Wisconsin Historical Society

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Wisconsin Preservationists Achieve Fundraising Success Through Resourcefulness and Ingenuity

Fundraising Success Stories | Historic Preservation | Wisconsin Historical Society

Wisconsin’s historic preservation advocates have raised millions of dollars to protect, rehabilitate, adapt, and celebrate the best of the state’s historic past. The business of historic preservation is all about economy, and preservationists often find ways to make sparse resources go a long way. They typically couple meager funds with mighty volunteer time and effort.

Big budget or shoestring, in good times or bad, Wisconsin’s historic preservation organizations have created and maintained a strong presence in their communities. The inspiring examples below demonstrate the resourcefulness, ingenuity, and perseverance exhibited by preservation groups across the state.

Wauwatosa Historical Society

The Wauwatosa Historical Society, established in 1977, relies on strong volunteer participation, popular events like a fun run and an art fair, and the ownership of its historic headquarters. In the mid-1980s, the then-all-volunteer organization raised funds to purchase a stately Victorian home, the historic Kneeland-Walker House, after the house sat on the market for two years. The group purchased the building in 1987, and the organization grew to three part-time employees with a modest budget of $126,000 annually. Today, the group continues to build on its longstanding success. Based on the 2012 Wisconsin volunteer time estimate of $22.14 per hour, Wauwatosa Historical Society volunteers have logged enough sweat hours to more than double their annual budget with in-kind support!

Chippewa Valley Cultural Association

The Chippewa Valley Cultural Association (CVCA) spent decades raising funds to accomplish its preservation goal.  The object of the group’s interest was a historic neoclassical school that had suffered years of neglect. After years of rotating leadership, donated professional restoration work, and volunteer sweat-equity investment in the historic building, the CVCA opened the restored building as the Heyde Center for the Arts. The CVCA now boasts an annual budget of $290,000. These funds allow the group to support two full-time staff and additional ad hoc staff. The organization focuses on cost-effective fundraising and regularly rents out the arts center as a major income stream. The CVCA keeps membership dues low to maintain the high level of engagement the group has experienced since its early development.

Preservation Alliance of La Crosse

Despite sustaining itself on an annual budget of only $10,000 to $12,000, the Preservation Alliance of La Crosse (PAL) has successfully sponsored an awards program since the 1970s. The group’s primary funding source is the sale of collectible medallions that feature local landmarks. In its time, the group has seen La Crosse’s downtown area revive and thrive. This resourceful group has even engaged in small-scale brick-and-mortar activity. PAL is now considering raising funds for a full-time professional staff person.

Marathon County Historical Society

The Marathon County Historical Society, housed in two historic buildings in Wausau, raises funds from diverse sources. Some of these sources include admission to the Society’s historic house museum, rental fees for use of the historic home’s dining room and gardens, and proceeds from items sold in the gift shop. The Society has also twice partnered with local realtors to host open houses of historic homes that were for sale. At each home, Society volunteers welcomed visitors and spoke about the home’s history and architecture. The visitors were then free to roam the house. At the end of the day, the Society hosted a wine-and-cheese reception at one of the homes. The Society charged nonmembers $30.00 and members $25.00—and raised nearly $10,000 at each of these events! Executive Director Mary Forer said these events were a success for the Society because people love to tour historic homes, and the homeowners were happy to participate since the homes were for sale. The homeowners also took responsibility for getting their homes ready, making the event setup easy. The Society planned backup locations in case a home sold before the tour. 

Town of Chase Stone Barn Committee

The small town of Chase in northeastern Wisconsin—population around 3000—is well on its way to accomplishing a mighty feat: restoring one of the last surviving all-fieldstone barns in the country. The historic 60-by-100-foot barn, built in 1903 entirely of fieldstones and lime putty mortar, has two-foot-thick walls and two large arched doorways to accommodate a wagon loaded with hay. The Pulaski Area Historical Society was successful in having the barn placed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 2000. The town of Chase (part of Pulaski) purchased the barn from a local developer in 2007.  When the barn is restored, the stable area will be turned into an agricultural museum to showcase the farming lifestyle of the area’s settlers, and the large open area will host events. The surrounding property will be a park featuring views of the beautiful countryside.

The project has had ongoing and enthusiastic support from area residents as well as people abroad. The Chase Stone Barn Committee has raised funds from many different sources, including event fundraisers such as town picnics, sales of stone barn memorabilia (stoneware mugs, embroidered apparel), grants, and tax-deductible donations. The project’s Facebook page provides news and updates to supporters and the media. In 2012 the project received a $143,000 challenge grant from the Jeffris Family Foundation when the town met a deadline to raise $287,000.  Donors who made larger contributions received an engraved stone or bench that will be displayed at the new park. Committee member Kris Kolkowski said their most successful fundraising was achieved by meeting people face-to-face at their business or kitchen table. When volunteers met with people, they left a booklet about the project containing color photographs and a donation/pledge form, and then made follow-up phone calls. Kolkowski said these meetings allowed potential supporters to see first-hand the volunteers’ passion for the project. 

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