While its doors remain shut during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Milwaukee Public Museum has found success by going virtual with its fundraising efforts.
The organization recently raised more than $430,000 during its annual Giving Day campaign, with gifts coming from 662 donors. That's up from $118,402 from 155 donors during the 2019 campaign.
In the past, the one-day fundraising blitz has involved bringing supporters into the museum to experience it in person, but this year’s campaign was entirely virtual, with appeals made through social media, phone calls, emails and mailed letters. At a time when the museum is unable to bring in admissions revenue, donors were eager to help, said Kaye Leszczynski, senior director of development for MPM. Gifts ranged from $5 to $50,000, she said.
“MPM is a treasure for Milwaukee and the state,” Leszczynski said. “Because we don’t have admissions revenue right now, we told them why and what we needed funding for and they said ‘Here’s how I can help.’”
Leszczynski attributed the campaign's success to having volunteer ambassadors call supporters, providing a donation match and offering prizes – including a behind-the-scenes tour with president Ellen Censky and a private stargazing experience with Daniel M. Soref Planetarium director Bob Bonadurer.
"It creates the urgency you need," she said. "Fundraising is about answering, 'Why do it today? Why should I make that gift today?' Giving Day gives you that reason. And you are able to participate in something the community is clearly rallying around."
Earlier this month, MPM also converted its Moveable Feast progressive dinner fundraiser into an online event, featuring videos of local chefs preparing their favorite comfort foods at home. The event brought in $35,000.
Leszczynski said it’s important for nonprofit fundraisers to not let up on asking donors during the crisis.
“You want to support the local restaurant you love, you’re buying things in the local store you love. This is just another way to say MPM is important to Wisconsin,” she said. “ … A big part of our role as fundraisers is, people want to help when we can, and it’s up to us to show them those opportunities. It’s important that we keep giving people ways to give and don’t make that decision for them that this isn’t a good time to ask people. They will contribute if that’s a meaningful thing for them.”
The museum has been closed since March 14 due to coronavirus concerns. In late March, it announced it would temporarily furlough staff and reduce salaries for its executive leadership.