Fundraising moves into ‘warp drive’ at museum

After a slow 2011, the fundraising campaign for the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery is heading into what the museum is calling Warp Drive, an attempt to raise the final $2.8 million needed to reach its ultimate goal.

When fundraising began in 2005, a $26.7 million goal was set to construct the $14 million facility, furnish it with exhibits and crown the building with a digital dome. To date, the campaign has raised $23.9 million through a combination of city taxes and donations from corporations, foundations and individuals.

The museum will use the funds it has already raised to open on Nov. 10, with two initial phases of exhibits open to the public, as well as a patio and outdoor learning area.

The eventual openings of the third phase of exhibits, the digital dome and the outdoor amphitheater will depend on the outcome of Warp Drive, the official name for the museum’s final funding push. The aim of the drive is to raise $1.4 million for the exhibits and amphitheater and $1.4 million for the construction of the digital dome by Dec. 31.

Warp Drive fundraising will include face-to-face meetings with potential donors, as well as written proposals, according to Annette Geiselman, co-executive director of the Museum of Discovery.

Also, in late summer, sneak-peek fundraising events will be held in the museum. And the museum’s annual Brainiac Bowl, which raised $8,000 in 2011, will be held in October.

The museum has put out a request for proposal for the construction of the digital dome, a 360-degree “immersive” theater that will accommodate an audience of 85 in tiered stadium seating.

To finance the dome, a special fundraising drive was launched called the “1,000 Give $1,000” campaign. The idea behind the program is that if 1,000 donors each give $1,000, $1 million will be collected, and the dome will be halfway paid for. So far, nearly $600,000 has been raised for the construction of the $2 million dome.

The fabrication process for the seven exhibits that will be part of the first two phases will begin in June, Geiselman said.

The process will begin with the largest objects first. The museum will include many aspects that tell the story of Fort Collins, from its beer culture to the fossilized remains of a 42-foot-long plesiosaur, a water-dwelling dinosaur found at Horsetooth Reservoir.

One special point of pride will be the inclusion of two live black-footed ferrets, which were brought back from the brink of extinction by Fort Collins Natural Areas staff, said Cheryl Donaldson, co-executive director of the Museum of Discovery.

The Fort Collins Natural Areas program is one of many donors to the museum, providing $1 million to help educate the public about recreational sites in the region.

The Community Foundation of Northern Colorado helped to jump-start the fundraising campaign by providing a $100,000 “challenge grant” in 2006. In making that initial donation, the Community Foundation challenged the museum to raise another $500,000 for its endowment fund, a challenge the museum met.

The Community Foundation has served as the manager of the museum’s endowment, taking care of various investments and handling any complexities related to gifts given to the museum, said Ray Caraway, president of the Foundation.

The Foundation, a collection of approximately 300 individual charitable funds, has contributed more than $500,000 to the museum since 2006, Caraway said.

Elsewhere, the city’s Building on Basics tax, passed by voters in 2005, has raised $6.2 million for the museum’s coffers so far.

About $3.5 million in private donations were made even before the tax was passed by voters. Public contributions made in the first year of fundraising brought in more than $10.7 million.

The following three years brought in more than $1 million each, before donations ramped back up in 2009 and 2010, with $2.7 million and $5.4 million raised in each of those years, respectively.

Giving, however, dropped off in 2011, with the campaign bringing in about $769,000 in public contributions last year.

Geiselman was not concerned about the decline in giving.

“In a campaign, you traditionally secure the leadership and major gifts first,” she said. “At the tail end of the campaign is when you reach out to the community. The result is many, many smaller gifts. For example, in our campaign, in 2010 we had 125 donors and in 2011 we had 353. And, many of our 2011 donors are new. Our hope is that they will continue to support the museum after we open, too.”

So far in 2012, major contributions have been made by the Dellenbach family, which donated $100,000, and Hewlett-Packard, which donated $285,000 worth of technology in February.

Exhibits in the third phase of construction will focus on energy and sustainability, water, live animals and early childhood.

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Molly Armbrister covers real estate, banking and health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. She can be reached at 970-232-3139, or

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