New Trends in Fundraising: When Your Community’s Minority is the Majority

Written by Lesley Markham

The colors used in flyers to appeal to the Vietnamese community in San Jose matter. Brick pavers with donor names can cause offense when one walks over a family name—vertical donor walls are a better option. How does a museum serve increasingly diverse audiences, successfully connect with its local community, and at the same time, continue to raise money for the institution? Attendees at this ASTC 2016 session received myriad ideas and learned about common pitfalls around building bonds with local diverse communities.

Jennifer McMenamin, vice president of development at Sci-Port, Louisiana’s Science Center, Shreveport, served as moderator, while Joe Hastings, executive director of Explora, Albuquerque, New Mexico; Amy Templeton, president and CEO of McWane Science Center, Birmingham, Alabama; and Jenni Martin, director of education and programs at Children’s Discovery Museum, San Jose, California, provided examples of their own work in cities where the majority of their local community members are from minority backgrounds.

It is important to recognize that a majority-minority community is not necessarily made up of low-income individuals and households; however, the three examples used did reflect communities where income for most was limited.

Ensuring that one’s own institutional mission is a reflection of the community is essential. There must be a diverse staff at all levels and a culture of welcome and inclusion. Cultivation of local minority communities cannot begin until this work is well underway.

The next step is to develop trust through sustained relationships with local partners who are working with minority families. Listening to the community and meeting their needs is a long-term commitment. Incorrect assumptions can lead to failure such as imagining that working with traditionally underrepresented groups is all about “just doing the right thing,” or assuming that people “love the museum but just can’t afford to come.”

Building upon a solid foundation and showcasing results helps to craft the value of the museum in the community. Fundraising through grants, museum subscriptions, corporate, and individual donations emerges from the initial community engagement work. There are no quick routes to success, but dreaming big and acting big in the community helps to forge strong connections that can open up many opportunities to grow the museum and serve its visitors.