Chp. 4: Raising Support

Chapter 4 – Raising Support

For most facilities, raising the funds begins with garnering support from the parent institution. Whether the dome is part of a school, college or museum, supported by a larger foundation or a local government, the administration must be on board. This chapter contains advice and considerations for getting that support. 


Gaining Institutional Allies

If you don’t know already, find out if you are permitted to raise funds yourself. Some institutions have foundations or fund-raising departments that raise the money and prohibit you from doing so on your own.

Even if you do your own fund-raising, it is important to share what you are doing with your supervisor. Prepare a list of companies/businesses that you would like to contact regarding support, and have it approved. If you are part of a museum or educational institution, it is possible that others in your building are approaching the same businesses regarding another project. You want your institution to appear coordinated and not in competition with itself!

Assuming you have a foundation or fund-raising group associated with your institution, it is important to know who the director of that group reports to. While it is important to gain the ear of the foundation director, it is very possible that his or her priorities are set by a supervisor or larger governing group. For example, if your planetarium is part of an institution of higher education, it is very likely that the priority of the foundation will be to raise funds to facilitate student scholarships. The foundation makes a name for itself by bringing in scholarship money. You must convince both the fund-raising director and any supervisors that the conversion to fulldome is important for the institution.

Before a fund-raising campaign is initiated, determine how donors are going to be recognized. Choose something that will be visible, as this is usually very attractive to donors. Examples are a plaque, a star wall (with acrylic stars), bricks in a sidewalk, or even things like chairs in the dome. The big money, of course, can be in naming your planetarium—but be careful. More than a few domes are named in honor of major community activists, scientists and astronauts.  Care should be taken to respect previous naming – don’t let a careless fund-raising expert sell out the legacy and tribute to a great individual in exchange for corporate sponsorship. If building a brand-new facility, consider a time limit on guaranteed naming in which a certain level of donation could guarantee the naming for a set amount of time. 


Working with Institutional Allies

Prepare a non-technical document for your foundation that clearly explains the need. What will happen if the fulldome conversion is not funded? What are the advantages to stakeholders if the conversion is funded? What can people expect? What is in it for the donor? Is there a possibility of naming rights? You might consider “the X Star Theater at the Y Planetarium” (which can avoid the problem mentioned above, or can maximize the value of large donations). This is very similar to a resume for your facility – you have to sell it!

Assuming the planetarium conversion has been determined to be a priority, it is vital that the people raising the funds understand the project. Many outside of the planetarium may know what we do (they see the product) but they have no clue how a presentation is assembled. You will have to teach people what you do (or will do).

It is important to get as many people on board with your project as you can. Consider the possibility of offering some sort of non-astronomy or even non-science programming. Will other departments benefit? The more people you can get in your corner, the better. If you regularly attend GLPA conferences, invite your supervisor! There’s no better way to gain support than to have your immediate supervisor more closely understand what it is that you are trying to accomplish.


Scope of Project

Your fund-raising person will need a number from you as to how much he or she has to raise to complete the project. It is imperative that you include everything in this estimate. fund-raising directors don’t want to raise $500,000 only to discover you need an additional $100,000! Your budget can include estimates, but be careful to ensure the estimates aren’t low. fund-raising projects such as these can often take 2-4 years to complete, and costs can escalate. Be sure to build this into the budget. In short, round numbers up! Most vendors will supply you with an estimate on the cost of their projection systems if you tell them you are about to raise funds. Tell them you don’t need an official quote, but that you need a number so you know how much funding is needed. Include the cost of a show or two in the budget, as fulldome shows are not inexpensive! What about the sound system?  Is the dome at the correct reflectivity? What about the lighting in the dome?  Does the seating need to be replaced? Do you need to build in infrastructure costs (Paint? Plumbing? Carpentry work? HVAC work?) to accommodate the new equipment and any additional production equipment?

If you are converting from an opto-mechanical system do you have enough space to store the computers that might be needed to run your new system? And what can you do to maximize space that might be freed up removing old slide projectors? Aside from the primary projection system, don’t forget about other changes, such as LED lighting (which may be an easy sell as an energy-saving change to your theater).

If you have a preferred vendor (or even several preferred vendors), ask them if they are capable of bringing some sort of demonstration to your theater. This could be an actual fulldome demo, or even a demonstration of the software using a simple LCD projector. If the vendor cannot bring a demonstration to you, try to work with the vendor to arrange a visit to another facility with that vendor's product(s) installed.

If either type of visit can be arranged, invite your supervisor and all interested parties to the demo.  They need to understand what you are trying to do, and actually seeing what it can become may get them very excited. Exposing potential donors to the technology can help as well.