National Park ServiceU.S. Department of the Interior
Partnership header Group in meadow using binoculars
Patriots of Fort McHenry Description: The "original" Patriots of Fort McHenry organized as a non-profit friends group in the 1980s to promote the history of the Fort and assist the NPS with preservation and education. During this time, the Patriots conducted fundraising activities and sponsored educational activities. However, in 1996, the Executive Director quit, the board split, and the largest faction "merged" with another Baltimore non-profit, the Living Classrooms Foundation (LCF). The smaller faction included the Webmaster of the Patriots website who continues to keep that website. The Living Classrooms/Patriots of Fort McHenry have a much more modest page devoted to Fort McHenry. The "new" friends group that emerged is still experiencing growing pains.

Geographic area covered: Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine encompasses 40 acres situated within the Baltimore Harbor. The parent organization covers multiple additional sites around the Baltimore Harbor, a fact that both helps and hinders their support of Fort McHenry.

List of partners and relationships: National Park Service - Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine; Patriots of Fort McHenry as a subsidiary of the Living Classrooms Foundation (LCF); and Living Classrooms Foundation.

Accomplishments to date: Resurrection as a subsidiary of another, multi-pronged non-profit after the meltdown of the board in the fall of 1996. Annual financial support of $15,000/year for recurring special events such as Civil War Weekend, Defender's Day, Flag Day. Continued enthusiasm for fundraising for a visitor center. Networking among visitor attractions around Baltimore's Harbor. LCF essentially self-proclaimed the creation of the "National Historic Seaport of Baltimore" as a take-off on heritage areas. They developed a logo and brought together cultural institutions under one umbrella that proved beneficial from a marketing perspective.

Key success factors:

  1. Having the Regional Director attend a reception to meet the boards of both the Fort McHenry NM&HS and Hampton NHS friends groups was a huge success.
  2. People who love Fort McHenry really love Fort McHenry. This translates into a group (or rather, groups) that is still committed even after multiple setbacks.
  3. Documenting comments and commitments by NPS and partners in writing. My successor at Fort McHenry said the file notes and meeting minutes I left provided useful background for her and her chief ranger.
  4. Looking for simple successes for the group to build their capacity and confidence. It became clear early on that the reorganized Patriots weren't going to come up with millions to build a new visitor center. So we gave them a list of smaller requests (living history supply support, etc.).
  5. Being accessible to the board(s). Making the commitment to touch base outside of the normal NPS/Partner meeting schedule shows that we value the relationship as much as the financial and/or in-kind support that comes from it.

Frustrations: The Patriots were required to put their fundraising campaign and building designs on hold so that the park could comply with NPS planning requirements to produce a Development Concept Plan, Environmental Assessment and other planning documents and get public input on different alternatives for replacing the existing visitor center.

It took over a year to get a new general fundraising agreement with the Patriots/LCF, in part, because they weren't accustomed to using someone else's agreement template. Additionally, the parent organization had more pressing legal issues tying up their counsel's time.

When your partner is part of a larger organization, it can duplicate the "care and feeding" needed to make sure everyone feels appreciated. It can also mean that the subsidiary takes a back seat to more prominent or more revenue-generating elements of the parent non-profit. It can also create a situation where the parent organization wants to charge some of its "overhead" to the funds raised by the subsidiary.

Having a small but vocal group of dissenting former Patriots created some awkward situations for the superintendent and staff.

The constant expectation that the friends group should be exempt from certain policies, such as those guiding special park uses.

Most important lessons learned to date:

  1. Invest a significant amount of up-front time on the partnership agreement. Assemble the friends group's attorney and some of the board together (maybe invite the regional solicitor) and review each provision so things will go smoothly during the approvals. The same should apply when working with NPS and DOI attorneys. More time up front means less chance of derailment when the stakes are high.
  2. Be open to all your partners' ideas instead of giving an automatic "no." Better to look for what part of their idea can work and build on that rather than dismiss ideas out of hand.
  3. Regardless of administrative headaches, remember that people are involved in these efforts because they love the park. This becomes an important touchstone during times of conflict.

What would you do differently next time: Conduct alternate dispute resolution with the original board before they imploded. Focus attention on the situation. Be more assertive in keeping the partner accountable to meet agreed-upon commitments.

Suggested resource materials: The general fundraising agreement between the NPS and Patriots/LCF. The capital campaign to fund a visitor center.

For more information:

Name: Laura Joss
Affiliation: Supt. at Fort McHenry
Phone/Fax: 410-962-4290, ext. 223

For historical perspective:

Name: Kayci Cook Collins
Affiliation: Former Supt. at Fort McHenry
Phone/Fax: 202-208-6381

Partnership category(ies) (check all that apply)

Fundraising _X_; Capital Improvements __; Facility Management __; Trails __; Design __; Program Delivery __; Visitor Services __; Tenant Organizations __; Concessioners __; Natural Resources Management/Restoration __; Cultural Resources __; Education/Interpretation _X_; Arts __; Information Services __; Transportation __; Mutual Aid __; Fire Management __; Planning __; Tourism _X_; Community Relations _X_;

Other ____________________________

Prepared by: Kayci Cook Collins Date posted: 8/6/03
Phone: 202-208-6381

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