Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: October 2019

10 - Kickstarting archives: crowdfunding and outreach in the digital age



From kickstarter campaigns launching wearable electronics to GoFundMe efforts to support those in health crises, crowdfunding and digital marketing platforms have been harnessed in myriad ways. In mid-2018, a blockchain company raised over US$4 billion for a product it had not even launched yet. If crowdfunding can spur the development of thousands of new products (and your neighbour's knee surgery), why not put it to work for archives and libraries?

Crowdfunding fits neatly within the broader context of the flourishing digital communications and marketing industry. Libraries, museums and archives have begun to implement some of the industry's powerful outreach and fundraising tools. Spurred in part by successful projects at the Smithsonian and other high-profile institutions, archives and cultural heritage institutions have initiated a diverse array of grassroots, community-driven digital initiatives. Crowdsourced engagement in analogue and digital initiatives has blossomed as archives connect with motivated participants around the world. Even before writer Jeff Howe's 2006 Wired magazine article describing the emergent phenomenon of crowdsourcing, librarians explored the possibilities of web-based outreach and online crowdfunding and digital marketing initiatives through venues like CrowdRise, Kickstarter and Indiegogo. As early as 2001, Maxymuk described the growing phenomenon of commercial affiliate programmes, which provide a percentage return to libraries when users purchase goods and services on commercial websites. Affiliate programmes share funds by linking libraries and archival institutions to corporate entities like Amazon or Barnes & Noble, providing one pathway for small-scale digital fundraising.

Archival outreach and fundraising initiatives go hand in hand, and a growing landscape of digital marketing tools help to scaffold a variety of activities, from collection building to events. Crowdfunding and digital outreach strategies fall under the broad umbrella of digital marketing and communications; however, each plays a distinct role in practice and within the archival literature. Crowdfunding can be used to launch specific exhibits, enable digitisation initiatives or process collections. Digital engagement strategies, including social media outreach, help archives connect with new users and reach current stakeholders quickly and efficiently. Digital communications tools can be employed to raise awareness for special programming, share general information and recruit volunteers. In sum, digital communications and fundraising initiatives not only spark new donors but can support an institution's overall development and outreach strategies through regular e-campaigns and calls to action.