Museum Shops: It's a Good Time to Round-Up

By Bryn Barabas Potter – BBP Museum Consulting

T-shirts and tea towels: National Cowboy Museum, National WWII Museum, Heard Museum, Sabbathday Lake Shaker VillageWhen purchasing some items in the shop at the Natural History of Los Angeles County a year or so ago, I was asked if I wanted to "round up" to the next dollar and donate the change.  It seemed like a good idea, an easy way to put some money where it is always needed - in the museum coffers. I was surprised to not find this option when doing online museum shopping.

During the pandemic, other than groceries, I've only shopped online for the past few months. Jeff Bezos and Amazon are making millions, while mom-and-pop stores, small businesses, and museums are struggling. When I needed books, clothing, and birthday presents, I took a gander at some museums' online offerings.

My first online venture was at the National Cowboy Museum Store. While their home in Oklahoma City is outside of WMA territory, they've had an outstanding Twitter presence due to Tim Tiller, Head of Security (check it out here if you've not heard of Tim). Not only does he give a fun and brilliant narrative on exhibits, his photos feature his coffee mug and other items from the National Cowboy Museum Store. Thanks, Tim!

Puzzles & ping pong from the Autry ShopA Class of 2020 high school graduate that I know was doing her only jigsaw puzzle over and over again during California's shelter-in-place order. Looking online, led to the varied collection of puzzles and games at the Autry Museum Store. I sent her one with a sparkly rainbow, which she was surprised to find in a box on her doorstep, and was pleased to work the lovely puzzle. I ended up making a couple of purchases at the Autry Store, including a wedding present sent to Colorado. Store manager Jasmine Aslanyan gift-wrapped that item and stuck in a note, a very nice touch.

The Heard Museum Shop had a book that I needed for a research project. While perusing their online items, I ended up getting some local honey and a shirt. A couple of more books and shirts for my kids came from the National World War II Museum. For stuck-at-home cooks, the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village has tea towels and wonderful herb mixes; the pizza seasoning and the apple pie spice are especially good.  They also carry a selection of ash baskets made by Michael Silliboy, Micmac artist. The Japanese American National Museum Store sells a hot item, the Mr. Miyagi Tenugui Remix from CVT Soft Serve Ice Cream, plus it has a great selection of books for those with a yen for Japan while they're at home, sheltering-in-place.

Explore Japanese culture with the Japanese American National MuseumWith my purchases, I could have found cheaper items at national chain stores, but that defeats the purpose of supporting museums. Each and every time, I would have added a donation if that option had been available.

Online museum stores might think about adding an option to donate during the checkout process. Especially now, when museums are hurting for funds and people are home surfing the worldwide web. Making a suggestion to the buyer to round up to the next even dollar amount, or having an option to click on an amount to donate, say $5 or $10, seems easy to do.

Would it be worth it for your institution to look into this? Yes. How? As reported in How to Boost Donations Through Online Point-of-Sale Fundraising, "Any point-of-sale fundraising attempts are worth it, both from a financial standpoint and a marketing one. Financially, it’s a proven way to effectively diversify your growth strategy, which is important for nonprofits."  This article also discusses how point-of-sale donations can be set up both online and within museum shops with mobile “round up” apps like Change Bowl, Donate Your Change, and Round Up App.

Given the opportunity, the next time I'm buying from your online site, I'll be sure to donate.


Written by Bryn Barabas Potter, BBP Museum Consulting, specializes in Native American basketry for institutions and tribes. She attended her first WMA Conference in Phoenix in 1989. She has been a staff member at the Autry Museum of the American West/Southwest Museum of the American Indian, Museum of Riverside, and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.


Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Just want to see if you are a robot.