How Grants Add Up, and Keep Giving

Like nonprofits everywhere, the Roberson Museum and Science Center in Binghamton faced a crisis in the wake of the financial crash of 2008. “We were looking at a deficit of a couple of hundred thousand dollars,” says Terry McDonald, Roberson’s executive director.

A quick cash infusion might have helped. But Roberson’s board and staff opted for more lasting solutions.

Roberson Museum panorama image

With assistance from three funding partners--the Community Foundation, the Stewart W. and Willma C. Hoyt Foundation and the George A. and Margaret Mee Charitable Foundation--Roberson engaged the New York Council of Nonprofits (NYCON) to conduct an in-depth assessment of its operations. The Community Foundation’s $3,000 share came from the Dick and Marion Meltzer Fund.

After months of close scrutiny, NYCON recommended a list of changes designed to put Roberson on a sustainable path. One key suggestion was to hire a full-time marketing professional.

That’s tough advice to heed when an organization is running in the red, says McDonald. “It felt like an impossible task.” But, as NYCON’s consultants pointed out, one often needs to spend money to bring money in. With that endorsement, plus a $6,000 grant in 2011 from the Community Foundation’s Community Fund, Roberson brought a marketing expert on staff.

Another recommendation was that Roberson take better advantage of one of its outstanding assets, its planetarium. By replacing that facility’s outmoded equipment with new, digital systems, the museum could attract a much larger audience.

Grants from the George A. and Margaret Mee Charitable Foundation and the Dr. G. Clifford and Florence B. Decker Foundation funded that purchase. But Roberson also needed someone to manage the high-tech gear.

“The Community Foundation recently helped Roberson by supporting some new staff who have come in to work with this new digital equipment,” says McDonald. That support took the form of a $15,000 grant from the Community Fund.

Over the years, the Foundation has also supported specific programs at Roberson. In 2012, for instance, our Harriet Ford Dickenson Fund provided $10,000 toward the Museum’s acclaimed Civil War exhibition.

But we’re especially proud of the impact we’ve made by helping Roberson develop and implement long-term strategies to better serve the community. Today, Roberson has no debt, McDonald says. Its galleries are bustling, its membership roster has grown, and it has become a hub for community activity.

In a time of peril for so many nonprofits, Roberson appreciates the way in which the community has rallied to help secure its future, says McDonald. “We were fortunate to get support from local foundations that could lead to a path to real sustainability.”

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