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No Other Word For It: Fundraising Failure

The Phillips Collection crowdsourcing effort, an attempt to raise $45,000 in a month to support a website abut Jacob Lawrence, has failed miserably. When the drive ended on Dec. 10, only $2,988–a mere 7 percent of the goal–had been pledged. And that took 41 supporters, for an average contribution of about $73.

logo_color_lockedupAll of the background is here, in my previous post on the subject.

Why would this campaign fail? I can think of several possibilities, or a combination of some of them:

–Not enough visibility for the campaign. I checked the Phillips’s Facebook page and saw just three posts about the campaign. Now, I’m guessing there were emails to supporters, perhaps a little local press, maybe some Tweets? Whatever it was, it was likely not enough.

–An over-ambitious goal. Raising $45,000 in a month from the grass roots is hard and time. Raising it for a future website, which can’t/won’t be seen for months, is harder. And there was some skepticism about the full, $125,000 cost of the website–why so much?

–An artist whose name isn’t that well known in the public. Sad, but true.

–In the visual arts, crowdfunding is less than it’s cracked up to be, most of the time. Previously, we know that the Hirshhorn failed in its attempt to crowdfund an Ai Weiwei work: it raised $555 of a $35,000 goal. The Freer-Sackler tried it for its Yoga exhibition, but few of the links then in use work now. This one does work–it shows support from 616 donors, but no total donated. This article, however, says the Freer-Sackler raised $174,000 for the show, including $70,000 from Whole Foods.

Yoga has a vast following, though, and I’ll bet the Whole Foods connection helped, too.

I’m thinking that crowdfunding is a gimmick, and one that, most of the time, requires another gimmick to make it work.

That’s the new Phillips logo above, btw. I think I like it.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Phillips Collection 


  1. Crowdfunding is a hybrid beast, intertwining marketing and fundraising. If you look across the space (not just in museums), you realize quickly that a good cause or even a good idea isn’t enough. You have to carefully package your campaign to appear to be more than “help us raise money for X.”

    Consider the “Bunch O Balloons” phenomenon. ( He had a story (a man with 8 kids who was tired of making the water balloons and wanted to be part of the fun). It was super easy to understand. It was a catchy product. I think these concepts can translate to the museum sector, much like the Freer-Sackler Yoga exhibition (a story, easy to understand, and catchy).

  2. The logo unfortunately calls to mind that of Philips Consumer Electronics and Domestic Appliances

  3. Judith, I wanted to draw your attention to a couple successful crowdfunding campaigns from art museums this fall.

    First, the VMFA raised $62K in October for an exhibition around an exhibition of Chinese art:

    On a smaller scale, here in Portland (ME) we raised more than $7,000 from our young patrons group The Contemporaries via Indiegogo:

    This $7,000 was part of a larger gift of $25,000 that the Contemporaries raised towards the purchase of Robert Indiana’s sculpture “SEVEN,” which was just installed a couple weeks ago. More background here:


    • Good to hear–what do you suppose made these successful?

      • I can’t speak for the VMFA, but it looks as if they had corporate partners and major donors lined up for challenge/matching gifts to help encourage donors. That reflects some great planning, I’d imagine.

        For us, it was the leadership of the Contemporaries that made a difference. The Steering Committee identified and solicited a select group of peers for $1,000+ gifts so that the rest of the membership could contribute smaller amounts via the Indiegogo campaign. Knowing that $18,000 had been raised already made it easy for us to push maximum participation vs. size of contribution (this is not different from a regular capital campaign model, by the way). We’ve found that for our under-40 members, hearing from their peers is hugely compelling (hence the video featuring the Steering Committee).

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