Naturalis Biodiversity Center

Susanne van Straaten

Communications Advisor, Naturalis Biodiversity Center

Naturalis Biodiversity Center

Darwinweg 2, 2333 CR Leiden The Netherlands

BankGiro Loterij Museumprijs 2020


Winning the Museum Prize



Past, present and future

We are Naturalis Biodiversity Center. Through our impressive collection, knowledge and data, we record all life on Earth. This is important, as our future depends on biodiversity. Everything in nature is connected, and balance is vitally important for its continued existence. Naturalis has a passion for nature. We research nature in order to preserve biodiversity. This is how we contribute to solutions for major, global issues involving climate, living environment, food supply and medicine.

In the new Naturalis, everyone is able to discover the amazing world of nature. You can explore our brand-new exhibition halls filled with the best of the natural world, including our T-rex Trix, with the entire family.

On 9 August 2020, exactly 200 years had passed since King William I founded the National Museum of Natural History. Over the span of two centuries, what once began as the king's personal collection has grown into one of the largest and most important collections in the world. It is a collection of which everyone in the Netherlands can rightly feel proud. This treasure trove of natural history includes an astonishing 42 million objects. It serves as the basis for Naturalis’ scientific research and a source of inspiration for everybody. Both in the past, the present, and our future.

Winning the Museum Prize

The BankGiro Loterij is an organisation that donates part of their income to museums and cultural organisations. Naturalis is a yearly beneficiary of the BankGiroLoterij. Beside the yearly donations, the BankGiroLoterij grants a prize of 100,000 Euro for museums: the BankGiroLoterij Museumprijs (“museum prize”).

A jury makes a shortlist, and then the general public votes on who gets the prize. Usually about 40.000 votes are made. Every year, there is a theme, and the theme for 2020 was “Behind the scenes, in the spotlights.”
This was particularly appealing to Naturalis, because we are not just a museum, but also the national research institute for biodiversity. We have more than three hundred researchers working on topics like changes in the marine environment, radiation of plant species, taxonomy and, of course, dinosaurs.

One of the main goals of the museum, when we reopened in 2019, was to show the work these researchers do. That is why we have an exhibition called LiveScience, situated on our ground floor where you can see our researchers at work or giving talks about their work. When the Dinosaur Museum in Nagasaki asked us for a life-size 3D print of our Tyrannosaurus, it would have been much easier to print and build the skeleton in a warehouse somewhere. However, we decided to do it as a LiveScience activity, so that visitors could see the work our people do. We have been going out of our way for years to get our “behind the scenes, in the spotlights”. We felt we owned that prize. All we had to do was convince the public of this. This turned out to be more complicated than it sounds right now. Because of the Covid, we had a lot less visitors in our museum. And besides this, of course, the two other museums that were nominated, the famous Mauritshuis and Amsterdam based Eye filmmuseum, were eager to win, too.

LiveScience Dinolab - foto Koen Mol


So we started a campaign where our public showed the relevance of our museum, not us. We asked them to help us pass on our fascination for nature and vote for Naturalis. We filmed visitors inside our museum reacting to our LiveScience and dinosaur activities, and these clips were featured heavily on social media, focusing on Facebook because that was most efficient to target our main audience. We also put up a large QR-code right next to the life-size printed T. rex copy, and instructed the educational guides to mention the competition whenever possible. We made our visitors our ambassadors, but just as good ambassadors were our staff members. All 800 of them reached out to their network to vote for Naturalis. In the end, the total number of votes was over 84.000, and we got 46% of the vote. So, almost as many people voted just for us, as normally vote for this prize in total! It turns out, Naturalis has a lot of friends. Winning the prize is an honor, but winning by public voting made us even prouder.

Dinotijd Trex - Mike Bink Fotografie


Of course, every institution wants to win their national equivalent of this prize, as well. First of all, fit the theme. Behind the scenes and in the spotlight, fit Naturalis like a glove. The theme basically included one of our key messages and was one of the ways to pass on our passion for nature. Secondly, look for ambassadors, they will tell your story more convincingly than you. Let them help spread the word, for they will be touched by the same passion as you. Besides this, communicate a lot, use everything you’ve got: e-mail newsletters, social media, your museum, e-mails to your staff members, Whatsapp, your regional press. Make sure to create an attractive campaign, we used videos that were shot in our museum and distributed them via Facebook. Look at the campaign as being more than just a campaign for votes: it is also a change to put your museum out there. So do not be afraid to spend a little money. Note that this is not prize money wasted: it got us lots of positive publicity that lasts beyond this particular competition. Where are you going to find people who are enthusiastic about your place, and would be willing to vote for you? Inside your museum, of course. Make it as easy as possible for them to cast their votes, for example, you could put up large touch-screen machines (we didn’t do this because of covid) or a big QR code as we did.
If you do everything right, getting a prize like this is something you earn - and do not get by luck, like winning the lottery.


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