When the public phase of fund raising began, Colonial Williamsburg found it could draw on a vast reservoir of goodwill and interest. Al Louer, director, corporate and foundation relations, explains that bond: "This is a history museum about the formative period of this country. Some 10 million people had visited Colonial Williamsburg from 1926 to 1976. We had an 'alumni.' People actually stayed here for two or three days, establishing a stronger bond than an ordinary museum where the average visit is a few hours."
Louer says there has been "a clear decline since 1990 in unrestricted corporate gifts. Corporations are directing their giving to restricted gifts. There's more accountability. In effect, they're saying, 'Show me that what we have given has done some good.'"
With American corporations getting squeezed and downsizing, "Our expectations have to be scaled down, too," notes Louer. Some restricted corporate gifts create problems for Colonial Williamsburg. "It obligates us to a new program funded only partially by the corporate gift," says Louer. Colonial Williamsburg has to pay the overhead expenses. The result is that Colonial Williamsburg has downscaled some programs, focusing on existing core programs.
Colonial Williamsburg, a quarterly magazine, serves as a valuable communicator to both individuals and corporations. "It's a showcase of what Colonial Williamsburg is all about," explains Louer. "There's no finer tool. Individual donors do read it. It's a regular communication for corporate donors. Its appearance sends a message--a quality product."
Louer believes that the best thing "we can do is have a donor see this place." An increasing number of corporations hold meetings at Colonial Williamsburg. The Business Council, which is made up of Fortune 500 CEOS, meets every year in May and October.
To thank corporations for their support, Colonial Williamsburg presents companies with scrolls, certificates and books. Louer would like to broaden the program to include employee discounts. "Employees could show their corporate ID card and earn discounts on Colonial Williamsburg admission tickets," explains Louer. An item would be placed in corporate publications to let employees know of this benefit.
Most of the major grants have come from corporate foundations--AT&T and Philip Morris for African-American programs and IBM for a teleconferencing program. Foundations also hold meetings at Colonial Williamsburg. "Nothing matches actually seeing the place," says Louer.
Peter E. Jesse, director, Colonial Williamsburg Fund, describes his donors as "very loyal." Four out of five renew their gifts. The average gift is $110--high because of high-end gifts. "Three of four gifts are less than $100 and 23 of 100 give between $100 and $1,000. Our donors are people interested in history and tradition," says Jesse.
Donor recognition plays an important role at Colonial Williamsburg. Four donor clubs, overseen by director, Forrest W. Williamson, honor supporters:
* The 203 members of the Raleigh Tavern Society contribute $7,500 or more annually. The society, which has been chaired by David Brinkley since its founding, made unrestricted gifts of cash and securities totaling $969,187 and $4,702,650 in restricted gifts, objects and pledges in 1992.
* The Colonial Williamsburg Associates includes 130 members who contribute $2,500 or more annually. In 1992 they made unrestricted gifts of cash or securities totaling $206,610.
* The Colonial Williamsburg Burgesses, established in 1990, numbers 379 people who contribute $1,000 or more each year. Last year, the Burgesses gave unrestricted gifts of $317,058.
* The Colonial Williamsburg Assembly was founded in 1992 with 604 members who contribute $500 or more annually. In its first year, the assembly offered unrestricted gifts of cash or securities amounting to $315,000.
The Raleigh Tavern Society meets at Colonial Williamsburg in the spring and fall; the Associates and Burgesses meet in the fall only. These annual events are two-day affairs, says Jesse. "The Raleigh Tavern Society includes a black-tie event, an update from the president and the chairman, talks with curators, researchers, historical interpreters and costume designers. Donors get to see what they're supporting."
Jesse sends out three acquisition mailings each year--usually in January, May and September. Plus there's an additional gift appeal at the end of the year. "We rent lists of other non-profits, museum lists, lists of a historical nature, lists that are direct-mail responsive," says Jesse. "Most compiled lists don't work." Colonial Williamsburg doesn't rent its own list.
Colonial Williamsburg runs TV ads in some 20 major markets, offering free vacation information to those who call 1-800-HISTORY. Donor newsletters include a calendar of events. One of every seven or eight visitors hails from either the New York area or the Philadelphia area.
To capture names and addresses, Colonial Williamsburg displays cards at its Visitors' Center. Supplies of cards, desks and pens are strategically placed to make it easy for visitors to leave their names and addresses. Colonial Williamsburg's four hotels and its Craft House catalog and Antiques Forum also serve as rich sources of names.
Jesse oversees five renewal mailings each year. "We write to those who support the work we do here. One letter outlined 10 years of achievements. We show donors what their dollars do," he said.
Every gift gets a thank-you and every acknowledgement letter contains a business-reply envelope, a friend-referral card and a planned-giving brochure. "We get several thousand names a year from the friend-referral cards," noted Jesse.
Every renewal letter is personalized, with a first-class stamp, a number 10 envelope and nice stationery, says Jesse. "It pays to use first-class," says Jesse, "because one-tenth of third-class letters don't get delivered anyway. However, first-class stamps make no economic sense for acquisition mass mailings."
Know Thy Donor
Thaler notes that Colonial Williamsburg does not use telemarketing except to regain lapsed donors. "We have not tried it for prospects," says Thaler. Focus groups and surveys help Colonial Williamsburg to know donors better.
For example, a survey mailed to 40,000 active donors in February demonstrated just how loyal these donors are. "This was a personal survey, not anonymous," said Jesse. "We used names."
Fifty percent (20,000 donors) took the time to complete the three-page survey. The key findings gave Colonial Williamsburg some heartening and useful data. For example, 200 people asked to be invited to the $1,000 donor group--the Burgesses. In addition, 210 donors said they have included Colonial Williamsburg in their estate plans, bringing the total number of estate expectancies to 500.
The survey produced not only immediate financial gain, but its findings offered fund raisers valuable intelligence on which to base future moves:
* One-third of respondents are retired.
* One-fifth are 70 and older.
* 60 percent are over 50.
* 18 percent are 70 and over.
* Three-fourths have a college degree.
* One-half have a graduate degree.
* Three-fourths are married.
* One-third have no children.
* Half have visited Colonial Williamsburg five times.
* One-third have visited nine times or more.
One question asked about the donor's philanthropic commitment to various charities. Fifty-nine percent put church first; 32 percent had an interest in another historical society; one-fourth considered Colonial Williamsburg most important--higher even than their alma mater.
A four-person research and writing staff has the task of ferreting out prospects and handling writing assignments. This department writes proposals, brochures, letters, acknowledgements and newsletters to special donor groups. It also handles grant writing, especially the more complicated federal grants.
Sarah Houghland, manager, says, "We keep files on major donors, using public sources, online databases like Dialog, newspapers and magazines and personal visits. We also compile guest lists and arrange for small corporate and foundation visits to Colonial Williamsburg."
Planned giving is fast becoming a vital part of the fund-raising mix. Colonial Williamsburg currently has $51 million in bequest expectancies it knows about--$26.6 million in objects. Kenneth M. Wolfe, director of planned giving, says he is "discovering untapped potential in modest donors. The program is starting to take off. Our initial patience is paying off."
Wolfe ran an ad in the foundation's quarterly magazine in the summer of 1987. "We bound in an envelope and sent a planned-giving brochure to people who inquired," recalls Wolfe. He now runs an ad every quarter.
In addition to the ads, Wolfe includes a planned-giving response card in all renewal mailings to prior donors and a brochure in all thank-you letters to every annual donor. Twice a year he places an article about some form of planned giving in the Raleigh Tavern Society newsletter, Advices.
In 1992 Wolfe established the W.A.R. Goodwin Society to "encourage people to share their estate plans with us. It made it easier for us to ask for this information."
Membership in the Goodwin Society includes those who have made an outright provision for the foundation in their estate plan. It also includes those who have bequeathed antiques, folk art and other objects to the foundation for its collections. The types of gifts which qualify are:
* Outright bequests through a will (or trust) of specific property, a dollar amount or a percentage of an estate.
* All life income gifts, including gift annuities, the pooled income fund and individual charitable trusts.
* Primary beneficiary designations in a life insurance policy or retirement plan.
In appreciation of their support, Goodwin Society members receive an 18th century-style certificate printed by hand and mounted on marbleized paper.
Each year the planned-giving program grows. In 1986 there was one life income gift worth $25,000, in 1987 one worth $103,594, in 1988 one worth $18,125, in 1989 eight worth $186,778, in 1990 eight worth $4,309,762, in 1991 eight worth $191,939 and in 1992 13 worth $970,639. "More than the dollar totals, I watch the activity level," says Wolfe. "So far this year we have eight life income gifts worth $267,000."
Cash flow from bequests has also shown robust growth. In 1986, one bequest totaled $1,173, in 1987 five amounted to $63,475, in 1988 six totaled $100,000, in 1989 six totaled $477,988, in 1990 four amounted to $856,284, in 1991 nine hit a record $2,702,085 and in 1992 four totaled $127,789. So far this year cash flow from bequests has risen to $553,285.
Filling Out The Middle
Barry Dress, director of development, says Colonial Williamsburg has "a relatively new development program." It has done well at the top of the pyramid--soliciting major gifts. For example, philanthropist Walter Annenberg has given more than $6 million. Dewitt Wallace gave $17 million to $18 million for the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Gallery. And members of the Rockefeller family have made major gifts, including funds for the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center and a new John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library. Plus at the other end of the pyramid there are 45,000 smaller donors.
Dress wants to fill out the middle of the pyramid with a new initiative to seek major restricted gifts. The program will consist of three steps:
1. Make an inventory of all restricted gift projects.
2. Establish a process to develop priorities and allow good ideas to surface from any source, e.g., through an employee newsletter.
3. Market these priorities to the various constituencies--27 members of the board of trustees, 22 members of the National Council and the four donor groups.
The new initiative will seek specific amounts for particular programs:
* $180,000 for a program of women's history. "Women of Williamsburg couldn't operate a business and could not own property," says Dress.
* $100,000 to endow character interpreters who impersonate 18th century personalities.
* $1 million for curatorial chairs--similar to endowed professorships.
* $100,000 for a program involving conservation of rare breeds of sheep and cows.
* $25,000 for city students' visitation. "A bus company will provide buses to bring kids from Washington, D.C., and south Jersey to Colonial Williamsburg," said Dress.
* $50,000 for a teacher training program. "Teachers in California (where a donor was found), Oklahoma and Alabama travel here for two weeks in the summer for an intensive course in Colonial history. Then they go home and teach other teachers and students," noted Dress. Virginia is close to joining the program, with a local telephone company backing it, he said.
The initiative will also involve places as well as programs:
* Donors will be sought to endow historic buildings, like the Governor's Palace, to provide for its care and maintenance. "In recognition, the donor's name would appear on the scale model of the palace at the Visitors' Center and in the guidebook," said Dress.
* $2.5 million will be sought to recreate the first theater to stage Colonial plays.
The initiative will also allow Colonial Williamsburg to purchase objects--art, porcelain, books, rare maps. For example, Colonial Williamsburg recently purchased a gold mourning ring containing some of George Washington's hair. When Washington died on December 17, 1799, his personal secretary, Tobias Lear, wrote in his journal: "The body was laid in the coffin--at which time I cut off some of the hair." That is presumably the same hair enclosed in the ring.
Colonial Williamsburg has never had a capital campaign in its 17 years of public fund raising. "Capital campaigns do raise sights and discipline at the institution," says Thaler, "but today donors are skeptical, cynical about the high goals."
The recession and increasing competition present a challenge to Colonial Williamsburg. Attendance peaked in 1988 and 1989 at 1.2 million, falling to 920,000 in 1992. "There is competition for leisure time from shopping malls, Disney World and Busch Gardens," says Thaler. "We've got to examine the institution, its purpose. We've got to look at hospitality, courtesy and analyze pricing. People think that museums should be free."
To spur attendance, Colonial Williamsburg is offering a "Good Neighbor Card"--offering discounted tickets to the 30,000 Williamsburg area residents.
Colonial Williamsburg is no stranger to hard times. The place was built on conflict by men who were willing to confront a powerful nation to attain freedom. That same spirit is still alive here and it bodes well for fund raising.