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Online Fundraising Success: VMFA’s Forbidden City Campaign

Tom Zydel with the VMFA talks about the successful crowdfunding campaign for the Forbidden City: Imperial Treasures from the Palace Museum, Beijing exhibit.


My name is Tom Zydel and I’m the Director of Visitor Services and Membership at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. In October 2014 we opened Forbidden City: Imperial Treasures from the Palace Museum that drew crowds of more than 90,000 over the course of 4 months. The exhibition explored imperial rituals, court painting, imperial family life, and religion in the ancient Chinese palace that was once forbidden to the public.

A month before its opening, we launched a crowdfunding campaign to support and bring awareness to the Forbidden City exhibition and to VMFA’s exhibition fund – and at the time, we were among only a few U.S. museums to try crowdfunding as a method to invite donations for a project of this magnitude. Our goal for the campaign was $40,000.

The idea of a crowdfunding campaign actually came out of meeting with the exhibition design team where they talked about using 3D printers to build a scale model of the Forbidden City in the museum atrium over a four month period. So, we tied our donation levels to the different architectural components of the city, like The Meridian Gate, Temples and Shrines and Tea Houses. Donors literally “helped us build” the city as they supported the exhibition.

We exceeded our $40,000 goal, raising over $60,000. But, it was much more impactful than that.

In the end, the campaign helped us attract new online donors, engage long time donors in a new way, engage a local corporation, and highlight an important cultural exchange between the Palace Museum in Beijing and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.


Want to learn more about this campaign and other local online fundraising success stories? Join ConnectVA at the Social Media for Nonprofits Conference on May 4th.

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