gfs:visit=4 Chabot Space & Science Center


This is Camie Bontaites, captured by moi on the back porch at John and Elizabeth’s old place in Noe Valley. We’ve known each other since 2006, and I’m pleased to say that she’s joined my advisory board. Woo! She’s studied the history and philosophy of science, been with Chabot Space & Science Center for about eight years, and has carved out a fantastic role as Creative Content Producer there. Needless to say, Chabot was near the top of my list for a visit, since it’s a) about SPACE, b) Camie works there, c) it was founded in 1883! and d) she was happy to have me come along.

I went on a day the museum was closed to the public, but open for a summer space camp, so I was able to poke around, all the while tempted to join the kids at their SPACE CAMP.

Chabot Space & Science Center
Chabot Space & Science Center
Chabot Space & Science Center
Chabot Space & Science Center

What was even better is that she also introduced me to Chabot’s director of development, Melissa Russo, and we spent about an hour talking about fundraising and budgets and money stuff. I quickly realized I need to know MUCH MORE about this. I also continue to be utterly charmed and surprised by how forthcoming the folks who work in cultural heritage are with their knowledge and time. I want to be that way.

Anyway, Melissa shared some really interesting info about how Chabot gets along, and a few war stories of her great career in non-profit fundraising. Here are some summary points which I found useful:

  • Of Chabot’s overall budget, about 50% comes from fundraising.
    • Of that, there’s a breakdown between unrestricted funds which are mostly used for operations-like costs, and restricted which are reserved for specific programs (and therefore appealing to donors because they’re able to see direct effects of their donation)
  • Nolo Press in Berkeley is a DIY legal publisher, handy for resources on getting started up
  • Initial funding for a museum that’s just beginning is most likely to come from people who are already interested in what you’re up to. Begin outreach to those folks as soon as you can.
  • The smaller the organization, the more useful and valuable volunteers can be. Be careful with them.
  • There are some for-profit museums, like the International Spy Museum in DC. Must research. I’m thinking a lot about non-profits, income, grants etc. Will write more about that soon.
  • It’s great to use local purveyors for your events. They all have networks too, and often invite a couple of new folks along, which is a great way to build community for your joint, and support your own local community.

I was curious to hear from Melissa how she might go about structuring a brand new fundraising plan, and it was encouraging to hear that the basics are useful: what’s your mission, describe your purpose, what’s the plan, and how much will it cost? Another good point was to think about how this thing would be sustainable.

Setting up a board is also good for any non-profit, essential in some cases. I really liked how Melissa thought about board members, that they’re either “time or treasure.” Not everyone has to be a hugely rich philanthropic type. There are loads of other ways generous experts can help you, as I’m beginning to witness directly, both with my advisors already, and the people they’re connecting me to. A cautionary word too, about boards, was to be careful to set them up so they can’t chuck you out! (Noted.)

Chabot Space & Science Center It’s also good to consider which of your network would be good to engage with as committee members for grant proposals. Now that I’m doing this new thing, and quite unabashedly asking my super smart friends and colleagues for their guidance and advice, it’s practically overwhelming how much they know that I don’t!!

Like, when Camie suggested I try to visit Machine Project on my upcoming visit to Los Angeles. You’ll see in a post or two that that was one of my next gfs:visits, and it was fab.

Oh, and, apart from the excellent Space collection and the growing climate change and other science-related exhibits, Chabot hosts evening astronomy events, and is surrounded by hiking trails and redwoods. Well worth a visit.

Thank you, Camie and Melissa!


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