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African American Museum’s fundraising models: King Memorial and Obama campaign

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Laura Bush, a member of the advisory council for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, asked a friend at the Houston Endowment to meet with the museum’s founding director last year.

Though the endowment only supported local causes, he went ahead. After hearing the presentation of Lonnie Bunch, he asked the board for an exception. The endowment ended up giving $500,000.

The ways to raise money for the museum have ranged from boardrooms to living rooms. A reception at a Northwest Washington home, aimed at under-40s, netted $150,000 in one evening. The group was mainly Howard graduates and local activists who were invited by political activist and engineer Sinclair Skinner to hear a presentation on the future museum.

Another reception Laura Bush arranged in Dallas brought in $150,000 in one night.

Nobody is being left out when it comes to raising $250 million for what will be the largest public repository of African American life ever built in the United States. “It will be owned by a variety of people,” says Bunch.

To date, the staff has lined up nearly $100 million from private sources, with $150 million to go. Wal-Mart, American Express, Boeing, Target and UnitedHealth Group each contributed $5 million. Foundation gifts were led by $10 million each from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lilly Endowment. The largest individual contribution has been $2 million from Northern Virginia businessman and philanthropist Earl W. Stafford and his wife. Their foundation underwrote a ball for disadvantaged citizens for President Obama’s inauguration.

Congress also pledged $250 million and so far has approved $119.9 million, with $85 million pending in the 2013 budget request.

One benefit of this week’s groundbreaking is that donors who have been sitting on the fence will now see the reality. As Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), one of the sponsors of the establishing legislation, said, “No one is going to leave a hole in the ground on the National Mall.”

Going forward, Delphia Duckens, associate director of external affairs, says the fundraising will target five regional areas and borrow tactics from the 2008 Obama campaign and the drive to build the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial.

“We are going to look at each market — Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago, New York and Atlanta — and look at the people who are influential and affluent,” said Duckens. The prominent folks will be asked to host fundraisers and tap their associates.

The pace will accelerate. Next week a law firm in Miami is hosting an event. “So far the corporate and foundation gifts are the majority of the donors,” said Duckens. The King statue campaign profited from the sororities and fraternities, and Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority has donated $500,000 to the museum. The Obama drive was fueled by an online component, which the museum is launching in June.

Even when the doors open, the fundraising will not end. Says Bunch, who is still smiling at this never-ending reality, “we need money for an endowment because the federal money is uncertain.”

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