Conserve Dorothy’s slippers

On 16 November, 2016, the Smithsonian successfully ended the crowdfunding campaign #KeepThemRuby to conserve the slippers that the actor Judy Garland wore in the film The Wizard of Oz (MGM, Dir. Victor Fleming, 1939). Using the platform Kickstarter (the American crowdfunding platform devoted to funding creative projects), they managed to raise the $300,000 necessary – in just one week!

Given that the campaign lasted a month, on the remaining days they extended the goal, with an additional $85,000 to also restore the Scarecrow’s costume. This second goal was not achieved and the campaign closed with $349,026.

In this post I analyze the campaign and the dangers of extending the goal of a crowdfunding campaign.

What is the Smithsonian?

The Smithsonian is the most important American cultural and educational institution, with a complex of 19 national museums — with free entrance —, a zoo and nine research centres, most of which are in Washington D.C. The Smithsonian is managed with federal funds, which cover the conservation of its collections — with some 136 million objects —, the maintenance of the buildings and the staff expenses. The institution also has to resort to private support to attend to other priorities, such as the educational programmes, temporary exhibitions and the restoration of some works of art.


This is the second campaign launched by the Smithsonian through Kickstarter. In 2015, the National Air and Space Museum already obtained over $700,000 to restore the spacesuit worn by the astronaut Neil Armstrong when he stepped onto the moon in 1969. The initial goal of #RebootTheSuit was $500,000, which were raised in just four days. They also extended the goal on that occasion, with $200,000 to restore the suit worn by Alan Shepard in 1961 during the first sub-orbital spaceflight on board the Mercury 3. The campaign closed with $719,779 (140% more than the initial goal) and 9,477 donors.

‘There’s no place like home…’

The Wizard of Oz is one of the most well-liked films in the United States. So much so that there is no Halloween without girls dressed as Dorothy and fathers disguised as the Scarecrow or the Tin Man. It is not therefore surprising that Dorothy’s ruby slippers are one of the most popular treasures of the National Museum of American History, where they are conserved as a relic of Hollywood’s golden age. These slippers, which only needed Dorothy to click her heels together three times to send her home while repeating the famous phrase “There’s no place like home…”, won a privileged place in the sentimental heritage of a country which considers them a national icon.

In 1939, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s art department bought some conventional slippers, dyed them red and added a net onto which 2,400 ruby-coloured sequins were sewn which jumped up and down as Judy Garland danced down the yellow brick road. The production obviously had to be quick and cheap, since the objective was not for them to last longer than the shoot. Once The Wizard of Oz had been recorded, the slippers were left in a prop warehouse of the Hollywood studios until they were auctioned in 1970. An anonymous collector bought them for $15,000 and, nine years later, donated them to the Smithsonian, which deposited them in the National Museum of American History, where there have been admired by millions of visitors for more than 30 years.

The aura of the slippers does, however, go beyond their appearance. The ruby slippers represent the classical triumph of David over Goliath: that of a young female orphan from a Kansas farm who obtains the slippers from the dictatorial Wicked Witch of the West, cleverly using them to free the oppressed people of OzUltimately, Dorothy’s slippers are also a symbol of revolution and hope which has led to numerous socio-political readings.

The goal of #KeepThemRuby was not to return the original shine to the slippers, but rather to stop the process of degradation due to the passing of time

Returning to the campaign, the goal of #KeepThemRuby was not to return the original shine to the slippers, but rather to stop the process of degradation due to the passing of time (and to the coexistence of 12 different materials), and to build a state-of-the-art temperature-controlled display case to ensure their conservation for at least another 80 years. Moreover, part of the urgency of the case lies in the fact that Dorothy’s slippers are to be one of the attractions of the exhibition “American Stories” that the National Museum of American History is preparing for 2018.

Evolution of the campaign and data


  • #KeepThemRuby closed with $349,026; they missed the second goal by $36,000.
  • Of the 6,451 donors, 3,147 were participating for the first time in a Kickstarter campaign, while 3,304 were repeat donors who had already sponsored other projects of the platform (according to Kickstarter data).
  • The average donation was $54.10, below the average $75.90 obtained by #RebootTheSuit in the previous year.
  • The campaign did not follow the U-shaped pattern of crowdfunding, according to which the majority of donations are received at the beginning and at the end of the campaign. As always, there are several reasons, but the clearest is that the feeling of urgency declined sharply when the $300,000 were obtained in the first week.

The donations ranged from $1 to $10,000. In the following table, I summarize the scale of donations and rewards (from receiving a simple e-mail of thanks to seeing your name on the donor wall, and including bags, T-shirts – and even replica slippers!), as well as the number of sponsors attracted by each section of the campaign:

Successes of the campaign

  1. Call to actionwas emotional and effective: the popularity of the slippers, which evoke the best childhood memories of generations of Americans, and a communication campaign with a significant impact led to a big bang effect which allowed 100% of the campaign to be achieved in just seven days.
  2. Claim was snappy: the campaign included a fortunate claim, #KeepThemRuby. As if it were a rallying cry, the claim worked very well to establish a digital identity around the campaign (see Twitter Moments).
  3. Rewards made in Broadway: it is well-known that the rewards are not the main factor motivating a donation, and this campaign clearly appealed to emotions and to a certain patriotism which generated very impulsive donations. Even so, the campaign included the participation of the costume designer William Ivey Long, the winner of several Tony Awards, who gave the rewards added value for the lovers of musical theatre (a clear target audience).

Failings of the campaign

  1. Second goal was unexpected:if a crowdfunding platform which establishes the duration of the campaign is used (in Kickstarter they can last between one and 60 days), it is recommended to explain from the outset what will happen if the money is raised in a few days or mid-campaign. It is true that this is not usual with such big campaigns, but with the still recent success of the campaign #RebootTheSuitit could have been foreseen better. Some donors were upset on receiving an upgrading request for the Scarecrow costume just one week after having donated for Dorothy’s ruby slippers. They wondered whether new requests would continue to arrive for the Tin Man or the Cowardly Lion…
  2. Deactivation of the claim mid-campaign: prolonging the campaign goal with $85,000 to also restore the Scarecrow’s costume destroyed the effect of the claim #KeepThemRuby. From then on, the campaign entered a phase of confusion, with the use of a claim which did not refer to the new goal. With #RebootTheSuit, they did not have this problem because the second goal was also to restore an astronaut’s spacesuit, so the claim continued to be valid for the rest of the campaign.
  3. Timing was unexpected: apart from coinciding in time with two major humanitarian crises (that of the Syrian refugees and that of the impact of hurricane Matthew in Haiti), the fact that the campaign #KeepThemRuby coincided with the US presidential election (8 November 2016) did not help the final stretch of the campaign. The unexpected election result left part of the population in a state of shock and unreceptive to the final efforts of the campaign.
  4. Weak close: the Smithsonian did not publicly clarify how it resolved the fact that it had not attained the second goal, given that the last post of the campaign blog was exclusive for sponsors. When I contacted the campaign team to write this post, the answer was that the museum undertook to obtain the additional funds to conserve the Scarecrow’s costume. We will have to wait to see how and when.


Despite its negative aspects, I believe that raising $300,000 to restore some slippers was a breathtaking goal and that #KeepThemRuby was an undoubted success. Among other things, the campaign brought:

  • Fame for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
  • Publicity for the exhibition “American Stories” that they are preparing for 2018.
  • Improvement in loyalty of its social base, which again felt that it was involved in the institution.
  • New donors with the possibility of generating loyalty!



This article was originally posted on LinkedIn on January 30th, 2017.