Site Rentals: The Challenging Intersection of Mission and Money

Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center, President Lincoln’s Cottage

Contributed  by Sahand Miraminy, Events and Programs Coordinator at President Lincoln’s Cottage

Museums and historic sites may find themselves asking whether or not a site rental program would be beneficial to their operations. Wear and tear, staffing, equipment, and liability are just a few of the daunting requirements that come to mind. Simultaneously, outside organization and clients may also have similar reservations. For obvious reasons, most museums and historic sites have greater rules and regulations than a typical event venue. However, it’s important for people to know why. At President Lincoln’s Cottage, we try to make sure that everyone involved with the event, from planners to wait staff, know that Lincoln made important decisions while living here. More so than aesthetics, it’s those decisions and ideas that draw clients to our site today.

Although site rental programs are most often implemented to create revenue (in our case for preservation/restoration related efforts), it’s important to recognize the other benefits. Like our general visitors, clients and attendees to special events and site rentals are able to experience the site, our exhibits, and offerings. Many of them want to use this place just as Lincoln did, a place to hold important meetings, reflect, and entertain with friends, colleagues, and loved ones. We recently had the opportunity to create new rental packages for our site. It was important for us to represent our most popular offerings in a clear and comprehensive fashion, but also to provide the opportunity whenever we could, to allow for meaningful interpretation of the site. Every event we hold gives attendees the opportunity to learn something, whether it’s through tours, a program, an exhibit, or merchandise we offer as add-ons. We strive to be mission related in everything we do, but the waters are a little muddied when it comes to renting the Cottage for a corporate party.

One of our driving principles is: to engage the public in an exploration of Abraham Lincoln’s leadership and ideas, and preserve President Lincoln’s Cottage to nurture reflection and discourse on liberty, justice, and equality. Site rentals make us money, which helps us carry out our mission. However, we wanted to think beyond that. This past year, we launched our M.A.S.E. program (Mission Advancement through Special Events). Through this program, organizations with related or supporting missions and principles may apply and qualify for reduced or modified rental fees. Not only does this program strategically allow mission related events to take place on site, it helps identify potential partnerships and opportunities for the future, not only with the organizers of the event, but also the guests. It’s important to recognize that many of these guests are people who may have never visited our site on their own, maybe not intentionally, but perhaps because it’s often difficult to identify our commonalities until we have had a glass of wine. In the past year alone, we have gained well over a hundred new members, strengthened partnerships, and have identified numerous possibilities for the future through this program.

 How does your organization use special events to further your mission and overall development?

South Lawn, President Lincoln’s Cottage

One Response to “Site Rentals: The Challenging Intersection of Mission and Money”

  1. January 10, 2013 at 4:15 pm, SWJenn said:

    I think this is a great point for sites such as President Lincoln’s Cottage where the historical content of the site is available to renters. However there are pitfalls to renting space that should be acknowledged.

    It is important to find ways to engage renters with your mission. We do a lot of weddings and corporate meetings in our large multi-purpose ballroom, and when those guests are here they do not have access to the collections portion of the museum. Partly because those events are often held outside of museum hours when the collection is not normally open, partly because we do not have the ability to staff the collection for every event, and partly because people are busy attending the event they came to, not touring our collection.

    The problem created is this: people don’t donate to or buy memberships to banquet halls.

    We have been very grateful for the rental income which has kept the museum afloat in recent years, but we’ve seen a drop off in donations that we partly attribute to facility users not having a buy-in to the mission.

    We’ve also been in the difficult position of not wanting to turn down a high dollar rental in favor of an educational program that won’t bring in half as much money, so we cancel or don’t schedule our own programming leading to even less connection of our mission with the community. Our programming has suffered, the perception in the community is that nothing interesting is happening here, thus no need to join or donate.

    So undertake facility rental carefully and mindfully. It can be a great way to bring in funds, get new feet in the door, and put unused space to work, but if care isn’t taken to connect those visitors with your mission, you could be creating new problems.


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