Most museums would not be able to open their doors without the generosity of their donors. With limited or non-existent funding for acquisitions, many museums also rely on donors to build their permanent collections.
How can we thank these people for everything they have done for our institutions? Here are some ideas.
Donors who sponsor an exhibit or event should always have their name mentioned on a sign in a prominent location where your visitors will see it. Promising public acknowledgement can often persuade someone to come on board as a sponsor. Be specific when setting up your guidelines so donors know what funding levels receive this benefit.
Traditionally larger donors are mentioned first on your sign, usually in a larger font size. Exhibit sponsors should have their name on display for the duration of the exhibit. Event sponsors should be acknowledged at the event, but you could leave the sign up for several days if you desire.
Sponsors and donors should be thanked in all of your publicity materials, including press releases, invitations, brochures, flyers, and on your website. You cannot control what the media prints, but they won’t print a sponsor at all if you don’t include it! You do have control over what materials are produced in-house. Never miss a chance to thank your sponsors and donors.
Your newsletter is a perfect place to thank donors. Each museum handles this in a different way. Some list donors in monetary categories, or give them cute names like “Gold Circle Sponsors.” Others simply list everyone who donated, in alphabetical order, without singling out the specific amounts given. Some list donors by individual projects, such as “Adopt an Artifact” or “Clock Restoration Project.”
Some museums acknowledge artifact donors in newsletters and others do not. Some list only the donors’ names, while others also list the artifact donation. Donors fall into two categories: those who want to be acknowledged publicly and those who wish to remain anonymous. If you do list your donors by name in your newsletter, be sure your donation paperwork states your policy and gives people an opportunity to opt out if they choose.
Plaques are an extremely popular way to solicit donations for specific items, such as benches, tables, and chairs, or large items like a new wing or gallery renovation. Using a plaque to dedicate and acknowledge a modern donation is perfectly acceptable.
However, placing a plaque on an artifact is a bad idea. Many donors want a “permanent” way to associate their family name with the artifact. But placing a plaque on an artifact compromises its historical integrity. In a historical setting, a modern plaque breaks the spell of being transported to the past. In a modern museum exhibit, all of the labels should look alike under a single design theme. Assure your artifact donors that their name is forever linked to their donation through the accession number in your database.
Some museums create a “Tree of Life” plaque where you can permanently acknowledge donors. It is important to set criteria for who is included in such as display, usually a dollar amount. Set aside an entire wall in a lobby or other public space where you can add “leaves” with people’s names engraved on them. Use different colored leaves to designate different donations, such as gold for donations over $5000 and sliver for $2500-5000. A display like this might even encourage others to make their own donation.