The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 19, Number 2
May 1995


Selling Collections Care to Funders

NIC Annual Meeting, Washington, DC
Oct. 17-18, 1994

by Jeanne Drewes

The annual meeting of the NIC (National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property) focused on "Selling Collections Care to Funders." Indeed, what NIC provided in a two-day session was a blueprint of funding strategies. An excellent array of speakers, addressing both general principles and unique situations turned to advantage, provided the attendees with a large variety of methodologies for acquiring funding for collections care. A case study presented as assigned work during a lunch break gave an opportunity for practical application of the general principles discussed earlier in the day by Fisher Howe, partner in Lavender/ Howe & Associates, a fund raising and management consulting firm for nonprofit organizations.

Mr. Howe started with the importance of understanding the difference between a mission statement and a case for giving. A case states why people should give, a mission statement is an internal statement of goals and direction. People give money for causes because they want to, and Mr. Fisher emphasized the need to look through the eyes of the giver, to show people the opportunities, not the needs of an organization, when making an appeal for funds. People want to make a difference, a change for the good, and that is most often the motivation for giving. The need for the personal touch in any appeal for large sums was also stressed.

There are five sources of contributions: governments, foundations, businesses, nonprofit, and individuals. Ninety percent of all donations last year were made by individuals, a fact that kept recurring throughout the two days. Working with an institution's board of directors is essential to that institution's fundraising campaign, as are good mailing lists, donor research, and a development strategy that has realistic goals. Throughout the rest of the meeting, Mr. Howe's cardinal rules continued to crop up as the basis for success in the situations was outlined.

Ellen Dunlap, President of the American Antiquarian Society, shared her experience not only at the Society, but also at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin, and as director of the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. Many of her recommendations drew on personal experience in approaching states, foundations, and individuals. Ms. Dunlap pointed out that while the momentum was running against institutions for conservation, because many agencies were turning to other social troubles and education issues, the prospects for private giving have never been better. Individual techniques which she shared were a "best of the best" exhibit showing conserved pieces with before and after pictures, and an adoption program--;adopt a book with liberal visiting privileges for rare books in a collection.

Often case studies are the least interesting portion of a meeting, but such was not the case when Ann Russell, Executive Director of the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC), presented a case study, using slides that provided an interesting and humorous subtext to the present facts. The luncheon seating arrangement provided the small groups for discussion and brainstorming. When the groups reconvened, various individuals presented ideas from the luncheon discussion. Each lunch table had an assigned recorder who reported the ideas to NIC staff. This synopsis was later mailed to participants, providing yet another set of ideas for participants to consider applying in their own situations. Such attention to details was another aspect that made this a most memorable and useful meeting.

Bill Huebsch, Executive Director for the Upper Midwest Conservation Association, was the afternoon speaker, providing an energetic appeal for an entrepreneurial approach to funding collections care work. Huebsch provided his strong approach of establishing a link between access to cultural collections, collections conservation, and the quality of life in a community. He pictured the conservator with a pastoral approach to caring for the collections and strongly suggested that appeals refrain from using the terms "preservation" or "conservation," but rather the phrase "collections care" in appeals to donors, to prevent any misunderstanding of terms.

The evening session was held in the Freer Gallery where members of the Freer staff explained the restoration process for the Peacock Room. Tours of the room and the conservation facilities finished the day. The next morning, another local restoration project, the Octagon Museum, was highlighted.

Nancy Davis, Director of the Octagon, and Norman Koonce, president of the American Architectural Founda tion, spoke about the funding for the restoration of this unique building. While Mr. Koonce directed his remarks toward how to approach large donors, Ms. Davis focused on how every seeming obstacle in the restoration was used to advantage, including the bees in the dome (great publicity) and the necessary scaffolding around the outside of the building--;used for signage about the restoration process. Again the speakers confirmed and reiterated the general principles for seeking funding which had been articulated the previous day. The Octagon as the epitome of saving the architectural records of the nation had a particular resonance. Some conference participants concluded the meeting with an afternoon tour of the new Archives II facility in College Park, Maryland. All attendees left the meeting with excellent handouts referring to the blueprint that had been laid out for "Selling Collections Care to Funders."

NIC is working with various groups to provide local forums for repeats of this meeting. One presentation was done as a preconference at ALA 1994. Other venues are being planned.

Jeanne Drewes is a preservation consultant based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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