(January 2, 2009 – Weirs, NH) On Thursday, December 17th, the Finlay Foundation awarded a total of $75,000 to the New Hampshire library, museum and historical society that finished first atop a year-long, foundation-sponsored membership challenge. Over 100 organizations participated in the event.
The Lake Winnipesaukee Historical Society captured the top award in the Historical Society category winning $25,000.
The Laconia Historical Society and Museum won first place in the museum category and the Goffstown Public Library won the library award.
In a surprise development, previously unannounced, the Finlay Foundation awarded an additional $22,500 that was shared by the second and third place finishers in each category. The Laconia Public Library received $2,500 for third place in their respective category.
“Over these last 12 months, it has been an inspiration to review the submissions and hear administrators across the state enthusiastically describe how they have attracted new visitors and members to their institutions,” says Robert Finlay. “My hope is that these unique ideas, approaches and experiences may serve as examples of how to succeed, across the state and beyond.”
The Finlay Foundation was started by Robert Finlay and his wife Karin who live in Peterborough, NH, with their four children. Their goal was to offer future generations opportunities to succeed and to spark a renewed commitment to cultural, civic and community involvement.
The Membership challenge was based on two criteria. The first was the number of new members that museums, historical societies and libraries signed up in year; the second was the percentage change in new members relative to the town or city’s population. The first would benefit the larger cities and the second would make it fair to smaller towns as well.
The Goffstown Public Library attracted 1,519 new members for an increase of 45%, the Laconia Historical & Museum Society added 510 members for an increase of 217%; the Lake Winnipesaukee Historical Society signed up 811 new members for a whopping increase of 624%.
One of the stipulations in being awarded the grant was that each organization would have to share the process that they used to increase membership with other organizations.
Brendan Smith, speaking on behalf of the Lake Winnipesaukee Historical Society, emphasized some of the great work done by Ann Sprague, who was the Executive Director of the Society for four years and recently retired from the position in November. “Ann developed many programs over the years which helped attract new members and was an important part of this award.”
Smith noted that the largest increase in membership came from a group that was right in front of them but that had been virtually untapped as far as membership.
“We have been running bingo games twice a week for the past 12 years and it has been our organization’s primary source of funding,” said Smith. “It was Sandra Lawton, who sits on our Board of Directors and also volunteers at our bingo games, who thought that we should ask these folks to join us, these people who have supported us for years.”
The result was amazing, with hundreds of new members being signed up over the final thirty days of the Finlay Foundation’s challenge.
“The great part is the reaction we’ve gotten from so many of these new members,” says Smith. “They ask us about the membership drive, some bring us artifacts from their homes for the museum, others have attended the historical programs at our museum. I guess this is what it was all about.”
“So much of the legacy we leave to future generations will depend on the hard work and imagination of local libraries, museums and historical societies to recruit and retain learners,” Robert Finlay added. “It is my hope that this initiative has energized the cultural workforce, sparked new interest in these facilities, inspired education and brought our communities closer together.”
Runners-up in the Membership challenge were the Howe Library in Hanover, Hampton Falls Historical Society and the American Independence Museum in Exeter, each receiving $5,000. Third place finishers were the Laconia Public Library, Salisbury Historical Society and the Enfield Shaker Museum, each receiving $2,500.
Along with Robert Finlay at the awards presentation at the Grappone Center in Concord were Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice, Director of the Institute of Museum & Library Services in Washington, D.C.; New Hampshire State Librarian Michael York; and Executive Director of the New Hampshire Historical Society, Bill Veillette.