Case Study Snapshot:
The Maria Mitchell Association (MMA) built its board’s capacity for governance and fundraising over the past decade but faced resistance to development work.
Working with WHC
Barbara partnered with the MMA to create a personalized board training on development.
Today, the MMA is preparing for a capital campaign with a unified, focused, and engaged board ready to play its part in development and fundraising.
“We needed the full board to participate in development.”
The Maria Mitchell Association (MMA) has always had a board of passionate advocates for science and education, key pillars of its work. But the board struggled with channeling that passion into development work for the MMA.
That’s what led Logan Gomes, Director of Advancement, and Helene Weld, Board President, to search for a way to equip the board to understand and be comfortable with outreach and relationship building with potential donors.
The Maria Mitchell Association is a 120-year-old Nantucket Island nonprofit devoted to the legacy of astronomer Maria Mitchell. With its two observatories, museum, aquarium, research center, and the birthplace of Mitchell, the MMA offers year-round science and history programming for all ages.
Helene had come to the MMA board with a deep understanding of the role of a board in development after spending years working with independent school boards. And Logan had been a fundraising and development professional for more than a decade. Together, they knew the board needed to play a more active role in growing annual revenue and planning for future capital projects.
“We needed to inspire the full board to participate in development,” Logan said.
“…the perfect person for our training.”
Many board members felt anxious about development work. Logan explained, “They thought, ‘I’m going to have to ask my friends for money. And I’m not comfortable doing that.’”
With an upcoming board retreat on the calendar, Helene and Logan brainstormed options for a training that would educate and relieve anxiety.
They’d each recently attended a presentation by Windmill Hill Consulting’s Founder and Principal, Barbara O’Reilly, at a local Philanthropy Day. “We left that presentation huge fans of hers and how she communicates,” Logan said. “She was the perfect person for our training.”
“This wasn’t a canned presentation.”
Rather than show up with a workshop that had worked for other boards, Barbara tailored her presentation to MMA’s needs.
During planning sessions, Logan and the MMA team shared their ideas with Barbara. “I really appreciated how she listened,” Logan said. “This wasn’t a canned presentation; she customized the message to our needs.”
Logan and Helene also noted how dynamic and engaging the training was. Barbara not only shared information but facilitated activities. And she made sure each board member left with action items that fit their role and comfort level, whether it was facilitating a meeting with a potential donor, making an introduction, or helping to qualify a donor.
Logan recalled, “She shared the vocabulary of development, made it relatable, and dispelled that fear of ‘Oh no, I’m going to be asked to ask for a major gift.’”
“Board members still reference that training.”
Barbara’s board training took place one month before the pandemic shut down much of the MMA’s programming for the next year – and completely altered its fundraising plans. Yet, the lessons she shared have proven to be evergreen.
“Board members still reference that training. She definitely made a lasting impression,” Logan said.
A few takeaways that continue to guide the MMA’s development work:
- There’s a role for everyone in development.
- Fundraising is primarily about building relationships.
- It’s easier to retain a current donor than attract a new donor.
- The board, advancement team, and executive director work hand in hand to move fundraising forward.
- Great fundraising puts the donor in the story.
And though the pandemic threw their plans up in the air, Logan and the board found the training had prepared them to adapt.
When the MMA created an Emergency Resiliency Fund to ensure the financial stability of the organization during the pandemic, “the messaging from that training informed how we told the story of this new fund to donors,” Logan said.
They also rewrote and expanded their case for support, creating a more donor friendly presentation packet, inspired by what Barbara had taught them.
“These new ways of communicating with donors are part of who we are now, and that’s a result of Barbara’s presentation,” Helene said.
“We’re in the best shape we could be going into a capital campaign.”
The Maria Mitchell Association is planning a capital campaign, and Helene and Logan feel optimistic about what’s ahead.
They’ve put several major pieces in place, including hiring a development- focused executive director, expanding their board, and building financial sustainability.
Helene and Logan see Barbara’s board training as one of the strategic pieces that have laid a solid foundation for the rigors of a capital project.
Logan put it like this: “We’re in the best shape we could be going into a capital campaign. And I feel much more confident given Barbara’s guidance as the launching point for the work ahead.”
When asked what she’d say to someone who wasn’t sure about investing in a training with Barbara, Helene laughed. “I would disagree. You know, it’s the quality of her information, her professionalism, her experience. It’s very reassuring to board members.”
Logan concurred. “I know you’ll benefit – from the information, from the action items, and from the renewed enthusiasm of your team. You will see the financial ROI in a short time.”
If development is a mystery and source of anxiety for your board, WHC can help. Book a call today!