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Case Study: How a Nonprofit Moved Toward a For-Profit Marketing Model to Advance Its Nonprofit Mission

by Kimberly Smith  |  
May 29, 2007

Company: Museum of Science, Boston
Contact: Doug Burbo, Senior Corporate Development Officer
Location: Boston, MA
Industry: Nonprofit, B2C
Annual revenue: Confidential
Number of employees: Confidential

Quick Read:

For more than a century, Boston's Museum of Science has depended on government grants and donors to finance its stated goal of encouraging "interest in and further understanding of science and technology and their importance for individuals and for society." The institution attracts about 1.6 million visitors a year, including more than 50,000 Museum members who visit regularly.

Corporate branding and marketing for fundraising purposes hadn't been given much thought, but in 2001, as the U.S. stock market collapsed and the global economy slowed, the Museum found itself stretched for donors. It realized it was time to start marketing itself.

The Museum hired Doug Burbo in 2002 as Senior Corporate Development Officer. Experienced in marketing and business development but new to the nonprofit world, Burbo quickly saw the potential benefits corporate donors could bring to the Museum. At that time, however, there was a limited track record of successful crossovers between for-profit and nonprofit entities, and the notion of corporate sponsorship was not welcomed by Museum staff concerned about the institution's independent reputation.

Pioneering any major change naturally involves its share of challenges; this study reveals how one very traditional organization was able to make the transition.

The Challenge:

Times were changing, and the Museum of Science's list of ambitious goals faced hurdles: rising costs, government-funding cuts, and a global stock market collapse that left potential donors with less spare cash. New market conditions called for creative thinking and nontraditional approaches borrowed from—and involving sponsorship with—the for-profit sector. Embracing this model, however, involved some challenges.

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Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via

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