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Lessons For the Rest of Us

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is opening its new Art of the Americas wing having raised $500 million for this purpose. Quite an achievement, even for a big, successful museum like MFA. How did they do this? What was the secret to their campaign’s success? What lessons can the rest of us working the nonprofit beat take away from this accomplishment?
I believe it starts at the top. In 1994, the MFA board hired Malcolm Rogers to be their director. You can see him on this video from their website From the beginning, Mr. Rogers sought to make MFA more accessible. So people like US Reperesentative Mike Capuaono wouldn’t drive or walk or take the T past the museum and feel unwelcomed. So Mr. Rogers the director extended the hours, offered more free access time, reached out to the city to develop a more inviting atmosphere.
Early in the 21st century Ronald and Anita Wornick of San Francisco met Malcolm Rogers, over time developed a relationship, and decided that their $5 million collection of contemporary decorative art belonged in this new venture: the Art of Americas wing.
And closer by in Greater Boston, Penny Venik, a director in the Fidelity Magellan group, became interested in the Museum of Fine Arts and in 2000 became an overseer,then in 2004 joined the board and became a leading advocate and investor in the fund to build this new wing.
So from the Boston area, and from locations across the globe, people came to know Malcolm Rogers, other leaders at MFA including Patricia Jacoby who led the development effort, and shared in the vision for this new, ambitious project to show off American (in all senses) art in a commodious setting.
By 2008, just before the worst recession since the depression took hold, the campaign was complete.
The New York Times, the Boston Globe, media of all scope and stripe are writing now about this great achievement, which will open to the public November 20, 2010.
As we learn more about how the MFA board and staff succeeded in this project, we can see the vision they developed, their ability to convey that vision to interested people of wealth; as well as to people who enjoy art, take pleasure in seeing it in a fine setting, and in a small way want to help make it work.
There are thousands of nonprofits, community benefit organizations, throughout New England. Each has a unique story to tell. Those who have a vision and can communicate it well, and who make the story about the art or the human service and not about the institution seem to do best in getting that message to take.
Congratulations to the Museum of Fine Arts for accomplishing this great addition to cultural life for us in New England, and for tourists who come to enjoy it from across the USA and around the world.
For those of us working to advance nonprofit causes, we have much to learn from this shining example.
Let’s start finding those Lessons for the Rest of Us.

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