Please Touch Museum counts on large gifts and micro-funds to reach $30 million goal

The Please Touch Museum has a play area that behaves like a grocery store, with tiny shopping carts, plastic produce, and empty boxes of products that children can grab off the shelves. It’s was Dory Hamilton Benson’s favorite place to go when she was a girl.

“When I was little, I liked to play kitchen and supermarket, and I had my little brother to pull around,”  she said. “It was fun.”

She was not at the museum just to remember those carefree times. Hamilton Benson (recently married to Daniel Benson) is heir to the Campbell Soup fortune, and the granddaughter of Dorrance H. Hamilton, one of the richest people in America and one of Philadelphia’s leading philanthropists.

The family is actively engaged in traditional giving: Hamilton has just given $1 million to the Please Touch Museum to seed its new $30 million fundraising campaign, “Legacy of Play.”

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A fraction of that $30 million, just $500,000, is expected to come from micro-funding tools such as Kickstarter, Facebook, and donations via cellphone texting.

“It’s a way to engage people in philanthropy at a relatively low level,” said museum president and CEO Laura Foster. “To engage people who have never been engaged before, giving them an opportunity to support a place that they like.”

Applying small-scale initiative to large-scale goals

Crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter and IndieGo were designed to raise relatively small amounts of money, in $10 to $100 increments, for very specific projects — to buy recording equipment, for example, or materials for a community garden. Not to support a multimillion-dollar cultural destination.

But small-scale fundraising is becoming an increasingly important development tool for very large institutions, including the Please Touch Museum, that want to look outside the local region for donors, however small.

Although a very small part of the whole fundraising effort, the trick is to gather data on each donor, which some crowdsourcing website allow and others do not.

“Even people who give electronically, they want that person-to-person follow. That’s never being replaced,” said Laura Otten of La Salle University’s Nonprofit Center. “Crowdfunding is the beginning — not a once-and-done — if you want to maximize it.”

At the Please Touch Museum, most of the $30 million it hopes to raise will go toward projects such as building an outdoor play area and maintaining the historic building. 

Addendum: Since this story was posted, the Please Touch Museum has updated its statement regarding the fundraising campaign. Approximately $3.85 million will to go toward its endowment.

Disclosure: Dorrance H. Hamilton is a major donor to WHYY.

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