How Can Historical Societies Make Money and Increase Tourism?

History is all around us, and few are more committed to keeping local history alive than historical societies. Read on to learn why the preservation of historical sites is so important and what historical societies can do to attract tourists and generate more revenue.

What Are Historical Societies and What Role Do They Play?

Historical societies are groups of people who share a common interest in preserving local history. Some examples of the work historical societies do include:

  • Researching, documenting and interpreting historical events.
  • Preserving all kinds of historical artifacts, from large buildings to small household items.
  • Educating the community through events and outreach programming.
  • Establishing and restoring historic districts and buildings.
  • Managing archives, libraries and museums dedicated to local history.
  • Creating a shared sense of culture among community members.

Historical societies typically get their funding from various sources, including member dues, grants, fundraisers and program revenue. 

You might also have heard of historical commissions. While they share similar missions, historical societies and commissions are different types of organizations. A historical society:

  • Is a not-for-profit organization.
  • Determines and develops its own mission.
  • Can be any size and include various committees and subcommittees.
  • Focuses on local history.

In contrast, a historical commission:

  • Is a government agency.
  • Follows a predetermined mission.
  • Includes only a few members.
  • Focuses on state and national history.

Why Is Historic Preservation Important?

Non-history buffs can sometimes be quick to dismiss the importance of historic preservation, but investing in local history is good for the community as a whole. 

The Preserve America Executive Order, signed in 2003, directs federal agencies to actively protect and restore federally owned historic properties. It also encourages cooperation between governmental departments to use and preserve these properties for the economic benefit of the community.

The many benefits of historic preservation include:

  • Job creation: The preservation of historical buildings opens up new jobs at every stage of the process. For example, you can bring on historians and architects during restoration to ensure the building’s exterior matches its former appearance while local hotels can expand their staff to accommodate increased tourism once the project is finished.
  • Business opportunities: Many small businesses, such as independent bookstores, coffee shops, restaurants and antique stores, prefer to use old buildings because they’re less expensive than new ones. Plus, they have more character.
  • Improved quality of life: When your town’s economy is flourishing, the community can thrive. Restoring and preserving historic buildings beautifies the area and creates new opportunities to generate revenue by attracting tourists and opening new spaces for businesses.
  • Increased sustainability: Restoring old buildings is more environmentally friendly than demolishing them and building new ones because it conserves materials and limits the use of toxic chemicals in construction. You can further improve building sustainability โ€” and bring the building up to code โ€” by making green interior renovations.
How Historical Societies Can Increase Tourism

How Historical Societies Can Increase Tourism

Heritage tourism is a big deal. According to the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation (ACHP), heritage tourism involves traveling to experience an authentic representation of an area’s past and present. Travelers who participate in heritage activities often stay longer and spend more than general tourists because they take a real interest in the places they visit.

Your historical society can help create rewarding heritage tourism experiences by providing fun educational opportunities that tell your town’s unique story. Here are a few ideas for attracting heritage travelers:

  • Provide guided tours: Partner with local public transportation to offer historical bus tours. You could also create your own audio tours that visitors can download from your website after making a donation.
  • Advertise online: Traditional marketing is on its way out. Pull your ads from print media and billboards and focus on online and social media marketing to increase visibility and attract younger guests.
  • Mark your sites: Mark historically important sites with eye-catching signs or plaques that encourage tourists to stop and read about the site. Include information about the site’s age, architecture and historical significance. 
  • Get festive: Invite tourists and local residents to celebrate the holidays like the residents of decades past. Decorate your building, and if there are reenactor groups in your area, bring them in for a holiday-themed living history presentation.

How Historical Societies Can Make Money

Member dues and fundraisers are great ways to bring in revenue, but you’ll have to get creative if you want to secure more funding. Here are some ideas you can use to generate some extra income for your local historical society:

  • Start a suggested donation program: Ask visitors to give a suggested donation instead of free or pay-as-you-wish admission to your museums or events. 
  • Sell gifts online: Bring your museum gift shops online to maximize retail income. Create an online store for items like historical replicas, books and historical society merch and add it to your existing website.
  • Start a plaque program: A plaque program is a great way to make your society’s work more visible, helping you expand outreach and potentially increase your membership. It can also help you raise funds for ongoing research programs and other initiatives.
  • Partner with local restaurants: Get in touch with locally owned restaurants to start a happy hour or historical dinner program. Provide coupons or tickets to museum guests and members to ensure a decent turnout.
  • Start a podcast: Get one of your members on air with guest historians to put current events into historical context or discuss interesting local historical figures. Host your podcast on popular streaming services like YouTube, Spotify and Apple Podcasts for the best chance at building your audience.
  • Rent out your space: Letting groups like church congregations, community theater troupes and other nonprofit organizations rent out your space can both bring in some extra money and increase visibility in your community, which can attract more visitors.
  • Write a book: Write and publish a local or state history textbook for public schools in your area. If possible, include translations in other languages to make local history accessible to as many students as possible.
  • Digitize local records: If you have scanning equipment or it’s within your budget, you can scan historical documents, newspapers and other important papers. You can then sell the digital copies to state archives, libraries, universities and interested patrons.
  • Host weddings: Historic homes and buildings are popular places to get married. Rent out one of your sites for weddings, even if you’re only using the outdoor space. 

Starting a Plaque Program With Erie Landmark

If you’re looking for a great way to raise revenue for your historical society, consider working with Erie Landmark to launch a plaque program in your town. Some key considerations for your plaque program include:

  • Plaque format: Your society needs to decide whether you need one consistent plaque format or if you will leave formatting decisions up to the individual site owners.
  • Your goals: Plaque programs are great for generating revenue as fundraiser initiatives, but if your primary goal is to increase awareness and outreach, you might want to consider a recognition program instead.
  • Plaque appearance: You want your plaques to visually tie your community together, so you need to choose a size and shape that matches your town’s overall aesthetic. You’ll also want to make sure your society’s logo or name is included on the plaque to increase exposure.

We give every Historic Plaque Program an automatic 15% discount. Additional discounts may apply depending on the number of patterns you want and the number of plaques you need. 

Make Your Historical Sites Stand Out With Erie Landmark

Make Your Historical Sites Stand Out With Erie Landmark

Highlight the importance of preservation by placing a plaque on landmarks. As a family-owned and operated company, we add a personal touch to plaque making. When you buy from us, you get more than just a standard plaque. Our in-house artist will work with you to create a custom, hand-crafted plaque that matches your specifications and looks beautiful on your site.

We’re dedicated to giving you a high-quality plaque and an excellent customer experience. Contact us or submit a request today to get started.

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