The Loudoun Museum has been given one last chance to get its financial house in order.
The Board of Supervisors on July 21 approved an agreement with the museum that will provide $156,000 in funding to keep it operating through June, by a 7-1-1 vote. Ron A. Meyer (R-Broad Run) opposed the plan, and Tony R. Buffington Jr. (R-Blue Ridge) was absent.
The agreement spells out quarterly milestones the museum must meet to receive the funds, and requires each member of the museum’s board of trustees to contribute or raise at least $3,000 annually.
Loudoun Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin), who serves on the museum’s board of trustees, said the agreement satisfied three of the supervisors’ main objectives: hiring an executive director who would focus on fundraising; making county funding contingent on certain benchmarks; and creating a program advisory board to provide volunteer support, allowing trustees to shift their focus to fundraising.
“I think this is a real opportunity for the Loudoun Museum to grow and prosper,” Higgins said. “The Loudoun Museum is in a situation where they need to build an endowment, bring more money in and find a way to grow.”
For years, the county has been providing most of the operating funds for the little-known local-history museum, which is housed in buildings on Loudoun and Wirt streets in downtown Leesburg. The museum’s financial struggles worsened after the county started reducing its subsidies in 2009.
After the supervisors cut the county’s contribution from $63,000 to $36,000 last year, museum officials informed the supervisors that they would consider dissolving the museum and dispersing its collection. The county began looking into the possibility of taking over ownership of the museum.
A year ago, the supervisors provided $55,000 to keep the museum running through June of this year, under the condition that the trustees come up with a plan to achieve financial stability. Nine months later, they included $156,000 for the museum in the budget for fiscal 2017 and directed staff members to begin working on the agreement to establish benchmarks for dispersing the funds.
Several supervisors characterized the agreement — negotiated by county staff members and Elizabeth Whiting, president of the museum’s board of trustees — as a “last chance” for the museum to get on its feet financially. The proposed agreement included a requirement that each trustee contribute or raise $2,000 annually.
At the July 21 board meeting, Supervisor Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) asked how that amount was determined. Megan Bourke of the county’s Department of Management and Budget said the figure was determined during negotiations, and that some trustees had found the requirement to be daunting.
Saines said he thought $2,000 was not enough,and moved that it be increased to $3,000.
“If they feel that $2,000 or $3,000 or $4,000 is a daunting task for them to help raise for their organization that they say they care about, then they probably need to reassess if they need to be on the board of directors for that organization,” Saines said.
Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) disagreed.
“People come with their time and their talent, and we say, ‘Unless you have the talent to raise money, which everybody does not, or you have money in your pocket, you cannot serve,” Randall said, adding that fundraising would be the main focus of the executive director.
“The reality is that there needs to be a different type of board of directors, with different people on it,” Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said. “This isn’t an organization that needs a board at this point with talents other than fundraising.” He said there are many people “of significant means,” particularly in western Loudoun, who are interested in history and preservation.
[Requiring $3,000] “is nothing [for] a lot of these people,” Letourneau said. “I’ll go ahead and issue a public call right now to the folks who care about history and preservation of Loudoun County: Come on in and be an angel and save this organization, and write a big check . . . and let’s save this thing.”
The supervisors accepted Saines’s amendment raising the annual trustee contribution.
After the vote, Whiting said some of the trustees were “quite concerned” about the individual fundraising requirement.
“They know they can’t meet that out of their own resources, and they’re concerned about meeting that as a mandatory measure of success,” she said in an interview. She said the trustees would meet soon “to discuss what we think we can do and what we need to do.”