New Approach Results in New Partnerships

Strategy: Balance Your Budget, Collaborate in New Ways, Enhance Your Product

Type of attraction: Museum/Historic Site

Summary: Even before the economic collapse of 2008, the Maine Maritime Museum’s leadership knew that economic development was a real need in Maine.

Even before the economic collapse of 2008, the Maine Maritime Museum’s leadership knew that economic development was a real need in Maine. In 2006, the organization began a process of evaluating the museum’s resources and identifying community needs. Four key areas were targeted: tourism to generate economic impact, an active maritime industry that could be recruited as partners, offering training in traditional and contemporary maritime skills, and a unique quality of place because of the natural environment and the importance of maritime history to Maine.

Within this framework was the need to balance the budget and achieve the mission of stewardship of a collection that includes 20 acres of galleries and exhibits, five original 19th century shipyard buildings, a life-size sculpture of the largest wooden sailing vessel ever built, a Victorian home, river cruises and plenty of hands-on activities.

To accomplish this, the museum would need lots of new partners.

In 2007, the museum took a major step in creating a Business Partner Program. Rather than the traditional “businesses giving money to nonprofits” model, the program was positioned as an alliance between the museum and its corporate and business partners. “We were looking for businesses to support the museum, but in return we connect the businesses with our 45,000 visitors, staff and volunteers,” says executive director Amy Lent.

Business partners are prominently featured on the museum’s website and are included in an Honor Roll display in the lobby and in the quarterly newsletter. Partners range from retail shops to arts and entertainment venues, restaurants, boat cruise businesses, financial organizations and many others.

In the program’s third year, the museum already has 105 partners, up from 60 in 2009. “Even during the economic downturn we were adding partners,” Lent says. “People are seeing it is a value for them because it is helping them succeed in their businesses. We publish the list of partners a lot and remind people to use their services.” 

Even nonprofits have become business partners for a modest $100 annual fee. Maine Island Trails Association, for example, wanted to offer more to its 4,000 members. “In our partnership, we give their members a discount to attend museum programs, and they promote us to their membership. It’s a win-win for everyone,” Lent says.

The museum also sought partnerships with the Navy League, a nonprofit that educates citizens about the importance of the Navy to national security, and with Bath Ironworks which is located next to the museum and builds destroyers for the Navy. Both partnerships created new opportunities. In return for space for the group’s meetings the Navy League provides speakers for the museum’s programs, and the two groups split the proceeds. At Bath Ironworks, the museum arranged to give trolley tours, making it the only shipyard in America with behind-the-scenes tours. “The docent is a retired Ironworks employee,” Lent says. “For four years running, every seat is sold every time. We are able to connect people with the maritime industry in ways they can’t do on their own.”

For more information, visit www.mainemaritimemuseum.org; contact Amy Lent, lent@maritimeme.org.