It’s hardly surprising that as government funding has been cut, and traditional methods of philanthropy and grant-giving fail to bridge the financial gap, the practice of funding a project with small donations from a large number of people, typically harnessed online, has seen enormous growth.
According to Bloomberg, the global crowdfunding market is predicted to grow by $89.72bn from 2018 to 2022.
Platforms such as JustGiving, Go Fund Me, Kickstarter and the Art Fund’s Art Happens all utilise a similar model that focuses on time-specific projects with a strong narrative. These often feature a short powerful campaign video, and a rewards-based system that offers donors the chance to receive a gift in exchange for certain levels of giving, which could be anything from a set of postcards to a private gallery tour.
Merrin Kalinowski, the museum marketing relationship manager at the Art Fund, says that Art Happens was set up to empower museums to harness the power of digital and turn their visitors from “going” to “giving”.
This followed research that 90% of people who visit museums give to charities, and although 40% might give to museums they didn’t see this as charitable giving. “They saw it as a tip for a good day out, such as £5 in the donation box on the way out,” says Kalinowski.
Similarly, Kickstarter was founded in the US as a fundraising initiative focused solely on creative projects, as traditional forms of funding rapidly decrease. It also has what Patton Hindle, Kickstarter’s head of arts, refers to as a “younger audience than that of a cultural institution’s typical donor base” with the majority of backers falling between ages 24 and 44.
While sites such as JustGiving and Go Fund Me offer mass appeal and reach, arts-focused platforms offer tailored advice and support throughout the process of launching and managing an appeal.
For example, Art Happens is free for Art Fund museum partners to use, with budget set aside to produce a promotional film and fulfil rewards.
However, that is not to say that launching a crowdfunding project is easy. Kalinowski suggests that a campaign should be planned for several weeks if not months ahead of going live and must have a strong story and tangible outcome that could be easily explained to friends over a cup of tea.
Hindle also emphasises that – not including recent changes enforced to support organisations during the pandemic through the Lights On initiative – all projects have to be creatively minded. She recommends setting aside at least an hour a day during the campaign to send updates and direct emails to potential backers.
Campaigns should run for about 30 days and have realistic goals of up to £20,000. Patton advises that institutions can then use “stretch goals” to achieve additional targets and release new rewards.
The Art Fund recently smashed its own records on Art Happens through the campaign to save and preserve the late filmmaker and gay rights activist Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage in Dungeness, Kent, in partnership with Tate and Creative Folkestone.
The charity raised £3.5m in what was its first digitally focused campaign. It focused on preserving a property and its contents, rather than a single artwork or collections.
“Prospect Cottage was quite a new subject for Art Fund,” says Alice Regent, its head of individual giving. “We recognised that we were going to have to engage a new audience, and that is one of the real assets that Art Happens has to offer.”
The project’s success has also been attributed to Jarman’s appeal across multiple fields and the fact that so many creatives who knew and worked with him wanted to be involved in developing rewards and engaging donors.
“Jarman had so much resonance across so many areas of creativity,” says Regent. “There’s film making, the garden, visual arts, literature. We thought it would be great to capitalise on that by creating rewards that brought in advocates from across the board. It was a chance to celebrate the rounded nature of his creativity.”
Hindle recommends that institutions work with artists to create a sense of human connection and community within their campaign. “You’re seeing people engage with famous artists that they didn’t know or have access to previously. So, I think it hopefully opens the doors to a broader arts community.”
The Prospect Cottage campaign also proves how useful crowdfunding can be in terms of engaging new audiences, with 70% of donors new to Art Fund, including unprecedented overseas giving.
But launching and sustaining a crowdfunding campaign is far from easy, particularly as nearly all platforms use a live online totaliser, making funding levels completely transparent.
This can cause problems at the start of a project as £0 is off putting to potential givers.
Regent says existing donors should be asked to offer funds at the launch of a crowdfunding project to move the counter off zero, but also at the end to bring an edge of excitement and encourage last-minute donations from others.
Maintaining momentum in a crowdfunding campaign is important, and the middle period can often be slower.
But match funding can help feed into the momentum of a campaign, says Regent. “Seeing the impact of a gift being doubled is very powerful.”
Holly Black is a freelance journalist