AIM Higher – Fundraising – Storrington and District Museum

A new Committee was appointed in March 2021 to manage Storrington and District Museum. For the previous five years, the Museum’s expenditure had exceeded income and the pandemic left the Museum in a worse financial state. It was clear to the new Committee that the current business model was not feasible. With support from AIM Higher, the Committee worked with fundraising consultant Judy Niner to explore options to increase income.

In this case study, Committee member Peter Stevens explains how their fundraising priorities have been established.

What’s the background to your AIM Higher application?

Although we knew we needed to increase income, none of the Committee had any experience of fundraising except for some Heritage Lottery funding through the local History Group. We had looked at, and applied unsuccessfully for, some grants.

We wanted to know if we were doing something wrong with our grant applications, so I wrote to AIM to ask for advice. AIM kindly approved a two day consultancy and we made contact with Judy Niner, the consultant recommended by AIM, via Zoom. The Committee nominated four of us to act as a sub group, which commenced in April 2022.

Can you tell us a bit about the process you went through with the consultant?

Firstly, Judy commented that there was nothing wrong with our grant applications but that the competition in the current climate was even more fierce than usual. Once Judy had heard the background, we spent time brainstorming what our objectives were and what we wanted to focus on. It was much easier having an external person asking the difficult questions and then having to respond:

  • Did we want to survive?
  • Who were our target audience?
  • What did we need to do to flourish and grow?

We knew deep down that to really flourish we ultimately need premises of our own. We currently pay rent for a single room which houses all the artifacts, an office for the curatorial team and a storeroom. The rent is over 70% of our income and our lease expires in June 2025. We all agreed that premises of our own were the aim, but this would require massive local support, fundraising or crowd funding.

Apart from a £1,000 grant from the local Parish Council, our income is based on membership fees, donations, monthly talks and fundraising through quiz nights, art exhibitions etc. All our Committee, curatorial team and stewards are volunteers.

We discussed who our audience is. We see ourselves as a community asset and whilst we recognise that most of our members are probably aged over 70, we also have been trying to get local schools involved. The latter has been difficult as schools are too busy with their own challenges and we have to recognise this brings in no income. The outcome that Judy helped us recognise is that we can’t be all things to everyone; our main audience is primarily those over 60 but we are more than happy to have visits from the local schools and Brownies, as indeed we have done.

What have the outcomes of the consultancy support been? Are there recommendations you’ve already implemented? Or others that are part of a longer-term plan?

We don’t charge visitors an entry fee, so it is important that we receive donations. Cash has regrettably fallen out of fashion so our donations have decreased. Judy suggested we move to enabling donations to be made by mobile phone so we have just started using Donr, though we have yet to see visitors use this facility. She also suggested we remove silver and copper coins from the Perspex donation box to encourage notes and £1 or £2 coins. With Judy’s help we rewrote our objectives and now have these displayed on an A1 board placed next to the donation box. We need to get Stewards to ask visitors if they have enjoyed their visit and would they consider a donation – we still struggle with this as its not part of our national culture to ask for money.

One of our challenges is to increase our footfall as many, even in the village, do not know of our existence. We had already increased our publicity via posters of our talks and produced a bookmark advertising our presence. Judy suggested we produced extra copies of our three times a year newsletter/magazine, Times Past, and maildrop these to local residents; after consideration, we decided on cost grounds to produce a flyer of our talks and what information is held in the Museum and post this through local letterboxes in areas where we believe our target audience reside.

Judy’s other suggestion was to consider a ‘Gift in Wills’ programme. This was not something that we had ever considered and whilst we were supportive of this, we had no idea how to proceed. Judy drafted a document and we supplemented this with information about the Museum and its objectives. We are about to start approaching solicitors in the area to see if we can get their support in this programme.

Have you got any advice you’d share with other AIM members?

  • It is too early to say if we are to be successful in increasing our income in the short term and finding premises of our own in the longer term. But there are a few things we’ve learnt:
  • It is always helpful to have an independent person, ideally with experience of the sector, to pose the difficult questions and prompt answers. It is too easy to avoid the big issues and hope they’ll go away.
  • It is vital that as an organisation, you must focus, particularly when resourced by volunteers.
  • Focus on the three most significant things that will help your organisation; you can’t do everything.
  • Do not dissipate your limited resources.

For more advice on fundraising, read AIM’s Fundraising Success Guide, written by Judy>>