Museums and the Changing Face of Philanthropy

Several months ago, I came across the DoSomething.org report about young people and volunteering (you can check out the report here).  Intrigued, I read it with a mind toward how museums might attract a piece of this teen-volunteering pie.  As we all know, volunteers are vital to museums.  The DoSomething.org report and other articles I came across suggest that the face of volunteering and philanthropy are changing.  It may be time for museums to take a closer look.

A lot of information in the DoSomething.org report is what I expected (e.g., reasons young people volunteer are not always altruistic; people who volunteer are happier), but the report also brings to light one important point: fundraising is the #1 way young people volunteer (38.5% of young people who volunteer have fundraised for charity) (p. 21).  This piqued my interest.  I realized that if this is true, perhaps there is a way for museums to use young people in roles outside of program presenters or “junior curators.”Robin Hood Funding Cartoon

The Center for the Future of Museums shared a Time magazine article titled “How Nonprofits Convince Millennials to Give: Customize the Cause” (you can read it here).  In a nutshell the article is about how Millennials want their charitable giving to be personal and local.  They want to feel like they are making a difference, but they don’t have deep pockets to write big checks.  However, these young potential donors aren’t shy about sharing their favorite causes through social media or about encouraging others to give to important initiatives.  In short, they excel at making their cause known and raising funds to support it.  Because Millennials participate in a fast-paced world, they expect to see the impact of their efforts—immediately, or at least more quickly than traditional donors.  They want precise details about how their donations are helping; they want evidence that their small donations, collectively, are making a big difference; and they want the ability to describe to others the effect their small donations are having.  In order to attract teens as potential donors or fundraisers, museums need to clarify the impact they hope to achieve and explain how teens’ donations will be used.  As my colleagues have pointed out many times in earlier blog posts, museums have to think concretely about the intended results of their work and then use this information as a starting point for all they do.

So, what do Museums do?

There are so many great teen and young adult programs at museums around the country.  Having perfected their teen programming strategy, perhaps museums are at a point where they can begin working with teens in new ways.  Museums, as organizations with deeply-held beliefs and passions, could use their passions to engage teens that have similar passions.  According to the DoSomething.org report, the top five issues teens care about are animal welfare, hunger, homelessness, the environment, and the economy.  And yet, the very same report says, “young people tend not (emphasis added) to volunteer on animal issues.  The problem is they don’t know how to help, or haven’t been offered any good ways to help” (p. 18).  What does your museum care about?  Can you extend your fundraising efforts to teens that care about the same issues?

In our digitally-connected world, people have endless platforms for sharing causes about which they are passionate.  And teens are more connected than ever, with a 2010 Pew Internet & American Life Project report saying that 73% of wired American teens use social networking sites.  Museums can harness that power and use it to their benefit by developing campaigns that encourage small donations.  Create one-time volunteer events for young people rather than programs that require a long commitment, or encourage your committed older volunteers to bring a young friend or family member to the museum and seize the opportunity to showcase how all can be involved in the museum in big and small ways.  Do you already have a program for teens through the education department?  If so, why not collaborate with the development department to find a way to encourage teens to use their personal, digital platforms to share your institution’s cause?

At the very least, these young people can become a mass of loyal supporters who can take your message into the community and highlight your museum’s deep passion—and really, who wouldn’t want that?

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