Coast Guard Museum fundraising off to a slow start in 2017

Proposed architectural designs of the New Coast Guard Museum in New London.  (Renderings courtesy of Payette Architects)
Proposed architectural designs of the New Coast Guard Museum in New London. (Renderings courtesy of Payette Architects)

New London — Despite only bringing in about $500,000 in donations since the start of the year, the head of the Coast Guard Museum Association says the group still is budgeting for $13 million in private donations in 2017.

Dick Grahn, CEO of the museum association, said that donations are likely to come toward the end of the year, when companies look at their budgets and may choose to donate available funds.

"As we proceed through the rest of the year, we're prepared to adjust that number either up or down," Grahn said of the fundraising goal by phone Friday.

Fundraising efforts ramped up when the museum association announced its first national fundraising campaign in Washington, D.C., in late April 2015. So far, about $34 million in total has been raised for the estimated $100 million National Coast Guard Museum planned for downtown New London. That includes a recent allotment from the federal government of $5 million and a commitment from the state for up to $20 million. The money from the feds can only be used for exhibitory purposes and the state's commitment is strictly for the construction of a pedestrian bridge to provide safe access to the museum.

The remaining $9 million has come from individuals and corporations. Louisiana shipbuilding mogul Donald "Boysie" Bollinger donated $1 million, as did James David Power III, founder of J.D. Power & Associates, a leading market research company. Power's daughter Susan Curtin is on the museum association's board of directors. The American Waterways Operators, the national advocate for the U.S. tugboat, towboat and barge industry, donated about $2 million through its members.

Grahn and Wes Pulver, executive director of the museum association, said there's "lines in the water" for an additional $30 million.

"No one has told us no," Grahn said.

Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons and Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown were tapped late last year to co-chair a regional fundraising campaign to raise $2.5 million by summer 2018. There hasn't been any update since then on how this segment of the fundraising is progressing.

"I would like to see a broader outreach to members of the public and to the Coast Guard community, including high-ranking Coast Guard officers and noncommissioned offers, to demonstrate the interest at that level that I think will stimulate giving at other levels," Simmons said by phone Friday, when asked how those efforts were proceeding.

In mid-January, when Grahn met with The Day's editorial board, he emphasized that 2017 would be a crucial year for fundraising efforts, and that the museum association was hoping to raise at least $13 million in private donations this year. He also said he was "realistically optimistic" that the museum association would be making an announcement in the spring of a "significant donation" from a Fortune 100 company.

The announcement didn't come, and Grahn said Friday that the company has asked the museum association to provide greater detail about some "educational components" of interest within the museum.

Staff grows to seven

The museum association's board of directors decided in late January to not extend a contract with Odell Simms & Lynch, a Virginia-based firm that was helping to cultivate and make introductions to high-level donors. The firm initially was being paid $20,000 a month, which then was reduced to $12,500 per month.

Grahn said the museum association was "very pleased" with the firm, but the association had developed the interior capability to cultivate those donors itself.

The museum association recently hired a regional gift coordinator to focus on high-level donors within the Northeast and specifically New York, where a high concentration of donations in the U.S. come from. That person will start July 1.

The museum association is using the Massachusetts-based executive search firm Development Guild DDI to find candidates for a chief of development position, who will cultivate donors with ultra-high net worth. That person is expected to be paid a six-figure salary. The search firm has identified 12 "very well-qualified folks who are interested in the position," Grahn said, adding that he would be interviewing the candidates shortly after July 4.

The two positions will bring the number of full-time staff to seven employees being paid at least $500,000 in salaries in total. Pulver said the museum association receives "great assistance" for the salaries through restricted donations.

Additionally, the museum association is working with Carolyn Bess, a fundraising consultant who Grahn said in January was hired for $23,000 to assess fundraising efforts.

j.bergman@theday.com

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