I get the feeling that fundraising is a dirty word in some historic house museums.  They are confident that the little old ladies and the occasional families that drift in will sustain them well into the next millennia.  This is generally reflected in the lack of preservation of the building, the lack luster tour, and little else on site to engage the visitor.   I’m going to sound a bit like the “Anarchists” of historic house museums (thanks to Franklin and Deb), but those are the dinosaurs on their way to extinction.

Millennials reviewing grant applications

Millennials reviewing grant applications

The new face of philanthropy, the one we need to be courting, are the millennials aka Generation Y.  These are the young and hungry folks born between the early-1980s and the 2000s.   They really don’t like house museums; I believe we can change that feeling.  They like to be invested in their charitable giving; I believe we can embrace that too.

A recent story by NPR highlighted some universals about millennials and charitable giving.  http://www.wnyc.org/story/how-millennials-are-reshaping-charity-and-online-giving/


  1. Outcome-oriented philanthropy – they will not give to keep the lights on, they want to SEE the house being painted.
  2. They want to be INVESTED in their giving – they want to help paint the house.
  3. They want giving to be easy – the click of a mouse and you’re done, no lengthy annual appeal letter with a 2 or 3 page form attached.

Beth Kanter calls the organizations that have enabled one-click giving “Networked Nonprofits.” http://www.bethkanter.org/the-networked-nonprofit/ These nonprofits are comfortable using the social media toolset to create a dialogue with their audience.  This is also the way to shepherd the millenials into your organization.  They are not going to seek out your website, but if they run across something awesome you posted to Instagram, Tumblr, or Pinterest they might find their way to your Facebook or web page.  Kanter also points out:

Courting future donors.

Courting future donors.

Networked Nonprofits don’t work harder or longer than other organizations, they work differently. They engage in conversations with people beyond their walls — lots of conversations — to build relationships that spread their work through the network.

As non-profits, house museums need to get rid of our past notions about how people want to interact with our sites.  We need to think and act outside the box AND outside the imaginary strictures we’ve placed on our mission statement.   The IRS absolutely will not yank your 501(c)3 if you host a poetry slam or a farmer’s market at your house museum.   Speaking from the perspective of a funder, we would APPLAUD you for trying to be more sustainable.

By changing our mindsets about our sites and our missions, we will begin the process of reaching out to these foreigners called Millennials.  Gradually we can draw them in and show them our amazing house museums.

— Michelle Zupan, Curator & Director Hickory Hill, Thomson, GA;

& Chair, AASLH Historic House Museum Committee