As nonprofit institutions, museums and science centers rely on admission, their gift shop, and special programming to bring in the revenue necessary to support their operations.
When these sources aren’t enough, especially during times of big projects or expansion, the museum development team can turn to the tried-and-true method of hosting a fundraising event.
If you’re looking for ways to enhance your most popular events or a brand new idea to get your donors excited, check out our guide to the top six museum fundraising event ideas:
When organizing any of these fundraising events, you’ll need a robust, integrated software solution to manage registrations, facilitate payments, and track data for analytics later on. Keep that in mind as you read!
Museum Fundraising Event Idea #1. Galas
As one of the most highly involved and high-earning museum fundraising ideas, galas require experienced development staff with strong fundraising event planning skills and heavy-duty software at the helm.
Many museums choose a theme for their galas, especially if the event coincides with the opening of a new exhibition or launch of a new program.
Typically, nonprofits that host charity galas have to find a venue that is big enough for the event but that they can afford (or one that will let them host their event there in return for a sponsorship). As a museum, you likely already have space inside or outside that’s big enough, and you don’t have to pay anything to use it!
Apart from the venue, you’ll need to make sure you can cover the cost of high-quality staff, food and drink, and entertainment. But here’s how you’ll get it back, and then some:
- Ticket sales: A huge portion of your revenue from a gala will come from your ticket sales. Price your tickets appropriately high for the quality of your food and entertainment, but not so extravagantly that no one shows up.
- Onsite donations: Give guests plenty of opportunities to pledge their support while they’re actually at your event, either through filling out a paper or electronic donation form.
- Sponsorship: Companies regularly sponsor large, heavily publicized fundraising events like museum galas, contributing anything from funds to supplies.
- Auctions: You can easily combine a live auction with your gala, especially if your auction items are donated. (Read on to section four to learn more about planning an auction!)
- Membership: Push your membership program by offering special perks (e.g., a free drink or prime seating) at the event as well as extending early registration or ticket discounts to members.
If you do it right, a gala can set up your museum for long-term fundraising success. You get plenty of face time with your donors, which allows you to cultivate your most valuable donor relationships. You also get time with potential donors who bought tickets even though they haven’t given to your institution before.
Museum Fundraising Event Idea #2. Wine Tastings
If you have a permit to serve alcohol or are willing to invest in one, then you can take advantage of a popular fundraiser for museums: wine tastings.
Think about it: a master sommelier taking care of you, exciting exhibitions all around you, and new wines to taste. Who wouldn’t want to buy a ticket?
You can’t charge as much for a ticket to a wine tasting as you can to a big event like a charity gala. To make sure you get the most out of the event, make sure you’re implementing museum software that can:
- Accept online donations in addition to ticket purchases by integrating a donate button onto your checkout page.
- Offer automatic member benefits to nonmembers who buy membership at checkout.
- Collect important data about your ticketholders for the development team to use planning future events.
- Capture contact details that will help your museum stay in touch with supporters.
With the right software solution, you can use your wine tasting as a fundraiser and as a way to advance your long-term revenue goals.
If you don’t have the logistics for a fully fledged wine tasting event, consider a wine wall! A wine wall is easy to set up and operate:
- Buy bottles of wine of varying types and price points, either from a local vineyard or a supermarket.
- Wrap the bottles of wine so the labels aren’t visible, then set them up together on a rack or table.
- Set a ticket price around the middle of the prices of the bottles.
- Allow ticket holders to choose a wine at random from the wall!
Be sure to place a donation box near your wine wall, and be sure to supply staff members with a mobile app that can collect pledges, too, since not everyone carries cash. To provide eve more opportunities for additional donations, include a link to your online donation form on any printed or digital tickets and at checkout.
Museum Fundraising Event Idea #3. Auctions
An exciting fundraising event hosted by all kinds of nonprofits is a charity auction. What sets a charity auction apart from any other kind of auction is that the items are donated, so all the proceeds go to the nonprofit hosting the auction.
There are a few different kinds of auctions you can choose from:
- Live auction: If you’ve got a charismatic member of your staff, give them the mic! Live auctions depend on an engaging auctioneer and attendees that will get into the excitement of bidding out loud.
- Silent auction: For a more laid-back auction event that gives your staff more face time with attendees, try a silent auction. Bidders can view items and submit their bids on paper or via mobile bidding software at their leisure.
- Online/mobile auction: Your guests don’t even have to show up in person to participate. Thanks to online and mobile bidding technology, you can host a digital-only event or an in-person event that guests can participate in even if they can’t make it to the museum.
All three of these types of auctions can be incorporated into a gala.
Museums are excellent forums for auctions because there are a number of unique auction items that your supporters can’t find anywhere else. Consider, for example, offering an experience instead of a tangible item as a prize.
Here are some popular museum-specific ideas to get you thinking:
- Private, behind-the-scenes exhibit tours with the museum’s curator.
- A season pass to the IMAX theater, with the best seats in the house.
- A VIP parking spot for an entire year.
- Early access to the season’s newest exhibits.
- A year’s membership.
Ensuring that anyone who donates items feels good about doing so. Make sure to thank them publicly at the event and in marketing materials leading up to it.
Pro tip: Keep in mind, you’ll need a seamless way to check guests in and out. Having a customized registration page allows your organization to sell different packages to your auction and gain an estimate of how many people are going to attend. For more information about creating a fool-proof registration page, check out our post on 7 registration essentials.
Museum Fundraising Event Idea #4. Golf Tournaments
If you want to give your supporters a chance to get away from the museum and stretch their legs while supporting your mission, a golf tournament is a proven earner for museums. It’s also a hard event to plan if you’re never tackled one before, so make sure at least one member of your development team has experience or gets advice from an expert.
Golf tournaments are better for museums than other types of charity sporting events in a few ways:
- Since golf is a slow-moving game, your players get plenty of time to chat and enjoy themselves without focusing on the game the entire time.
- All ages can participate, especially if you set up a putt-putt competition for younger players.
- Golf players naturally move in groups, which means that friends or coworkers can play together the whole time.
- Typically, winners of a golf tournament receive a prize, so you can offer membership or VIP tickets to a special exhibit to get your players even more engaged in your museum.
These kinds of fundraisers don’t just earn money for your institution through ticket sales — they also provide you with time to get to know your most engaged supporters, which can lead to future donations to your bigger campaigns.
In fact, a golf tournament is a great event to invite potential major donors to because of the amount of face time you can get with players. Place your development staff in golf groups with current donors to retain them and potential donors to recruit them.
Museum Fundraising Event Idea #5. Garden Parties
Nothing’s classier than an old-school garden party, especially to support a great nonprofit organization like your museum.
There’s no limit to what you can incorporate into your garden party fundraiser, but here are some common elements:
- Lunch/dinner: Depending on the time of day and your budget, you can provide anything from appetizers to local catering to a fully fledged, sit-down dinner.
- Music: A live band is always welcome, as are a DJ and a dance floor (especially if your garden party extends past sundown!).
- Dress code: Most garden party fundraisers are black-tie, and many will ask guests to show up dressed on a particular theme.
What sets a garden party apart form a charity gala is, of course, the garden! If your museum’s property includes a courtyard, lawn, sculpture garden, or any kind of outdoor space large enough for your guests, you can save money and hassle by hosting your event onsite.
If you don’t have an appropriate space, consider asking your board members, donors, or members if anyone lives in or works at a space that can accommodate your guest list.
And don’t forget: the beautiful outdoor setting is just the start of the festivities at your garden party! You can pair your event with fun activities and fundraising ideas, such as raffles, games, wine pulls, and more. Check out these ideas from Qgiv to spark some inspiration!
Museum Fundraising Event Idea #6. Fashion Show
Imagine your museum with a runway down the entryway, beautiful clothes under spotlights, and excited patrons having the time of their lives watching cutting-edge fashion unfold right in front of them.
Your museum is the perfect venue for a fashion show, especially to benefit your fundraising efforts.
A number of logistics go into planning a charity fashion show, so don’t forget to:
- Find a clothing store, brand, or designer to partner with you for the evening.
- Hire models, or find volunteers to strut their stuff.
- Set up multiple levels of tickets with different benefits for members or groups so everyone can participate.
- Seek out a stage design company to turn your museum into a Paris-worthy runway.
- Spread the news to your contact list through integrated communications software.
Even if your museum doesn’t seem like it could host a fashion show, contact a design company to see what your options are. If it’s just not possible, search for a local venue that might trade a sponsorship for the use of their space for the night.
Remember that a ticket isn’t the only way you can fundraise with a fashion show. You can also arrange a profit share with the designer or store to collect a percentage of sales to shoppers who show their fashion show ticket at the cash register.
With any of these fundraising event ideas, your supporters are sure to turn out to support your institution and the role it plays in their community.
Want to learn more about museum operations? Check out these resources and become an expert:
- Museum Software: The Ultimate Guide. Running a fundraising event is a lot easier when you have the right software to help you out. Read through our ultimate guide to make sure you choose the right software for your museum!
- Top Museum Programming Ideas. If your one-time fundraising event went off without a hitch, maybe it’s time to think about some long-term programming! Check out our list of the top programming ideas for museums to get inspired.
- Museum Membership: The Ultimate Guide. Keep your most supportive patrons coming back for more every time by setting up a well-oiled membership program. Our ultimate guide will walk you through all the steps you need to take!
- Averill Fundraising Solution’s Capital Campaigns Ultimate Guide. If you’re about to kick off a capital campaign, you’re already on the right path by exploring fundraising event ideas. Make sure the rest of your capital campaign strategy stacks up with this ultimate guide.
Elissa Miller, M.Ed. is Doubleknot’s Communications Director. As the former development director for a regional nonprofit, she’s passionate about helping nonprofits and youth-serving organizations effectively harness new technologies to streamline operations and support their missions.