Memory cafés are relatively low cost to operate. A space to hold the gathering, some name tags and refreshments are the basic essentials. Still, café organizers are trying to find ways to provide the café experience without asking attendees directly for a membership fee.
To my knowledge, there is no comprehensive source of information on how memory cafés are being funded in the US or abroad. My hope is to do an informal survey of cafés in the US over the next several months and get back to you with a more complete answer to this question. But for now, I will outline the funding strategies I have been hearing about from a handful of café organizers:
1. Community donation
Memory cafés can be held in locations such as libraries, museums, community centers and existing cafés, at no charge. Often community organizations or local businesses will also donate materials and refreshments for the café gatherings as part of their general philanthropic or community relations programs.
Pros: no cost to attendees; few strings attached
Cons: potentially limited schedule and location options; dependent on the continued generosity of these organizations
2. Attendee contributions
Donation boxes and raffles for donated door prizes can be a means of asking attendees to contribute informally at their comfortable level.
Pros: simple fundraising method; gives attendees another opportunity to give back
Cons: inconsistent cash flow; may put too much pressure on attendees
3. Local business sponsorship
Companies that provide eldercare/senior services and products are frequently willing to fund café meetings in exchange for a short announcement about their product/service.
Pros: relatively easy way to have dependable ongoing funding; potentially provides new information to attendees; can increase awareness of the memory café in the local business community
Cons: can move the focus towards marketing; may be misinterpreted as endorsement by the café [care to limit company presentation time and frequent reminders that the café does not endorse the product/service are suggested strategies]
Funding through local foundation grants is another option.
Pros: grant awards can increase publicity and local recognition of new memory cafés; guaranteed funds can provide a substantial jump start, which is especially helpful in regions that are trying to establish multiple cafés
Cons: time and expertise required to submit a successful grant, complete progress reports and other funding agency requirements; not a long-term support mechanism [need to have a sustainability plan for the post-grant funding period]
Other possibilities could in theory include: larger scale corporate giving or corporate sponsorship relationships, partnering with other community-based service agencies, or perhaps obtaining government funding through the local Area Agency on Aging.
It would be helpful to know the average cost and most common funding mechanism for memory cafés. I will be gathering this information, but please also feel free to leave a note about your methods/costs here in the form of a comment or submission via our contact page!