Why is Mount Vernon so well funded? An obvious reason is that it’s the home of our first president, and therefore commands a certain amount of respect and a special place in our American history. What you may not be aware of is that Mount Vernon receives absolutely no government funding and relies entirely on visitors who pay to see the house, and the generosity of many Americans who can’t picture this country without George and Martha Washington’s home.
So how is it that the stewards of Mount Vernon are able to afford to continue the maintenance on such a large estate, along with a paid staff in administration, and all the other programs that they conduct and/or sponsor? One major component is smart marketing.
Recently, I received a mailing piece from the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union, a private, non-profit organization (501c3) founded in 1853. The theme of the mailer was “A Love Story.” The enclosed two-page letter, printed on both sides, begins by introducing the popular author of many novels, Mary Higgins Clark. Often on the New York Times Best Seller List, and with over 85 million books in print worldwide, Ms. Clark’s name is one that many people instantly associate with quality storytelling. Mount Vernon sought permission to offer her out-of-print novel entitled Mount Vernon Love Story as part of a fund-raiser commemorating the 259thanniversary of George and Martha’s marriage. With a donation of $29 or more, donors would receive a copy of Ms. Clark’s book, or if desired, all of the money could go to the charity. What a clever, smart tie-in that I predict will be wildly successful for Mount Vernon.
So, what can your historical society do to tie-in a person, prior event in history, or similar idea, that can reach residents in your area and beyond, and that touches both the head and the heart at the same time?
A few weeks ago, I photographed a fund-raising event for the 1803 House in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. The house was built by Jacob Ehrenhardt, Jr., the son of Jacob, Sr., who, along with Sebastian Knauss, donated 100 acres of land to establish the settlement that is today the town of Emmaus. One descendent of that family is Dale Earnhardt, Jr., of NASCAR fame. He and his dad are credited with the birth and success of this racing form. Dale visited the house in July 2018, and is actively tracing his past, both here and in Europe. If he has a desire to make sure that that the house remains standing, perhaps he can find a way to support it. The fan base for NASCAR is enormous. It’s not unusual for 300,000 to attend a race at Indianapolis alone. Is there a natural tie-in here? Can a tailored mailing list be rented? Could there be a compelling offer or product that would motivate potential donors? The answer to all these questions is yes, but when. There are a number of important renovations that need to be attended to sooner than later.
Oh, and did we donate to Mount Vernon as a result of receiving their mailing piece? What do you think?