Business

FUNdraising Good Times : Feasibility study of the African-American history museum was crucial to its success

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As we watched the grand opening of the National Museum of African American History and Cultureon television we were filled with excitement and emotion.

We were excited about this historic moment, and what it means for the African-American community and the nation. I (Mel Shaw) thought of my great grandfather,William Harrison Hammond, an ex-slave who became superintendent of schools in Shelby County, Tenn. and was the founder of Oak Spring Baptist Church in Arlington, Tenn.,which he pastored for 65 years.The museum honors and appreciates millions of African-Americans like him, sharing their stories with the country and the world.

I reflected on the great honor I felt when I was included as part of a team of 10 development professionals who conducted thefundraising feasibility study, designed to determine whether or not the American public – and especially the African-American community – was committed to help bring to life the 100 year dream for such a museum. Each team member interviewed 30 African-American stakeholders from across the country to learn if they were open and willing to be engaged, and if they would provide financial support.

The United States Congress was considering legislation to build and sustain the proposed museum, and had set out specific criteria that needed to be met. Congress needed to know how much could be initially generated from the private sector to meet the matching requirement that would come with federal funds. The feasibility study provided information that answered Congress’ questions.

Animportant piece of information revealed during the study related to the museum’s location. We tested the concept of a museum that would be part of an existing Smithsonian site. This was unpopular with those interviewed. They felt that the impact African-Americans have made on this country deserved more than being housed in existing or expanded Smithsonian properties. Interviewees felt the museum deserved the prestige of an independent site on the National Mall, and their voices were heard.

With our clients we strongly recommend feasibility studies for organizations who are considering a major fundraising campaign. These studies are conducted before a nonprofit makes major investments of money, time and personnel. This first step and reveals the data and information that management and the board need to make critical decisions. These include decisionsrelated to leadership, attitude of the marketplace, available funding (both short term and long term), capacity and infrastructure and the extent to which a project meets the needs of the marketplace.

The feasibility study for the National Museum of African American History and Culture addressed these issues and more. The results demonstrated that America would support the proposed museum with both attendance and finance.The study was an important management tool that helped shapecampaign planning and design, identify where money could come from,identify who could advocate for the campaign and museum and learn fromwhere museum artifacts could come. As a form of market research the study gave the project further legitimacy. It was one part of the process that culminated with the Sept. 24 opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Mel and Pearl Shaw are authors of the book “FUNdraising Good Times Classics Vol. 1,” available on Amazon.com.

October 18, 2016
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