A decade ago, when I guided the New York Botanical Garden to develop a more effective 2nd-generation Web site, the institution’s (and it was just that) renaissance was just beginning.
After years of being known mostly to socialite supporters and dog walkers, the Garden was beginning to come back to life under the spirited guidance of president and consummate fundraiser Gregory Long. Signs of strength included stronger relationships with new donors beyond the waning society contingent that had supported it for so long and success in putting its unique research agenda front and center, while remaining a treasured destination for nature-starved New Yorkers and others.
Founded in 1891, the Garden is one of the world’s great collections of plants, the New York metro region’s leading educational center for gardening and horticulture, and an international center for plant research. The Garden is alive with opportunities for discovery, from an "ecotour" of the world in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory to an innovative indoor/outdoor science museum for kids to 50 exquisite gardens and plant collections, all on a 250-acre National Historic Landmark site in New York City’s Bronx borough.
But this multi-faceted identity — one of the Garden’s greatest strengths — has also been a significant marketing challenge. At the same that one focus inform another — e.g., research findings inform exhibit designers — they can be just plain confusing to external audiences.
Long’s marketing and fundraising success, despite this challenge, can be attributed to "the kind of planning process that starts from the bottom and involves staff members at every level. It’s clearly worked here, since $600 million has been raised during the past 15 years, including $250 million for such capital improvements" (as cited in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal).
But his real success is showcased base in the brilliance and innovation in the Garden’s current exhibition, Darwin’s Garden: An Evolutionary Adventure. This story of the advent of evolution is told through horticulture (33 stops through the Garden), and is an ideal metaphor for NYBG’s unique combination of research, public gardens and living museum. Its opening is an unqualified triumph; and a great model for nonprofit marketers seeking to rejuvenate or reposition their organizations.
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