Funding cuts from the local council over the last five years have made it more important for Birmingham Museums Trust (BMT) to generate income from other sources. The City Council still provides 44% of the Trust’s income as they own most of the buildings as well as the museum collection.
BMT currently generates income in four different ways; through fundraising, commercial activity, earnings and partnerships. All of this is incredibly led by a team of just five people, although the Trust stresses that fundraising is a responsibility for every staff member. Whatever role someone works within the Trust, everyone is required to spend time working one of the sites’ shops or Cafés.
BMT raises £45,000 every year through donations on-site, which is fairly impressive. The move from being an arm of the local authority to an independent educational charity has made local people more willing to donate money to Birmingham Museums as it is no longer assumed that the service is paid for through council tax.
BMT offers a range of options when it comes to donating money. Patronage schemes, like the ThinkTank’s ‘Spitfire Club’ is aimed at making people feel special and providing them with exclusive experiences, but at a low cost to the museum. Sponsors will often be given a certificate and priority viewing of an event they have donated to. Corporate organisations can also sponsor aspects of the museum. Although this does not bring in much money, it is good for both the company and the museum’s image. Corporate sponsorship is not given as much time by museum staff as donations and grants.
Retail is becoming an increasingly important part of museum income. The different museum shops aim to offer products representing their collections. These will often have an educational aim. These products come in a broad range of prices, but the Trust aims to prioritise ‘high quality’ and ‘distinctive’ products. BMT aims to achieve a 56% profit margin, which they reached in the last year.
Increasingly, BMT is developing custom-made products relating to parts of the collection distinctive to individual sites. For example, Sarehole Mill has recently stocked its own range of honey, which has sold very well. BMAG is in the process of offering a preserve linked to the ‘Silver and Gold’ painting on display in the gallery. The Museum of the Jewellery Quarter (MJQ) is planning to release a notebook with a clasp detail from the factory’s collection and the BMAG website offers a print-on-demand service for a range of posters, after an on-site printer proved unsuccessful.
It is exciting to see how each site develops distinctive products and brand identities which enable to visitor to feel like they are taking part of the collection home with them. Similarly, the rebranding of the Edwardian Tearooms and the upcoming MJQ Café helps reflect the heritage of the sites and enhance the visitor experience. More importantly, each site’s ability to develop an income helps sustain the Trust in the future and gives them greater financial independence.