crowdfunding campaign, strengths and risk included, we asked a few questions to Francesco D’Amato, researcher and associate Professor at the Faculty of Political Science, Sociology and Communication of the University of Rome “La Sapienza”.

1. What is crowdfunding and which museums have used it successfully

F: What do we mean when we talk about crowdfunding? In which context was this practice born and why?

F: The term crowdfunding defines funding campaigns occurring mainly online, on a specific website or on specialized platforms such a Kickstarter or Indiegogo. The crowdfunding logic is about gathering small contributions from a vast number of people, using the possibilities of the network. Although not successfull over the second half of the past decade, the corwdfunding was slowly accepted  and used by museums in the last five years, following the success

of a few past initiatives. Particularly, the Tous Mecenés campaign conducted by the Louvre in 2011 that gathered 1 million euros in donations from 5000 private individuals, necessary to buy the painting “The three graces” by Lucas Cranach, costing 4 millions total.


F: What are the most relevant examples of crowdfunding in the cultural sector?

F: It is quite used for music projects, one of the first sectors to use crowdfunding, since it was necessary to find alternatives for the traditional music, editorial, audiovisual and design industry, along with the research for financing performative cultural events at large. For each of these cases there were campaigns that could reach significant objectives for initiatives by small creative groups.

As we said, the attention from museums is more recent. Besides the above mentioned case, other interesting initiatives have been carried out by the Louvre Museum. In 2012, the Ashmolean Museum gathered 7.8 million pounds in 8 months, thanks to 1.048 donations between 1.50 and 10.000 pounds, to acquire Edouard Manet’s “Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus“; the campaign launched in 2013 by the Smithsonian Freer Sackler Gallery gathered on the platform Razoo 176.415 USD for the exhibition “Yoga: The Art of Transformation”; the campaign “Let’s build a Goddamn Tesla Museum”, launched  in 2012 with the help of the comic illustrators of the Oathmeal, directed its funds to the costs for the realization of a museum dedicated to Nikola Tesla. In this case, the museum wasn’t the starting institution for the acquisition of a piece, but rather the end of the campaign.

Schermata 2015-03-03 alle 21.55.27

Among the Italian cases, it is worth mentioning Palazzo Madama, which gathered 66.203 euro from 1591 donators, of which 58.944 through the website and 7.259 thanks to offline activities, to buy a service of Meissen chinaware which belonged to the Taparelli d’Azeglio family.

The campaign to finance some parts of the exhibition Vice Versa at the Italian Pavillon of the 55 Venice Biennale, gathered 178.000 euros although the goal was of 120.000; Finally, the campaign “Let’s conquer the moon” by the National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo da Vinci, launched in 2013 to finance the display of a piece of moon rock, with over 50,000 euros gathered.

2. We learn from our mistakes

F: Are there any unsuccessful cases? What are the reasons why a crowdfunding campaign doesn’t work?

F: Obviously failures are bigger than successes although sometimes they fly off the radar as campaigns that don’t reach their goal are not featured on the media. The Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston (with 5.300 USD on an objective of 32.000 for an Andy Warhol exhibition); the North Carolina Museum of History (2.706 rather than 25.000, for an exhibition on movies filmed by the State), the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum (which gathered 34.000 USD instead of 1 million euros for the construction of an area of the museum. This happened although famous testimonials sustained the campaign, such as Dan Akroyd e Patricia Cornwell).

The reasons can vary and we should analyse the data of individual cases to really understand them. However, I believe that the quality or the type of the project does not actually affect the campaign as much as the way the campaign is carried on and managed. The goal should be credible and well defined, it should go beyond the simple reach of a sum of money for a project. In other words, the first error is setting unfeasible goals.

The second crucial error is the tendency to underestimate the time, the committment and the resources necessaries for a successfull campaign. It is not just a collection of money: publishing a nice project is not enough for having people to contribute as those are not the main reasons why they would do it. Consistent interaction, storytelling, involvement and creation of a relation are the main principles that should sustain the campaing. Thus time, competences, marketing and communication are crucial.

Finally, endorsement from opinion leader or celebrities, even when done for a specific target, positively affect a campaign through echo and legitimization. Akroyd and Cornwell were probably not right for a paleontology projecy. Jay Z and Lady Gaga brought more luck to Marina Abramovic, that in 2013 gathered 661.452 USD from 5.000 supporters.


3. The role of communities and different types of campaigns

F: What is the role of the community of supporters of a museum, either online and offline?

F: Crucial. As I said crowdfunding is mainly a matter of relation, ability to create a community of supporters that are passionate through initiatives before and beyond the crowdfunding campaign. Getting in touch with other communities possibly interested in the subject matter is also useful. In other words, the basis for a crowdfunding campaign are created before the campaign is designed. Relation and collaboration should in fact inform every activity of an organization.

F: What types of crowdfunding campaigns exist and what are the differences among them?

F: Generally, there are three categories: equity based, social lending e reward based. In the first case the sums correspond to participation to a commercial project, granting the right to share the gains associated with the investment. In the second case, they are loans while in the third case simple donations generated through incentives and rewards. This is the most common type of crowdfunding that we can find in the cultural sector.

4. A cultural crowdfunding campaign in 5 steps

F: What are the 5 steps that inform a crowdfunding campaign?

F: The same that articulate a fundraising or communication campaign, because this is what we are talking about: swot analysis, to identify weaknesses and strenghts, risks and opportunities.

Then the definition of economic objectives and the target, followed by the choice of the tools to gather the funds. It is important to mix the online campaign, that should be focused on one platform, with tools and opportunities to gather money offline.

Finally, fourth and fifth step, design and plan of the ways in which we are gonna communicate the project. It is important to state very clearly how the money is going to be used and the ways in which donations can be done. The project needs to be framed into an engaging narration, followed by planning of the actions. It is crucial to kick off the campaign with a solid strategy, possibly stimulating the word of mouth by involving influencers. This would keep the attention high throughout the campaign.