Struggling Canadian Museum of History Sets Low Bar for Public Donations

Article excerpt

History museum aiming low for donations

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OTTAWA - Canada's largest, most-visited museum is relaunching a fundraising campaign to capitalize on historic anniversaries over the next few years.

But the Canadian Museum of History has set the bar very low -- just $10,000 to be raised over each of the next two years, an apparent recognition that ordinary Canadians aren't that interested in bailing out hard-pressed public institutions.

The sprawling structure -- across the Ottawa River from the Parliament Buildings -- has until recently been known as the Museum of Civilization.

The Conservative government in 2012 announced the name change, which took effect just before a series of anniversaries, such as the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War later this year and the 150th birthday of Canada in 2017.

The museum recently issued a tender to find a firm to run its annual giving campaign, which is currently based on a direct-mail appeal to donors.

The tender documents show that in the last three years, the museum -- which welcomes more than a million visitors a year -- has found just 530 such donors.

And officials foresee only tiny annual increments in donations, to just $20,000 by 2017, even with a professional firm running the campaign.

The Canadian War Museum is also under the corporate wing of the history museum. Donations there are more robust, with 8,200 donors in the last three years and a goal of $400,000 to be raised in the next year, according to the tender documents.

But officials also note the average age of so-called "annual giving" donors -- the repeat givers -- is 78 years, and the program will have to reach a new generation in their 40s, 50s and 60s.

The two museums together had expenses of about $92 million in 2012-2013.

The history museum -- an architectural gem in a picturesque setting, opened in 1989 -- is the capital's biggest tourist draw, with family-friendly exhibits and a popular IMAX theatre.

But it is also struggling financially. The history and war museums together ran up a $3-million deficit in 2012-2013 because of the Conservative government's deficit-cutting, which forced them to absorb payroll increases and other rising costs. The maintenance bill is also rising.

The government has provided a one-time, $25-million cash injection over four years to transform two of the history museum's galleries to better reflect its narrower mandate of presenting Canada's past. …