Last Look : An Interview With David Duncan, Director of Membership and Development, Civil War Preservation TrustNovember 2009 By Joe Boland
Civil War Preservation Trust resulted from a merger between two battlefield preservation organizations — the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites and the Civil War Trust — in late 1999, so at just 10 years old, it is fairly young as a national nonprofit. In the decade since the merger, CWPT has raised about $75 million from private donors, which has gone toward protecting a total of 28,000 acres of hallowed ground.
Here, we talk with Director of Membership and Development David Duncan about the organization and its fundraising strategies and challenges.
FundRaising Success: How do you fund your mission?
David Duncan: Even after 10 years, direct mail continues to produce the majority of our revenue, with individual major gifts making up most of the rest, with an occasional bequest or foundation grant giving an added boost. Our newly redesigned Web site, www.civilwar.org is quickly gaining ground, however, and we get better each month in securing online gifts.
FS: What are the biggest challenges your organization faces as far as fundraising is concerned? How do you overcome them?
DD: The acquisition of new members/donors continues to be one of our biggest challenges. The only way I know to overcome it is to continue to mail to core lists, testing whenever possible. Also, communicate with everyone from the board of trustees on down that — despite the impulse for caution — you absolutely, positively still must be in the mail; you cannot shut down acquisition. Limited testing in some of the donor models may also help, but I’m not convinced it is a panacea. Fortunately, we have a very low attrition rate, so even with our modest acquisition numbers, we are able to keep our overall membership steady.
We also have yet to get to that one person capable of an eight-figure gift who wants to make Civil War battlefield preservation his personal legacy, but I know they are out there!
FS: Do you foresee any big changes in the way you reach potential donors and other supporters in the near future?
DD: Unless the Postal Service goes out of business, direct mail will always play a role in our fundraising. Clearly, however, a world-class Web site can provide so much richer content than anything we could ever afford to put into an envelope, and at a greatly reduced cost. This is no great insight, but I believe the key to our future success is to have all of these channels working together and supporting each other.
1156 15th St., NW, Ste. 900
Washington, DC 20005
Staff: 30 full-time employees in two offices, one in Washington, D.C., and one in Hagerstown, Md.
Mission: The Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) is the nation’s largest national nonprofit organization devoted to battlefield preservation. By protecting these hallowed grounds and educating the public about their significance, CWPT seeks to promote appreciation of these historic landscapes and the vital role they played in directing the course of our nation’s history. With the support of its 55,000 members nationwide, CWPT has preserved more than 28,000 acres of land at important Civil War battlefields in 20 states.