Fundraising In Hard Times

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The Minnesota Historical Society’s Local History Services helps Minnesotans preserve and share their history. This blog is a resource of best practices on the wide variety of museum, preservation, conservation, funding, and non-profit management topics. We’re here to help.

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Fundraising In Hard Times

By: grabitsdm | November 2, 2010
On Friday October 29, 2010, the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums held their annual fall meeting and awards program in the new Laird Norton Addition to the Winona County Historical Society. For those of you that missed it, the topic of the panel discussion was on fundraising in hard times, with three specific examples.

Two of the examples were capital projects, but each is unique to its own circumstances. The third example is a funding stream opportunity.

The first capital project discussed was the one that resulted in the Laird Norton Addition. The Winona County Historical Society had been through a capital campaign in the past, which experience guided their actions as much as a 2005 needs assessment. The project was originally estimated increase space by 15,000 square feet at a cost of $3.1 million ($206.67/sf). By the time of bidding, the additional space decreased to 12,000 square feet and the cost mushroomed to $4.6 million ($383.34/sf).

What worked in the favor of Winona County Historical Society was an in-house capital campaign, a challenge grant of $1.5 million, an 11 percent decrease in costs of materials between bidding and construction (resulting in a final cost of about $375/sf), and a board member that took the lead to work with Executive Director Mark Peterson to raise about $3 million. All of this was made possible through solid planning and seeking out lots of advice. Additionally, Mark's board member was even keeled and never let any of the several trials adversely affect what WCHS set out to accomplish.

The second facility capital campaign has not started. Peter Olson of the Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota in Mankato detailed efforts so far to create a permanent home for this new children's museum.

Like Winona County Historical Society that started its campaign on the basis of a history of success, the Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota is starting off right. They've hired a seasoned professional to guide the organization, a lead donor has committed about a quarter of the estimated $4.5 million to renovate or build new, the board is actively leading the capital campaign ably assisted by the executive director, lots of local businesses have stepped up to donate key strategic elements including some communications pieces, and a couple of temporary "pop-up" museum experiments have exposed thousands of people to the museum.

The Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota estimates its space requirements at about 25,000 square feet ($180/sf). Both this example and the Winona County Historical Society vary from estimates of national costs per square foot as discussed in Museums Cost How Much?

Both projects are founded on a track record of success (one new, one 75 years in the making). Both have a strong sense of their visitors and visitor needs. Both accepted donated services and products, though some were not ideal they opted to deal with the less than ideal. That's an important recognition going into any extensive project. Finally, both were determined to build for the long term. Museums are meant to be significant assets in a community, and both projects have kept that in the forefront of their minds.

The third panelist spoke about Market America, which has an opportunity for nonprofits to reap the benefit of direct sales between consumers and major brands. The money generated comes from the normal (or slightly reduced) commission for products that consumers pay really without knowing it when shopping at bricks-and-mortar stores. In order to participate, the nonprofit must be a 501(c)(3) - that special slice of nonprofits. To learn more about this contact Dave Lindley through the Washington County Historical Society.

All three examples showed that active participation by the organization and its leaders is key to success in fundraising in hard times. What's your experience? Has fundraising been difficult? Have you noticed a difference during the downturn?