It's Personal: What's Interesting About This Gift for Museum Audience Engagement

Philanthropic software provider Blackbaud recently gave $1 million to the International African American Museum (IAAM), planned for construction at Charleston, South Carolina's Gadsden's Wharf.

Sounds simple enough, right?

But it's how the money will be used that caught our attention. The gift will fund the development of the museum's Digital Media Lab, through which visitors can trace their family roots, research their ancestry, and record family stories.

As previously noted, many big grantmakers, most notably Bloomberg Philanthropies (BP), have thrown big money behind things like mobile apps for the museum-going experience. Just a few months ago, for example, BP announced the launch of its ASK Brooklyn Museum app, which enhances access and engagement by enabling visitors to "interact with museum experts in real time."

Blackbaud's gift to the IAAM, while certainly interactive, is nonetheless different than your typical ask-an-expert app. It makes visitors direct participants in the museum-going experience by encouraging them to share their stories and experiences, a point that strongly resonated with Blackbaud CEO Mike Gianoni.

"We are incredibly moved to be a part of this endeavor and it’s a privilege for our company to help to bring a sense of connection and identity for those wishing to find answers and complete their own personal stories," he said.

To that end, the gift is reminiscent of a multi-year grant from the James Irvine Foundation's Exploring Engagement Fund, profiled here, to the San Francisco Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) to support a two-year storytelling project titled "Crossing Fences: Conversations and Stories with African-American Men Across the Generations," underscoring how museums can capitalize on the growing popularity of storytelling to engage new audiences. 

And what about the company that Gianoni runs? Well, the Charleston-based Blackbaud will be familiar to many of our readers as a supplier of software and services specifically designed for nonprofit organizations. Its products focus on fundraising, website management, CRM, analytics, financial management, ticketing, and education administration.

Yet the company, as we've already seen, does its own share of philanthropy. Established in 1996, the Blackbaud Fund, which is held at the Coastal Community Foundation (CCF) in Charleston, SC, supports organizations that focus on the education of minority and disadvantaged. 

In 2013 it launched Blackbaud Community Matters Grants, which awards grants in non-Charleston locations where the company has offices. Preference is given to grant requests that focus on general operations and capacity building or the education of disadvantaged populations.

For more information on Blackbaud's philanthropic efforts click here.

(And if their name rings a bell it's because we recently referenced a Blackbaud study, Diversity in Giving: The Changing Landscape of American Philanthropy, which among other things, looks at how organizations tend to be a bit myopic when engaging a predictable and stagnant set of donors.)

The total cost of opening the International African American Museum is estimated at $75 million; fundraising is currently at 67 percent of that goal.