Communication fundraising advocacy in art

Cultural theory  forms  the  backdrop  against  which the changes in the art scene  can  best be  understood. In  particular, this approach will shed light on the way  that  the marketing of  museums is being aligned with advocacy groups. Changes  in the  cultural sphere are  not  necessarily fragmented and  without consequence  for  the  social  and political spheres.

Thus  museums that embark on  fundraising campaigns have a chance  of  raising  substantial  contributions given the  effective  use of communications  media.  Politicians are  not indifferent to the  effects of the  communications channels on  the various interest  groups in society.

Thus an  effective  fundraising campaign  for museums should  include  targeting  the interest groups  that  a  politician serves. Studies also indicate  that 82%  of  contributions come from individuals rather than corporations as  is  commonly believed.  Thus by  targeting the audience that frequents museums,  museum marketers can hope  to  raise substantial funds.

Cultural Theories of Adorno and Horkheimer

Theodor Adorno  (1903–69) and Max Horkheimer (1895–1973) were influential figures in what came to be known as the ‘Frankfurt school’ of sociology. As Andrew Milner notes in Contemporary Culture Theory, Adorno and  Horkheimer drew a distinction between traditional theory and critical theory. Traditional theory, they argued, conditions the student to seek only ‘stored up knowledge;’ in contrast,  the critical theory they developed presented the social world not as something given but as something that could be changed.

“Critical theory sought to understand the social world as changeable, thereby stripping reality of its character as ‘pure factuality.’ (Horkheimer, 1972,pp188,209)(Milner, 2002)

Deborah Cook, in Adorno, Habermas, and the Search for Rational Society (2004)  adds that Adorno and Habermas were  primarily  concerned with a critique of the economic system in Western society. In this  paper, these views will be  discussed  in  relation to their implications for the marketing of museums.

Adorno and Habermas agree about the primacy of  the capitalist economic system in Western nations today. (Cook, 2004)

In chapter 4, Critique,  Cook  outlines Adorno’s view on culture: Adorno’s view of culture as something more than a mere epiphenomenon [is that we must denounce culture (as an idea but also as a phenomenon)  all  the while we continue to perpetuate it, and perpetuate it while continuing tirelessly to denounce it.] 4  Indeed, with the idea that culture must be simultaneously preserved and overcome, Jameson accurately describes the  self-critical spirit of reason that Adorno endorsed throughout his work.  On the  one hand, culture serves to legitimate conditions that continue  to cause tremendous human suffering.. (Cook, 2004)

Adorno was  concerned with culture as a production process that  eventually reduced  the relationship between human beings to a relationship between commodities  in the  market. It is also  the  case  that  relations between the living human producers of commodities are transformed into relations between things; the circulation of commodities on the market determines relations between  individual producers.(Cook, 2004)

The goal of cultural theory, in Adorno and Habermas’ view,  was  to provide students with a way to overcome the conditions of cultural production in their particular situation. Following the Marxist tradition, Adorno  and Habermas claim that their theories have a practical intent: their critiques of late capitalism are meant to contribute  to the implementation of positive change. Specifically, the practical intent of critical theory is to provide the theoretical basis for surmounting reification by examining its nature and its damaging effects on human life while locating the rational potential in reified reality that points beyond it. (Cook, 2004).

How does Adorno’s critique apply to the current situation in the marketing of  museums? In  Fiona Mclean’s work, Marketing the Museum (1997), Mclean observes the shift from government funding of museums to ‘the use of market mechanisms to seek plural funding.’ In ch. 8, on Resource Attraction,  Mclean wrote that

Most museums are non-profit-making institutions. In  the past,  they could  normally rely on continuous funding from their funding bodies, usually central and local government in the  UK, or also benefactors in the US. However, two significant changes have altered this ‘dependency culture’, as it has been called with some derision. First, the  advent and phenomenal growth, particularly in the UK, of independent museums.  Although to a large extent the independent museums receive some funding from municipal authorities and grant-giving bodies, this income is not sufficient for survival. Independent museums have to generate their own income.

The second change has been the demise of automatic annual increases in funding for local authority and central government museums. The political and economic climate has changed, bringing in demands that museums  become accountable, show ‘value for  money’, and  that they use market mechanisms to seek plural funding. In other words, museums can no longer rely on public subsidy for survival. The issue of income generation and resource attraction has come very much to the fore. (Mclean, 1997) Adorno’s cultural theory allows us to understand the change in funding of museums as an effect of competition under capitalism. Museums can no longer stand simply on their merits of providing aesthetic pleasure of a higher order to the public. In accordance with Adorno’s cultural theory, museums in  general and art objects in particular are being subject to the laws of exchange and the necessity of competing in the commercial market.

The difficulty  inherent  in this situation, as Mclean notes, is that

There is a fatal flaw in  the commercialisation of museums. Unlike some other leisure organizations museums are not self-supporting. (Mclean, 1997) Museum  marketers must therefore find effective ways of raising funds for museums to survive under the present conditions. Fortunately for museums patrons, the shift in funding has also been accompanied by a shift in the view of museums as scholarly venues to a view of museums as a branch of the mass media, as noted by Lumley (Mclean, 1997). Museums are instruments  of communication, a museum display being a branch of the mass media (Brawne 1965; Hudson 1977; Hodge and d’Souza 1979). As Lumley argues,The notion of the museum as a collection for scholarly use has been largely replaced by the idea of the museum as a means of communication’ (Lumley 1988:15).

(Mclean, 1997)

One way of funding is by appealing to politicians and aligning with advocacy groups. This will be discussed in the next section.

Politicians, Communication channels, and Interest Groups

Tony Schirato and  Susan Yell (2000), in Communication and Cultural Literacy, note  that  politicians are attentive to communications channels. Schirato relates the anecdote on Bill Clinton’s view on T.V. violence:

Bill Clinton and other American politicians argue that the representation of violence on television ‘does a violence’ to children. This issue is taken up in an episode of the Simpsons, where Marge Simpson, horrified by what her kids are watching on the cartoon ‘Itchy and Scratchy,’ mobilises community opinion to force the network to censor the violence. Instead of Itchy and Scratchy blowing each other up, they sit in rocking chairs on the verandah drinking  lemonade and being nice to each other. (Schirato &Yell, 2000).

Schirato and Yell use this anecdote to illustrate the point that  Marge Simpson was able to exert pressure on the networks through advocacy groups. A second point of emphasis in Schiato and Yell’s work is that politicians pay attention to communications channels that affect their interest groups (in this case, the interest group is the parents of young children).

With regard to marketing museums, this  suggests that marketers should present the specific strengths of their museum  (say, for example it has an abundance of Spanish  paintings) to  a politician whose  programs have served the Spanish segment of the  population in order to  gain more favorable results from fundraising campaigns. Michael Suman, in Advocacy Groups and the Entertainment Industry (2000) discussed the effect that interest groups have recently been exerting on museums: Interest groups are a vital component of our democratic system. They  wield influence  in many realms of society, including those of the arts and entertainment.

The chapters  in this volume outline many contributions interest groups have made in relation to the world of  television.  In  both  television and beyond, many interest groups  have played a  key role in  educating  and informing the  American public about  significant issues, and in doing so they have  served  to stimulate  important public debate. Unfortunately, the influence of interest  groups is  not  always positive. Today there is  evidence that some of these groups stifle, prevent, and distort public debate  of significant issues, rather  than encourage it. Add this to  the fact  that powerful economic forces discourage open debate in our society, and you have cause for concern.

That  interest  groups are having negative effects on debate is  evident outside the realm of the mass media. For  example, museums  are now subjected to an unprecedented amount of scrutiny and pressure from interest groups. Many groups now insist on exerting their influence at the earliest stages of planning a show, and more and more are successful at getting their points of view incorporated. Some have even been successful at closing a show altogether.

The Library of Congress hastily dismantled an exhibition about the architecture of slave quarters because of complaints by African Americans that some of the images presented of slaves and slave quarters were offensive. The Smithsonian drastically altered an exhibit on the Enola Gay and the bombing of Hiroshima after receiving complaints from groups of military veterans such as the American Legion. The groups were upset that the Japanese were shown as victims and that the bomb was not credited with ending the war.

The result was a bland commemoration, devoid of interpretation so as to avoid any possible offense. Clothing industry lobbyists objected to another Smithsonian exhibit, this one on the history of sweatshops, because it featured a model of a sweatshop in which clothing, as opposed to some other type of product, was produced. Similar activities are evident in the realm of theater. (Suman & Rossman, 2000, p115)

The objections of these interest groups must be weighed by museum marketers before making  an exhibition.  However, the presence of resistance to exhibits must not deter  the  museum marketers from  pushing  through  with  their plans.

Mclean (p.129), in Marketing the Museum,  notes that Communication in the museum includes ‘those aspects of the institution that impinge either on the museum’s image, or on the general experience of the visit’ (Hooper-Greenhill 1994:50).  In other words, communication is  reflected in the entire  experience of the museum.

The museum’s core  product, its exhibition, together with its information functions, its infrastructure, and  its support services, are all communicating a message to the public. The management of access to the  museum  also  contributes to the overall image of the museum, both through physical and  psychological access,  and  through promotion of information concerning the museum. The image of the  museum  develops  attitudes in the public which in turn is the agglomeration of the product, accessibility, and promotion.

(Mclean, 1997, p. 129)

Thus, museum marketers will also need to consider the aspects that contribute to the ‘entire experience’ of the museum such as the product, the infrastructure, and support services. All of these aspects play a part in communicating the message of the museum.

Linking Museums to Advocacy groups

Thomas Streeter, in  Suman & Rossman’s Advocacy Groups and the Entertainment Industry (2000, p77) defines an advocacy group as ‘part of political organizing, useful and perhaps necessary fo protecting the rights of a minority group or  marginalized interest.’  In  the same work, Robert Pekurny observed that the influence of advocacy groups has declined, attributing this to the increase in the number of media outlets. One of the two major strategies employed by advocacy groups has been the threat of a boycott of advertisers who sponsor specific controversial shows and/or of the broadcast/media entity itself. Groups have leveled these threats through letter-writing campaigns and press conferences and at annual conventions.

The latest wrinkle has been to cross-boycott a conglomerate, as evidenced by the Southern Baptist Convention’s threat to boycott Disney/ ABC because of allegedly pro-gay and anti-Christian broadcast programming content and the company’s same-sex domestic partners policy. The Convention has aimed its boycott not only at the company’s media operations, but also at its theme parks, merchandise, and other enterprises. These threats have lost whatever power they may have once had for several reasons. First, most of the threats have failed to pan out. Second, there has been  a significant increase in number of both advocacy groups and media outlets. Messages can not be as effectively delivered as there are too many voices. (Suman &Rossman, 2000, p.105)

Marketers  for museums will  need  to  take this  into account in formulating their fundraising campaigns.  For instance, if a museum marketer aims to project his museum as aligned with a particular advocacy group—then that group should be consistently tied with the museums image through the different marketing distribution materials.

Effective Fundraising for the Museum

Stanley  Weinstein (2002),  in  The Complete Guide to Fundraising Management, pointed out  the common  misconception  that  grants are the most important source of funding for non-profit organizations.

The other widespread myth about grants is that they are  the most important part of any not-for-profit organization’s  funding pattern.  This is simply not true. Remember that 82 percent of all contributions comes from individuals Bequests  account for another 6 percent.  Corporate philanthropy accounts for approximately  5 percent of annual contributions. Thus foundation support approximates only 7 percent of private sector annual contributions. Grants come from three main sources: government,foundations, and corporations. Each grant is an implicit or explicit agreement or contract. (Weinstein, 2002, p203) Weinstein  also  notes that grants are a significant source  of funding for nonprofit organizations (and hence, for museums).

Grants  are the  lifeblood of many not-for-profit organizations— especially  those with long-term relationships with their major funders. The size of grants varies greatly from modest sums for grassroots organizations to multimillion-dollar grants for well-established institutions. Yet, as important as they are,  grants  are still  surrounded  by some common myths. The  most  common myth is that writing grants is difficult. Actually, anyone who can follow  directions and  write clear, simple sentences can write a successful grant proposal. (Weinstein, 2002,p203) Weinstein also  emphasizes that an effective fundraising proposal consists of a clear case statement:  a clear description of how the funds will be used and who will benefit from the programs and services.

The first task of fundraising  is to understand the rationale for  the appeal. fundraising  professionals call this rationale the case for support or the case statement. It might be more helpful to think in terms of scripts—a  body  of language that tells any prospective supporter how the funds will  be  used and who will benefit from the programs and services.

So, a not-for-profit organization’s case statement answers  the  questions “How does this agency help people?” “Who do we help?” “What vital services do we offer?” “What is our agency’s track record?” “What are the organization’s plans  for  the future?”  “Why  does  this  agency merit support?” From  the  donor’s  perspective,  institutions do not have needs … people do.  Too often not-for-profit appeals are based on statements such as “As the winter months approach, our organization is facing a mounting deficit. We need your support to keep our doors open….” (Weinstein, 2002, p.59) Weinstein’s study indicates an important target audience for museum marketers: the individuals who frequent museums, rather than corporations.


Adorno and Horkheimer’s cultural theory provided a framework from which the changes in the art scene particularly in the funding of museums can be understood. The shift from government  funding to independent funding was noted in the work  of Fiona Mclean (1997). The shift in the role of the museum from a scholarly  venue to a communications channel  was also noted in Mclean’s work.  A new  direction for museum fundraising campaigns is indicated by the studies of  Suman &Rossman (2000), who suggested the linkage to advocacy groups; and Schirato& Yell (2000) who indicated that politicians are always alert to communications channels that serve their particular interest groups.

Stanley Weinstein’s study (2002) further narrowed the target audience for museum marketers to individuals who frequent museums, indicating that this  group provides a greater likelihood of funding than government, corporations, or foundations. Through an examination of the selected works, the changes in the funding of museums have  been evaluated and new directions for fundraising campaigns have been identified.


1. Schirato, Tony & Yell, Susan. (2000) Communication and Cultural Literacy: An Introduction. St. Leonards, N.S.W: Allen &Unwin. p52
2. Weinstein, Stanley. (2002) The Complete Guide to Fundraising Management. New York: John Wiley &Sons. p125.
3.  Suman, Michael & Rossman, Gabriel (eds.) (2000) Advocacy Groups and the Entertainment Industry. Westport, CT. Praeger Publishers, p.77
4.  Cook, Deborah.  (2004) Adorno, Habermas, and the Search for a Rational Society.New York: Routledge. p.10
5.  Milner, Andrew. (2002). Contemporary Culture Theory.
Crows Nest, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin, p.52.
6. Mclean, Fiona. (1997) Marketing the Museum. London: Routledge. p156.