Story 06: The Big Move

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Now, Who’s Going to Raise the Money?

Written by Mike Spock

Although each museum agreed that it was responsible for its portion of getting Museum Wharf developed, for creating its exhibits and programs, and for covering its fundraising and operating costs, Duncan and I recognized that there were opportunities where we could collaborate: the temporary site offices, exhibits and party fundraising space, and the individual museum and Museum Wharf campaign brochures. Duncan recalls a pivotal moment in our fund raising education.

We [Duncan and Mike] went to a meeting of the Museum Directors Group at the Peabody Museum in Salem [that had] this wonderful director, Ernest Dodge. We were talking about fundraising, and we raised the question about, well, if you want to raise funds, what do you do? Hire a fundraising council?...And Ernest said, "No, unfortunately, if you want to raise money, you have to go and do it yourself. And if you don't do it, if you're not the engine for cultural fundraising for your institution, the money will not be raised."

That was a moment for enlightenment. We drove back together from Salem like the shades had been lifted. Why we'd spent money having a fundraising council come in and organize the bedickens out of the project and we still couldn't get it to move. It couldn't move because we weren't driving it. And essentially from that day on, most of my job was fundraising. Which was...interesting. How do you run the institution, do the fundraising, and then manage architectural and construction campaigns? If you begin looking at what the tasks are for director, you can't do three, so you'd better [at least] do one."

Ernest Dodge was right. The staff and board would have to do the asking, of course, but one of the sensible things that cautious nonprofits also did, to see if they could actually raise the money for a big capital campaign, was to ask fundraising counsel to do a feasibility study. The Children's Museum did a feasibility study in the mid '60s when we were first considering a move downtown, but backed away when Bob Corcoran, our fundraising council, reported that we wouldn't be able to pull it off. Instead, we made do with the renovation of the auditorium/Visitor Center for the next decade.

The Children's Museum did a feasibility study again with Bob Corcoran on the Museum Wharf project, and found out that if we did most of the right things, and solicited most of the right people, and stuck to our reasonable goal ($3,500,000) that we could now, almost a decade later, probably pull it off. The Museum of Transportation didn't conduct a feasibility study to test the receptivity of its potential donors. Instead, MOT made an intelligent guess ($2,500,000) focusing primarily on their museum's needs, not on their board and the local foundations' readiness.

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