Crowdfunding, by Alison Nicholson of Bowes Museum, April 2014

Alison Nicholson attended the Fundraising training we ran in 2013 with The Management Centre and support from Creative Darlington.  When we heard what a great job she has done since then, we were keen to read what she has to say.  

“The crowdfunding seed was planted when I attended a couple of fundraising training courses last year. As Digital Communications Officer at The Bowes Museum, with involvement in fundraising for the Museum’s exhibition and education programmes, crowdfunding seemed to be the perfect amalgamation of my two roles! Unlike applying to Trusts and Foundations, it would maximise the use of all of our established online communications and give a much more instant result.

I spotted a one day training course in Newcastle in October which was to be delivered by Hen Norton who co-founded ‘’ a UK crowdfunding platform and the course was also going to be attended by someone from Kickstarter. It seemed like an opportunity not to be missed.

We had to go with a project in mind as the course was very hands-on. I met some inspirational artists and people from arts organisations all with edgy ideas about how they planned to build their online audiences and reach their project targets. We did pitches about our projects and rewards, and gained heaps of feedback and ‘top tips’ from Hen and Stephanie from Kickstarter.

I returned to the Museum totally fired up and eager to have a go at this new type of fundraising. Although there are lots of crowdfunding platforms out there, we chose Kickstarter for our project, to commission a Gavin Turk neon art work to be installed on the front of the 19th century French façade, because we knew that Gavin Turk the artist and his wife Deborah Curtis had already run a successful campaign on Kickstarter for their children’s charity ‘House of Fairytales’ so we hoped there would be some Kickstarter backers who knew and liked Gavin Turk’s work.

I planned to run the campaign for 30 days, as was recommended, to end the day before Christmas Eve, but unfortunately it took much longer than I had imagined to build the campaign online before the launch. It’s crucial to have a short video about your project, and I was lucky to have Greville Worthington, the curator talking to Gavin Turk about what we planned to do and how we needed the help of the public to make it happen. Preparation is key, and Kickstarter allows you to share the campaign with a few friends before you launch to gain feedback on its impact. We were advised to use language like we were telling our best friend something exciting in the pub, avoiding the sort of formal language you would use to write to Trusts and Foundations for funding.

The rewards need to be wide-ranging starting with just £1 or £2. Gavin Turk was very generous and donated lots of excellent rewards to our campaign, to offer along with ‘behind the scenes’ access to the Museum with our curator and afternoon teas in Café Bowes!

I began the 40 day campaign in December and in the first week there was an initial surge of pledges from those I had lined up to start the ball rolling. In the planning stage, it’s important to tell as many people as possible what you are hoping to achieve so that you can hit the ground running from day one! Over Christmas it was nail bitingly quiet as everyone was at home enjoying the festivities. However, during the first week in January the campaign picked up momentum as contacts came back to work with numerous emails in their inboxes from me promoting the exclusive rewards for pledging towards the neon art work and sharing with their networks of like-minded contacts.

Two days before the Kickstarter campaign deadline we hit our target of £6,000. It was a huge relief and an extremely memorable moment. It had been an amazing first attempt at crowdfunding and we had learnt some valuable lessons along the way. We had reached new online audiences, some in the USA through keeping in touch with Stephanie from Kickstarter, and many new supporters from Europe and the UK who had never been in touch with the Museum before. Updates throughout the campaign helped to inform backers and encourage them to share the project with their networks, and relentless mentions on the Museum social media channels throughout Christmas and New Year may have helped to spread the message of how much we wanted to put a huge neon number on the front of the Museum in January through to April.

So the exhibition is coming to an end and the external neon, aptly named ‘We Are One’ having been successfully funded by over a hundred backers from all over the world, will be taken down to be installed with the exhibition at two other UK venues. What better reason to visit The Bowes Museum this Easter? Gavin Turk’s exhibition of neons ‘Seven Billion Two Hundred and One Million Nine Hundred and Sixty-Four Thousand and Two Hundred and Thirty-Eightends 5.00pm on Monday 21st April.”


Photos on this page by Andy Keate