Extending Excellence:
The Campaign for the McLean County Museum of History

Ter Molen Watkins & Brandt helped us lay the groundwork for our campaign and provided excellent advice as our campaign counsel. Nora and Gene laid out a fundraising strategy that worked because it was closely tailored to us. Their ongoing counsel once we were in the campaign was very effective and essential to our fundraising success. The level of board training was also something that we’ll continue to benefit from for years to come!

Beth Whisman
Executive Director
McLean County Museum of History

Children visit the Museum for a 4-H field trip. The museum serves 7,000 students each year with free education programs.
The new exhibits feature iPad interactives that invite visitors to further explore themes, artifacts, and people.

Campaign Results

Campaign Goal 112%

Goal: $3 Million
Raised: $3.36 Million


The McLean County Historical Society was founded in 1892, and they established the McLean County Museum of History 12 years later. The Bloomington, Illinois museum preserves and tells the story of McLean County with seven exhibit galleries, 19,000 historical objects, over 11,500 rare books, and 17,000 feet of historical documents and images. In 1990, the historic McLean County Courthouse became the museum’s home after its first capital campaign.

Goals for The “Extending Excellence” Campaign

As the Museum looked toward the future, they collaborated with the community to launch “Extending Excellence: The Campaign for the McLean County Museum of History”. The campaign sought to help the Museum build connections with new generations and also strengthen the link between the community’s past and present. Its goal was to raise $3 million to support four main objectives:

  1. Highlight important stories about the community through new permanent exhibits, including the part McLean County played in electing Abraham Lincoln and celebrating the addition of new populations that have grown and enhanced local culture.
  2. Enhance storytelling through the addition of new technological advances including digital theaters, digital teaching boards, touch-screen technology, and online resources.
  3. Help serve the growing demand for resources for students and senior citizens through an endowment for new education programs.
  4. Maintain downtown green space and foster a more welcoming environment with new landscaping.

Our Work

Prior to the start of the campaign, the McLean County Museum of History engaged Ter Molen Watkins & Brandt to perform a campaign feasibility study. Nora Kyger, Executive Vice President, and Gene Brandt, Senior Partner, analyzed the organization, its existing fundraising program, and its donor base. Our work indicated that the Museum was well prepared to enter into a campaign.

Nora and Gene were retained as counsel for the duration of the campaign.  As counsel, we worked closely with the four co-chairs and the active Campaign Committee made up of leaders from McLean County.  The staff, co-chairs and committee members were exceptionally committed to the project and the museum, actively participating in virtually all of the solicitations.

The museum campaign team kept in close touch with weekly calls, regular on-site visits, and participation in all campaign committee meetings.  TW&B’s counsel included solicitation training, development of individual solicitation strategies, campaign policies, campaign communications, and involvement of membership and the Lincoln Club.

The Results

The McLean County Museum of History was able to surpass its goal, securing a total of $3.36 Million in campaign pledges.

Two of the five new permanent galleries have now been completed. A new 5,000-square-foot exhibit, “Challenges, Choices, & Change: Making a Home,” tells the stories of the diverse settlers of McLean County and how they came to the land. In May 2016, the museum unveiled a new exhibit called “Abraham Lincoln in McLean County” that examines Lincoln’s transformative years as an attorney and politician in McLean County and his life prior to his presidency.

In addition to campaign success, the Museum’s overall fundraising program was strengthened. In the last fiscal year, it saw a 30% increase in revenue from sponsorships, event tickets, and general donations.  Overall, this contributed to a non-campaign revenue increase of 8%, including annual fund donations and other revenue sources. These changes, plus the successful campaign, are a great sign of things to come for the McLean County Museum of History. Hiring a Digital Humanities Curator and upgrading the website to include digital resources for the Collections and Library were major parts of the campaign’s digital initiative. Website visits have tripled since the change went into effect. Alongside the capital campaign, the Museum collaborated with the local Convention and Visitors Bureau to set up a new Visitors Center in order to attract people to the new exhibits. In 2015, they had approximately 5,000 more visitors than 2014, and their annual History Makers Gala had higher attendance.

Photos courtesy the McLean County Museum of History.

Our Team

Gene S. Brandt
Of Counsel
Nora D. Kyger
Executive Vice President