Fundraising firm hired to raise at least $8 million for U.S. Marshals Museum

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 2,324 views 

With $8 million still needed before production of the museum experience can start, the U.S. Marshals Museum Foundation has enlisted the help of national fundraising consulting firm Bentz Whaley Flessner (BWF).

To date, the Museum – located near the Arkansas River in downtown Fort Smith – has raised nearly $38.7 million for the USMM building, campus, and Hall of Honor. There remains $12.6 million to raise to complete the museum. Of that $12.6 million, the Marshals Museum is focusing on $8 million, which will allow the experience inside the Museum (galleries, interactives and exhibits) to be built, said Alice Alt, president of the U.S. Marshals Museum Foundation.

Last year, the museum met, and exceeded, a $500,000 anonymous matching donation given to the project in April, bringing their fundraising during a year plagued by financial hardship for many because of the COVID-19 pandemic to $1 million, Alt said in November 2020.

The museum hired Bentz Whaley Flessner (BWF) as campaign consultants, Alt said, noting this is the first time the foundation has hired a fundraising firm with an entire company of consultants and experts helping to reach the fundraising goal.

“The foundation has hired single national fundraisers (one person, not a team), but this is the first time they have hired a national fundraising firm with a team,” Alt said.

The firm came highly recommended and has been used by philanthropic organizations in Arkansas and around the country, Alt said. Founded in 1983, BWF “collaborates with colleges, universities, medical centers, and other leading nonprofits to build successful and integrated advancement programs,” its website states.

The foundation’s and BWF’s collaboration is focused on mapping out what needs to be done to raise the final campaign amount. Working with the foundation, Patrick Weeks, museum president and CEO, and Alt, BWF’s consultants are working on a naming opportunities menu and recommendations for campaign committees and potential donors, according to information included in the Lindauer Global job prospectus created for the search for a new chief development officer and foundation president. Alt announced in November she would leave the foundation in July because she is moving to Louisville, Ky., where her husband has taken a job.

“An analysis of donors and capacity has been completed and is being used to inform goals, planning, and strategy (for fundraising),” the prospectus said. Once the fundraising campaign is completed, the museum and foundation will focus on an endowment campaign to offset annual operating expenses.

The museum is expected to operate on a $2.5 million annual operating budget of which $600,000 is expected to be raised through annual giving from individuals, corporations, and foundations. The remaining balance will come from ticket sales, events, and other revenue streams, the prospectus said.

The museum estimates opening 12 to 18 months after the $8 million is raised for the museum (the galleries, interactives and exhibits.) Organizers hope to hold a soft opening in spring or summer 2022 with a grand opening held later that could include current and past U.S. presidents, as well as federal, state and local officials, donors, historians and others, Alt said. Weeks told the Fort Smith Advertising and Promotion Commission in February that the museum expects annual attendance of 125,576 during a typical year based on data in a 2018 feasibility study conducted by Leisure Development Partners of London, via a feasibility study in the fall of 2018.

The Arkansas Economic Development Institute, using information from the study, estimated the museum and related tourist expenditures will have a total annual impact on Sebastian County of $13 million to $22 million, Weeks said.

Construction of the approximately 53,000 square feet U.S. Marshals Museum was completed – except for exhibits – in early 2020 with museum staff moving its offices to the new facility shortly after construction was completed. The facility is being used for a variety of occasions and is expected to be a popular destination for weddings and other celebrations, and the museums education programs are ongoing, including virtual “camps” held over spring break and more events for the fall at the museum provided CDC and Arkansas Department of Health restrictions allow, Alt said.

The facility, which has “intimate spaces” of 650 square feet for small gatherings and up to 13,949 square feet for large events, is available for rent, according to the website. Rental starts as low as $200 for the outside West Patio, which has a capacity of 55 people, and goes as high as $3,800 for the full 13,949 square feet of the combined Atrium/Temporary Gallery/1789 Room/Classroom A combined space that can accommodate 698 people.

“We are going into the remainder of the year with a surge of energy and urgency to get these funds raised,” Alt said. “It’s amazing what all we’ve (already) raised for this nationally-scoped institution that tells the story and history of the law enforcement of our constitution because that’s what the (U.S.) Marshals Service is.”