News and Events
Blog Post – Determining Our Future with Compass by Erin Mast
In 2008, the National Trust for Historic Preservation completed a $15 million restoration of President Lincoln’s Cottage, offering the public a first-hand glimpse of the home that played such a pivotal role in Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and personal life. Soon after, we reached out to Compass for guidance on how to develop the Cottage — the only non-profit National Monument in the country — into a sustainable site. In 2010, a team of Compass volunteers began working with us on a strategic planning project. Our goal was to play up the Cottage’s strengths to create an engaging place rich in history, while charting a path to financial stability.
One of the challenges we face at President Lincoln’s Cottage is the perception people have of our operation. The buildings we interpret are very old, and people often assume our organization has been around equally as long. Many people expect us to be performing at a level equal to peer organizations that have, in fact, been operating for 30, 50, 100 years and more. In many cases, we do perform at an equal level, garnering national awards and recognition for our work. And yet our base of support is much smaller, since we’ve only just begun. This is a real challenge that can be frustrating at times, but also motivating. Furthermore, many people also assume that we receive federal funding as a National Monument or are directly funded by our parent organization, when neither is true. We earn and raise all of our budget income.
It’s nice to have outside experts recognize the high quality of our work and see it as a true strength. Of course, we enjoyed working with our Compass team so much that it didn’t take long before we thought of them as close friends and allies. Now, they are far from outsiders to us. As a small token of our appreciation, we gave everyone on the team (from both years) a complimentary $100 membership so we can stay in touch in a meaningful way.
We also had an “aha” moment earlier this year with Compass. When you work at a historic site, you don’t think of what you’re doing as “new.” So although our parent organization has been around for six decades, we have only been open to the public for a little over four years, years encompassed by the economic downturn. So when Compass referred to us as a start-up historic site, a staff member said, “I never thought of us as a ‘start-up.’ When you think about our organization in that light, it all makes sense.”
This past month, the Compass team presented their final strategic planning reports to the Advisory Board and staff of President Lincoln’s Cottage. There were several moments when everyone broke into spontaneous applause. It was gratifying to see two years of hard work come together! It also meant a lot to us that our Compass team really immersed themselves in our world and thought to include Lincoln’s own words in the presentation: “You cannot fail if you resolutely determine that you will not.”
Our Memorial Day ceremony exemplified the type of partnerships and signature events Compass encouraged us to create to generate more publicity, awareness, and support.
We are motivated about our growth as an organization. We just had a major Memorial Day event with the Armed Forces Retirement Home, offering public tours of the USSAH National Cemetery (the little-known predecessor of Arlington National Cemetery) for the first time. We also have several important historic anniversaries coming up, including the 150anniversary of the Lincolns moving to the Soldiers’ Home and Lincoln work on the Emancipation Proclamation. May has been an exhilarating month for us and we are excited to utilize our Compass team’s recommendations to actualize our vision for the Cottage’s future.
To learn more about President Lincoln’s Cottage and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, please visit their websites:
Erin Mast is the Director of President Lincoln’s Cottage, a National Trust Historic Site in Washington, D.C. Mast has been the Director for two years and first joined the site in 2003, playing an integral role in the capital restoration and development leading to the 2008 grand opening.