by W. Todd Groce, Ph.D.
Originally published in Georgia History Today, Volume 10, Numbers 1&2.
In recent years, we have all heard and read stories about tremendous financial difficulties that have led venerable non-profit institutions to the brink of collapse. When this happens, we often ask, why didn’t anyone see this coming and do something to prevent it? All too often, the underlying cause is an inadequate endowment.
A good rule of thumb is that the distribution from an institution’s endowment should cover at least half of its annual operating expense. While this is no guarantee of success, it certainly makes it less likely that there will be a collapse due to financial problems. It’s a lesson we all need to learn—and one not lost on the Georgia Historical Society.
As we prepare to enter our third century as Georgia’s premier, independent statewide historical institution, GHS stands at a crossroads. Nearly twenty years ago, we took a voluntary state privatization, giving us control once again over our own destiny and producing the most explosive growth in the history of the institution. Now we need to secure that success and lay the foundation for even greater achievements.
To reach this goal, the Board of Curators has approved the launch of the Next Century Initiative, an ambitious campaign designed to propel the institution forward, create new opportunities for growth, and ensure its future stability and independence. The Next Century Initiative has two components, capital and endowment. Of the $13 million goal, $1 million will be allocated for renovating the Research Center in Savannah. These funds will allow us to improve archival storage and enhance research services by implementing several deferred maintenance projects and repurposing space formerly utilized as administrative offices now transferred to the Jepson House Education Center.
The cornerstone of the Initiative, however, is a strong endowment. Currently, the GHS endowment stands at $8 million, a good beginning but hardly what we need to be truly independent and ensure the long-term financial security that will allow us to see our dreams become a reality.
The Initiative will add an additional $12 million, bringing the endowment total to $20 million. These funds will properly support current programs and incubate new ones. We can teach more students, train more teachers, create new knowledge through research, and improve the lives of all Georgians by offering them a deeper understanding of our past.
Many of the amazing programs and services we offer today were created with grants and operate on annual fundraising campaigns. Imagine what could be done—how many more students could be reached, how many more documents could be preserved and made accessible for research, how many more stories could be told through historical markers—with a secure stream of revenue that only an endowment can provide.
To achieve this goal we need your support. Whether it’s a bequest in your will or a donation during your lifetime, by joining us in this noble endeavor you will have the satisfaction of knowing that your gift will teach history and make it accessible to everyone. Understanding our nation’s history has never been more important than now. The challenges of the future require problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and an appreciation for our democratic ideals, all of which can be acquired by studying history. The rising generation needs to be prepared for the world they will inherit. Through the Next Century Initiative, together we will ensure they are ready.
W. Todd Groce, Ph.D., is President and CEO of the Georgia Historical Society.