Hard Times at Maine Historic Site

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July 20, 2011; Source: Keep MEcurrent.com | The Willowbrook Village Museum  is an historic museum that focuses on rural life in 19th and early 20th-century Maine, but the challenges that the organization is facing reflect a current and very real trend with nonprofits generally and historic sites specifically throughout the state. KeepMecurrent.com reports that because the museum has fallen short of some $120,000 in annual operating costs, it only has cash on hand to operate through October 2012.

According to the story, Willowbrook Village Museum went through a similar period in 2009 but managed to rebound by selling property that was not essential to the organization’s mission along with duplicate items from the collection. Executive director Amelia Chamberlain told KeepMECurrent that even then, three separate auctions “brought in just barely enough to cover a shortfall.”

Like other nonprofits throughout the state and the country, Willowbrook Village Museum’s challenges have been heightened in the past few years by an endowment that has shrunk by about half, along with converging needs for costly repair and restoration work and updates to exhibitions and programming. Board president and son of the museum’s founder, Douglas King, explained that these added expenses “accelerated the need to find alternate, consistent sources of funding to cover the shortfall.” Commenting on the severity of his organization’s current situation, King added, “We have just about run out of options to raise more money.”

For added perspective, Scott Schnapp, director of the Maine Association of Nonprofits, observed that the “sector is in the midst of a pretty significant transition in terms of access to resources and sustainability.” As a survival tip, particularly for nonprofit leaders in Maine, which he described as “a poor state with philanthropic resources near the bottom in terms of the rest of the nation,” he offered “income diversification” as the key.

As at other historic sites in the state, attendance at Willowbrook Village Museum has declined from a high of about 18,000 visitors in 1976 to about 5,600 visitors annually for the past few years. Hoping for a follow-up to her organization’s rebound from 2009, executive director Chamberlain is now looking at ways that added revenue from special events and membership will help her  cover operational costs for the next few years.—Anne Eigeman