Funding Your Mobile App: Grants, Sponsors & Private Donors

One of the most stressful issues facing museums is: What to do with all of those extra funds lying around… right.  If you’re like most organizations,  the first question that usually comes up when you begin thinking about a mobile app for your museum is, “How on earth are we going to find the budget for this?”  So I thought I’d share how some of our clients have funded their mobile apps.

The good news is, if you want a mobile app for your museum, you can find a way to get outside funding to make it happen.  Grant sources are out there and they want to help museums and cultural organizations embrace technologies that attract a new generation of visitors.

Private donors:

It may come as a surprise, but this is actually the most common way our clients have  funded their mobile apps.  Here is how it usually comes about:

The Education or Interpretation team gets really excited about getting a mobile app for their organization.  They present it to the Executive Director or a Sr. Executive and everyone agrees – this would be AWESOME!  So, now you have internal buy-in.  Typically, the concept is then presented at a Board Meeting.  When making this presentation it is imperative that you make a solid business case for it – it’s not just about using the latest technology trend in your museum.  It is the fact that Mobile Apps engage visitors on a deeper level, keep them in your museum longer, appeal to the 18-35 audience and tell your museum’s stories in an awesomely emotional format.  You can also mention that launching a mobile app often results in lots of PR and media coverage (here, here, here and lots more…).

If you want to give your Board a real feel for an app, you can even create a demo app. You can create one for free using TourSphere in less than an hour, and then let your Board play around with it themselves. In our experience, giving them a real, functioning demo is way more effective than saying “it’s gonna be so cool”.

There are usually 1-5 people on the Board who LOVE the idea and say, “We NEED this.  Let’s find a way to make it happen.”

Ask your Board to get the word out to their network of benefactors and/or donors to see if anyone would be interested in funding this project.

In our experience it’s not uncommon for a Board Member, a patron, or even a volunteer to get passionate about the idea and want to underwrite the entire thing.  The cool thing is that you can then put the donor on the tour as part of the content (either as the donor or simply as a “lover of the arts”) and you can give them the option of being recognized or not in the audible credit, “This mobile app is made possible by the generous support of….”

Grant sources:

If you’re in the early planning stages of your app and you need a big budget, a grant is an option for you.  Most grant organizations require a lengthy application process, but if you’re thorough, patient and diligent, it can pay off.  Here are a few grant sources which our clients have used to fund their projects in the past:


Although corporate budgets are tighter these days than they were a few years ago, mobile media is an exciting industry and many organizations are willing to put a portion of their advertising or sponsorship dollars towards mobile initiatives.  Sponsors can be integrated into the app in a variety of ways (without hijacking your visitors’ experience):

  • Short video clip within the app
  • Logos on appropriate screens within the app
  • Audible mentions at the beginning or end of an audio tour
  • On maps and brochures accompanying the mobile app
  • On earbuds or lanyards

You get the picture. You can be as creative or as conservative as you want in finding places to promote your sponsor without disrupting your patrons’ experience. Your marketing department is usually aware of the larger, generous businesses in your area.  I recommend getting together with your marketing department, sharing the mobile app concept with them and working together on a plan to approach appropriate organizations in your area about a sponsorship.

So, there you have it.

Getting outside funding is not only possible, it is very common – and can be a great career-booster.  You bring an awesome project to fruition and learn about accessing outside funds – something that (in my experience) is useful no matter where you work or what you do.

If you are interested in more details and hearing exactly how some of our clients have funded their tours – give me a shout and I can connect you directly to our clients so you can ask them yourself.

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