By Elissa K. Miller, M.Ed.
Even though outsiders may think it’s an oxymoron for a nonprofit museum to earn revenue, all nonprofits must bring in money to support their missions. It’s a wise practice for museum education departments to increase revenue and reduce overhead so that more funds are available to support and expand mission-delivering programs.
There are a number of different ways that children’s museums can increase revenue and minimize administration costs while expanding education programs.
These budget-friendly methods leverage museum software and streamline museum operations to create both the funding and staff time to develop new programs that extend your reach and your mission.
Ready to boost your museum’s education revenue? Let’s get started.
1. Reduce Registration Paperwork for Families and Staff
If your education department is still relying on paper registration forms and spreadsheets to manage events, camps, classes, field trips, and birthday parties, you could be wasting valuable time and money better spent on enhancing the quality of your program.
The first step toward increasing revenue and reducing paperwork is implementing online registrations and reservations.
Moving registrations online doesn’t mean you’ll lose the personal touch. By eliminating the need to juggle calendars, update spreadsheets, record payments, and send invoices and confirmations, well-designed online registration actually frees your team to spend more time helping people who need assistance.
An online registration system is also more eco-friendly, eliminating printing and postage costs. And, online registration can help you reach a broader audience through online ads, articles and social media posts.
The best registration software will be flexible enough to meet your museum’s unique requirements. To read more information about evaluating museum software solutions, check out Doubleknot’s museum software guide.
2. Ask for Donations During Online Checkout
Asking for a donation during a purchase is a proven-successful method of raising additional funds. People are already opening their wallets to make a payment, so asking them to add a few more dollars to their existing bill to support your programs is an easier proposition than responding to a standard donation request. Consider updating your registration and payment pages to:
- Present a donation page just before the payment page. The benefit of this method is that you have a full page for your appeal, with enough space to include compelling images, text, and donation options.
- Create an optional item on your registration form. This could be as simple as a checkbox agreeing to donate an additional amount to the museum. This is an easy way to ask for donations to make programs—like the one they’re registering for—available to youth whose families couldn’t otherwise afford it.
Be sure to coordinate any donation requests with your fundraising and development team to ensure that your plans complement overall fundraising activities instead of competing or interfering with them.
3. Family Cultural Events
Along with day camps and birthday parties, family events are often the bread-and-butter for children’s museums, offering a range of fun and educational opportunities to learn about different cultures within the communities you serve.
Consider holding these kinds of eye-opening programs to celebrate the countries and cultures in your service area.
You can expand the cultural awareness of your youngest visitors by planning museum events to guide them through multicultural exhibits, create culturally-inspired crafts, or read insightful children’s stories.
4. Add-on Opportunities
Products that support your mission (and incidentally build your brand) are always appropriate and acceptable add-on opportunities.
For example, if your museum software supports mobile sales, you can also sell camp- and event-related products at check-in and check-out for these programs. Families may be more inclined to make an on-site impulse purchase when they see how happy and engaged their children are in your programs.
Birthday parties offer income opportunities that also provide a valuable service for busy families. Your team can reduce parents’ stress and increase revenue by offering add-on options such as:
- Themed decorations
- Food and drink options, especially birthday cake
- Party entertainment like face painting and balloon animals
- Gift bags and party favors
Check to see whether your registration and reservation system allows you to display upsell options after a purchase is completed. An ideal system will allow you to promote products and events in categories related to the items in the purchase.
Plus, the revenue you make from these upsell opportunities can help provide more money for your mission and educational programming.
5. Expanded Group Opportunities and Materials
With the increased emphasis on STEAM education, children’s museums are uniquely positioned to develop programs that are aligned with important educational standards. If your museum’s group visit programs are primarily unstructured visits under the supervision of teachers and chaperones, you may have an opportunity to offer more tailored programs. These could include teacher- or staff-led lessons and activities that rely on materials and facilities at the museum.
Additionally, scouting badge programs can provide an opportunity to generate more revenue and encourage more learning. Your badge “menu” could include self-guided activities to complete badge requirements; add-on kits and materials for use by leaders; and structured badge achievement activities led by staff.
6. Tween and Teen Programs
Most kids who grow up visiting a beloved children’s museum will eventually decide they’re too old to go anymore. While older children will age out of floor activities designed for younger learners, there are many ways that older children and teens can continue enjoying your museum in age-appropriate ways.
For middle school students and younger high school students, after-school and weekend STEAM programs provide important enrichment opportunities and allow youth to continue their relationship with the museum they loved as younger children.
School districts and regional education centers can help identify scope and sequence for themes and topics that complement, strengthen and extend subjects covered in school. Your museum can then use these themes and topics to design programs at your museum.
In most locations, it’s difficult for parents to find summer programs for tweens and young teens who’ve “aged out” of traditional day camps but are too young to be camp leaders or hold other summer jobs. Parents are likely especially happy to enroll older children in summer programs that balance the right amount of supervision and structure with independence and autonomy so important at that age.
7. Parent and Teacher Education
Children’s museums are in a unique position to provide formal and informal information about positive youth development to parents and caregivers.
Parents are likely interested in programs that show them to nurture and support their children’s love of experimentation and learning. For example, evening workshops on easy at-home science experiments or “STEAM Power at Home” can generate additional revenue and empower families to carry out your mission in their own homes and neighborhoods.
Another option is creating and offering continuing education (CE) courses for educators, developed with input from districts and education centers to ensure that they meet your district’s and state’s standards. Some event ticketing and registration solutions designed to support museum education will even automatically generate and email a personalized certificate of completion after the workshop is over.
The educational (and revenue-generating) opportunities that children’s museums can provide are almost limitless. We hope that this brief list will spark ideas for events and programs as unique as your museum and the communities you serve.
Elissa K. Miller, M.Ed., is communications director at Doubleknot, an integrated online, on-site, and mobile solutions provider for nonprofits. As the former development director for a regional nonprofit, she’s passionate about helping nonprofits and youth-serving organizations harness new technologies to streamline operations and support their missions.