Museums and sponsorship - Museums Association

Museums and sponsorship

 Finding private investment is difficult but not impossible
Gary Noakes
Sponsorship is common in TV dramas, sports stadiums and music festivals, but has not yet rocked the world of museums and galleries.

Aside from some big name blockbusters at large national museums, corporate logos attached to a museum, exhibition or event are rare. Even at the big institutions, the money earned from sponsorship is a relatively small percentage of total income.

The British Museum in London received just £3m from sponsors out of a total income of £144m last year while the Science Museum Group received £4m compared with a total income of £79m.

But while some are concerned about the negative side of chasing sponsorship money, museum directors and trustees are increasingly looking to the world of commerce to make up for falling public funding. And philanthropy and private sponsorship form a key part of the government’s plan for the future funding of arts, heritage and culture.

But museums and galleries with experience of attracting corporate sponsors say that the market is getting tougher.

“Things have changed, even from 12 months ago,” says Jane Marriott, the deputy director of the Hepworth Wakefield.

Following the 2008 recession, many companies dramatically cut back their expenditure or even went out of business. Although the economic outlook in the UK has improved, Marriott says there is now “more of a change around behaviour”.

Marriott, who previously worked at the Royal Academy (RA) in London as the director of development, says that, post 2008, firms that can still afford to spend have to justify this and take care not be seen as too lavish. 

“Companies that previously wanted to invite 1,000 guests to the RA’s Summer Exhibition changed to offering clients behind-the-scenes tours or lectures on how to look after paintings they had bought,” she says.

Location, location, location

Large corporations with fat wallets tend to want prestige in return for their money. Unsurprisingly, national and large museums and galleries in London have found it easier to attract sponsorship than smaller organisations and those outside the capital.

This has been the experience of Marriott, who spent 20 years working in London before decamping to Yorkshire: “It’s been an eye opener and I was shocked at the difference. It’s not just the difference in companies that are prepared to give, but their budgets as well.

“For a big project in London I would not look for anything below £500,000 and for our costs to be no more than £10,000-£20,000. Here I have not seen anything attracting more than £100,000 [in sponsorship].”

Such sums are very rare outside London, with four or five figures being far more common. There can also be additional hoops to jump through, as the regional offices of big firms often need head office approval for sponsorship awards.

“If they’re part of a bigger organisation, then there’s no guarantee that you’ll get the money,” Marriott says.

Iain Watson, the director of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (Twam), says it has found it hard to get financial commitments from sponsors and that, where it has had success, the percentage of sponsorship as income is small.

What can make a big difference is the number of major companies based in an area. Watson says that satellite offices of major firms can be a source of income, albeit relatively low amounts.

In the North East, the software company Sage Group has supported the music venue Sage Gateshead. Virgin Money also has a major office in Gosforth area of Newcastle, and sponsors many events in the city. But some regions are not blessed with such potential sources and big brands.

Marriott says that, where sponsors can be found, the best strategy for museums is to go for multi-year deals, as these are a better way for companies to measure Return on Investment (ROI) and convince sceptical directors:

“What you want is a sponsor for a series of exhibitions, projects or a gallery over a number of years so they can see the value of that return over a longer period.”

But measuring ROI presents a challenge because, unlike the sports world, museum audiences are less likely to buy a t-shirt emblazoned with the sponsor’s logo after visiting an exhibition.

Marriott also suggests museums take a consortium approach, where they ask a number of different sponsors from different sectors to all chip in towards a project or exhibition. The downside is that this approach can be time-consuming, not only in the initial search but also in having to look after the interests of multiple parties.

Commercial transactions

Museums may also want to consider what they are asking companies to sponsor. Watson believes there have been significant changes in how sponsorship money is spent since 2008, with a switch to more of a commercial transaction.

This can mean museums hosting networking and other corporate events on behalf of companies, rather than straight sponsorship deals.

“They might say if you’re bringing in people that are potential clients for us, we can work together and support the costs – they want to use museums’ networks,” Watson says. 

The future for museum sponsorship, especially outside of London, is likely to be less about deals and more about individual donations, philanthropy and venue hire.

There is also much potential in museums tapping into the knowledge, networks and experiences of the commercial world.

“Business people are hugely supportive on an informal basis,” Watson says, citing a department store’s senior buyer who worked on the museum’s merchandising. It also received catering advice from a local restaurateur and help from a property developer.

If “no strings attached” arrangements like this are not immediately forthcoming, a barter deal might be the way to go. For example, museums could offer to display a company’s logo in an appropriate location in return for advice or other help.

Putting out the feelers for help and financial support means having and making relationships, but museums’ boards and governing bodies may not always bring the necessary business experience and contacts, particularly if they are local authority members.

To help in this area, Twam has a separate development trust that concentrates on fundraising.

Commercial negotiations can be a rude awakening for many working in museums. But stringent demands from the corporate sector are likely to become more common in as everyone chases value for money.
The Heritage Alliance is attempting to train those in the sector, including museums and galleries, to be more proactive. Mark Webb, the alliance’s Giving to Heritage project manager, says knowledge of corporate partnership is particularly lacking in the sector.

“Of all the subjects we provide training in, this was the one showing the least amount of confidence,” he says.

This may be because of ethical concerns, not knowing whom to approach or simply that smaller museums find the commercial sector daunting.

“Smaller organisations think corporates are not for them, because they think the money only goes to national causes, but that’s not true,” Webb says.

He believes that sponsorship from the corporate sector is still a largely untapped market for museums.

“We’re trying to get across the message that with the cuts, competition is really severe because many more people are applying for grants – and their chances of getting them are smaller and smaller.”

Leave a comment

You must be signed in to post a comment.


Join the Museums Association today to read this article

Over 12,000 museum professionals have already become members. Join to gain access to exclusive articles, free entry to museums and access to our members events.