The Digital Museum

Suited and re-booted: crowdfunding helping museums reach for the moon


A small step for the Smithsonian – a giant leap for museum fundraising!

Well, the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum’s Kickstarter campaign to preserve Neil Armstrong’s space suit might not be as era-defining as the events of 20th July 1969, but it does show how digital crowdsourcing is helping museums make big strides in utilising the resources - financial or otherwise - of supporters.

The Smithsonian set up its Kickstarter campaign on the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing to raise $500,000 to help conserve Armstrong’s suit and keep it on display at the museum. It passed its fundraising target less than a week later – and still has three weeks to run.

The campaign included incentives to attract donations – with donors able to claim perks from a hi-res image of the spacesuit for pledging $11 to a behind-the-scenes opportunity to see the suit in person for those donating $10,000 or more.

While fundraising for such an iconic piece of history will always attract a lot of helpful PR and publicity, the principals of what the Smithsonian are doing can work – and are working – for museum projects of all sizes.

Creative capital

We’ve mentioned before about Luton Culture’s Museum Makers project - where Wardown Park Museum has managed to tap into the creative, social and intellectual capital within their community through providing an online platform that rewards involvement, in this case through recognition and “gamification” of the process. While no money was collected – the financial worth of the support they have received is estimated in the tens of thousands of pounds.

There have also been museums such as The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE) which was set up entirely through Kickstarter donations and continues to fund itself significantly through digital engagement.

And this excellent case study on the Art Fund’s “Art Happens” campaign gives some sensible tips on how to think about managing a crowdsourcing campaign.

Digital platforms such as Kickstarter, backed up by intelligent engagement strategy, can be a highly effective way of generating financial support – particularly for focussed projects where there is a definite target and an opportunity to acknowledge supporters.

For more on crowdfunding, the Museums Association provides some helpful resources on their website.

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