The landscape

The California Academy of Sciences (the Academy)—an aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, and natural history museum located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park—was founded in 1883 with a mission to explore, explain, and sustain life. The Academy is a powerful voice for biodiversity research and exploration, environmental education, and sustainability across the globe.

After decades of relying on a relatively small cadre of board members and donors, new leadership recognized an opportunity to expand the donor base and significantly grow philanthropy to support the Academy’s exhibits, research, and education programs.

The solution

The Academy and GG+A began their partnership by taking a close look at the institution’s fundraising program to assess its strengths and opportunities for increased fundraising. GG+A found a stable and successful operation with a knowledgeable and hardworking team. But the Academy’s focus on addressing budget shortfalls and maintaining tight control on fundraising expenses failed to position it for long-term growth.

GG+A worked with the Academy to establish several systems to shift its approach. That began with the Academy renewing its focus on board involvement and the role it could play in the institution’s fundraising efforts. GG+A conducted board coaching and worked with the Academy on a new onboarding process and revising roles and responsibilities of the Development Committee. The firm also facilitated a workshop with the Academy’s membership department, including coaching on effective donor communication. GG+A also held workshops to help the fundraising staff develop a new operating plan with a more strategic focus on higher-level individual, corporate, and foundation donors and multiyear gifts.

The result

This strategy of clearly defining the role of the board as partners in fundraising, along with a focus on philanthropic rather than the transactional aspect of member and donor support, has paved the way for more donor-centric conversations. The Academy is well positioned for future success and philanthropic growth with the intent to enhance its mission to explore, explain, and sustain life.