By Marek Prokůpek and Marie Ballarini

In this comparative study, European policies and models of government support and regulation related to fundraising and philanthropic activities towards museums were mapped out. Results are particularly salient in view of increased corporate penetration into the museum sector. Analysis tackles ethical issues surrounding state funding, public subsidy and private sponsorship by companies which stirs tensions between museums and their constituent communities. 

In recent years, museums all over the world have experienced a strong decline in public funding. At the same time, they have been asked to extend their activities, attract more visitors and become more inclusive. In order to not only survive, but to thrive in a fast-changing environment, museums have had to adjust to this shift in funding and adjust their business models.

Financial sustainability has become one of the main challenges for museums across the world. Museums have been pressured to diversify their income sources and engage more with private commercial sector, which in some cases has caused a huge controversy and some museums have lost the trust of their communities. Declining public funding naturally creates stronger competition among cultural organizations for public subsidies as well as private donors. Therefore, in the last years, ethical aspects and dilemmas in museum fundraising have become a focal point in the museum sector.

These ethical issues might create tensions between museums, their communities and founders and potentially undermine their mission-based goals and erode their capacity to uphold long-held ethical principles and values. 

In the study, we conduct thorough policy analysis on international, national, and organizational levels addressing ethics and financing in European countries, and their impact on museums’ behaviour in terms of fundraising. The conducted 20 interviews focus on major public European museums. In most cases their main source of income is public subsidy, museums operate on public money and need to retain public trust. As explained by Mairesse for French museums, the general principle of centralizing power inevitably leads provincial curators to turn to the major Parisian museums to find and try to apply models. We suggest that in other countries, even if less centralized as France, models from the major museums are very influential in the rest of the national area.

On one hand, museums need to expand their sources of income, on the other hand, they should remain truthful to their ethical values and principles. Governments should provide some guidelines to museums or set a legal framework in order to create an appropriate environment for fundraising. The question remains, what is the best way to regulate fundraising on the national level in order to secure ethical behaviour of museums while supporting and embracing their financial sustainability?

Some European countries have already reacted to this pressing issue and established policies, rules and regulations for cooperation between public cultural institutions and the corporate sector. Examples of two different approaches are France and the United Kingdom. France created legal frameworks setting specific mandatory rules of behaviour, such as museums and other public cultural institutions not being allowed to cooperate and advertise the name of tobacco or alcohol companies. On the other hand, there are countries with more liberal approaches to sponsorship like the United Kingdom. And finally, others have general sets of advice and recommendations to incentivize institutions to write charters or other forms of self-regulating tools. We can find several codes of ethics in the museum sector, the most accepted is the Code of Ethics created by the International Council of Museums (ICOM), which pays little attention to funding. 

We consider this research and discussion timely, as over the last decade many ethical issues and dilemmas appeared regarding museum fundraising and these divide the museum sector into two groups, those who support the fact that museums should accept money no matter from whom and those who think that companies whose business are not seen as ethical should not be associated with public museums. 

Based on our research, we divide European countries into three categories based on their similarities in fundraising in the museum sector. First group of countries has the most advanced corporate involvement in the museum sector. These countries are characterised by the fact that  public subsidies have significantly decreased, and museums are usually autonomous units, charities or foundations. Even the museums that were previously exclusively owned by the state and usually government provide strategic documents and tools enhancing sponsorship in museums.

For the second group of countries, museum fundraising is still quite a new thing, but they have already adopted it in their operations. Usually there is a specialist in a museum (in few cases a department) dedicated to fundraising, and they are able to secure a decent amount (10-30%) from fundraising activities or commercial activities.

The third category includes countries where museums are usually significantly funded by public subsidies. Fundraising is an emerging topic, with some fundraising activities, but the income is usually small. They do not have separate fundraising/development departments (except for some big national museums) and often fundraising is part of marketing and communication departments. Based on the interviews, conducted by the authors, the majority of museum professionals expressed a concern that there is basically no clean money in the business. Meaning that if you conduct a deep investigation, you can always find something that could be controversial.

Table 1. Typology of countries based on their cultural policies and the behavior of their major museums towards philanthropy

We can clearly see that in countries where museums have been pushed towards market powers and have been asked to become more entrepreneurial, more  controversial cases have appeared. This shift is nowadays present basically in the whole of Europe. Museums are clearly not in an easy position, the pressure from governments to become more independent and diversify their source of incomes on one side, and activists demands and fierce criticism on the other side. 

So far, governments on national and European level have not created a sufficient environment and tools that would navigate museums and help them to shape their fundraising activities. Museums are therefore destined to experiment and adopt approaches that were until recently uncommon in the museum sector. We will probably witness even more controversial partnerships between museums and the commercial world and more activist actions, not only because of marketization of the museum world but also because of rising public awareness of ethical issues, especially climate change.

The article is based on:

PROKUPEK, M., M. BALLARINI, “Comparative study of European policies for ethical museum fundraising and philanthropy” dans Accomplishing Cultural Policy in Europe: Financing, Governance and Responsiveness., Christopher Mathieu, Valerie Visanich Eds, Routledge, vol. 1, chap. 8, pp. 123-140, 2022

About the authors:

Marek Prokupek is assistant professor of strategic management of the arts, member of the KEDGE Arts School and of the Center of Expertise for Creative Industries & Culture.

Marie Ballarini is assistant professor of communication and management of the arts, member of DRM MOST laboratory at the Université Paris Dauphine PSL

About the image:

Created by Marie Ballarini with the AI Midjourney

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