On a visit to the Indiana Medical History Museum (IMHM) as a graduate student in museum studies, Sarah Halter fell in love with the museum and with the 1890s building.
She served as an intern at the museum, and worked her way up over the years to become the executive director in 2014. Over the past four years, Halter has transformed the museum, growing its annual budget by 30 percent and nearly doubling the museum’s visitation.
While she learned information about museum administration, collections management, and grant writing during her master’s degree program, Halter did not have experience fundraising until she stepped into her current role. Cue The Fund Raising School.
“I had heard about The Fund Raising School before I became the executive director from a colleague, who mentioned that she had taken one of the courses and loved the experience,” she said. “She encouraged me to do it, but at the time, I wasn’t fundraising in that role. It wasn’t until I became the executive director that I realized I needed education and training in fundraising.”
So, she started with the course Fundraising for Small Nonprofits.
“It was a good first step to see whether the more intensive courses would be worth the investment, because I had to make a case to my board in order to take these courses,” Halter said.
“I loved the course. I saw a lot of value in it. And my board was very excited when I came back with a lot of new knowledge and resources.”
Halter and her board believed that the more intensive courses would provide important resources and information in order for the museum to grow. She and a board member decided to attend Principles and Techniques of Fundraising, the first course in the Certificate in Fund Raising Management.
“The course was amazing. It was so eye-opening; we had never had a professional fundraising staff before and hadn’t taken fundraising very seriously. However, I think that course changed the mindset of the board,” Halter explained.
“We all recognized that the museum had this incredible potential, but no one had been pushing for it. When the board member and I came back from the first course and presented what we had learned, everyone was really excited and could begin to imagine what we could do.”
Around that time, multiple structural issues with the historic Old Pathology Building that houses the museum began to arise or make themselves more known.
“First, we had all of this horrible water intrusion, which caused literal waterfalls in the building every time it rained,” Halter said. “It was doing all of this damage to the building. To fix the roof’s masonry, the first estimate given to my predecessor was around $500,000, which was almost six times our annual budget at that time. Few thought it was possible to raise that amount of money.
“When I became the executive director, we hired an architectural firm to conduct an assessment of the building to figure out what else needed to be fixed. That estimate was around $2 million.
“It was quite a shock but we realized that the damage was getting worse, so if we didn’t do something, we would lose this incredibly unique, historic building and we couldn’t let that happen.”
So, Halter and her board launched head-first into a capital campaign. At the same time, she was working through more of The Fund Raising School courses. Along with several successful grants and her applied knowledge from the courses, Halter and her board began to see success in the campaign.
“After I returned from these courses, we began thinking about major gifts, strategic capital campaigns, bequests, planned giving, etc. After every course, we felt more confident in our abilities,” she said.
At one point, the museum reached 50 percent of its goal for the campaign.
“Nobody ever thought we could fix the roof, much less raise one million dollars. We decided to hire a consultant because we had had so much success. The launch of this campaign and the knowledge I was learning from the courses was what really changed minds,” Halter said.
In addition to the success of the capital campaign and the growth in the budget and visitation, the museum has become more visible in the community and partnered with other organizations such as the Indy Public Library, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, the Candles Holocaust Museum, Preserve Greater Indy, and Marian University, among others.
“We’re reaching out to new people and recruiting more donors. The average gift size has increased, and visitation has increased every year since 2014. We’re making a lot of progress,” Halter said.
And she continually sees the benefit in The Fund Raising School courses and the completion of the Certificate in Fund Raising Management.
“I’m able to keep up with the best practices and new ideas and research. I’m also able to learn from other classmates in the courses. I’m amazed at the really interesting things other nonprofit professionals are doing,” she said. “I also have access to all of the experts that the school has. If there are policies that we need to implement, I can ask the experts at The Fund Raising School for advice or previous examples on how to implement those policies.”
Halter doesn’t feel like she’s finished either.
“I’d like to take more courses. I believe that you have to make it a priority to attend. If you do, it’s not only an investment in yourself as a professional, it’s an investment for your organization as well,” she explained. “These courses have helped my board and me grow confident in the work we’re doing. We’re less likely to dismiss ideas that five years ago would have seemed too big or too unmanageable.”
And so the IMHM, Halter, and her board, who have already grown the museum to what was previously thought impossible, continue to dream big.
“We’d like to build a more traditional museum, where we can display more of the huge collection of artifacts we have and feature changing exhibits. We’re also imagining ways we can use our grounds that embrace the hospital’s history,” Halter said.
“We’re writing new policies that didn’t exist before and updating older ones. We’re hoping to expand our staff and increase the growing number of public programs and partnerships that we already have.
“We also want to expand our donor base and build relationships with people who are already supporting us. We’re working to learn more about our visitors; who they are, why we’re important to them, and what capabilities they think we have.
“We have a lot of potential. I’ve been able to use the information from The Fund Raising School to have conversations and act on them about the growth of the museum and all that it can be.”