The Shore Line Trolley Museum

Culture and humanities

Historic Preservation Capital Campaign

A National Historic District, the Shore Line Trolley Museum is the oldest continuously running suburban trolley line in the United States.

Founded in 1945 to preserve the heritage of the trolley car, the Shore Line Trolley Museum (SLTM) of East Haven, Connecticut, owns more than 100 trolley cars. The collection consists of vintage trolleys and buses from around the United States and Canada, including New Orleans’ “Streetcar Named Desire,” which was immortalized by playwright Tennessee Williams.

In addition, SLTM preserves the history of this distinctive mode of transportation through a historically significant memorabilia archive.

The Challenge

When LAPA started working with the Shore Line Trolley Museum, the organization was facing three significant challenges. First, SLTM’s priceless trolley and bus collection had long been stored in open-air sheds, which exposed them to the weather and caused irreparable harm. Even worse, the sheds were built on a floodplain. Due to climate change, severe flood damage was a looming danger.

To protect the collection, the museum planned to erect two modern storage buildings at a cost of $2.4 million.

Second, the museum had no paid professional staff and was operated entirely by volunteers. Although SLTM had 1,100 active dues-paying members at the time, very few gave more than the basic annual dues.

Finally, the museum had no experience with major gift fundraising and had never launched a major fundraising campaign.

Key Elements

  • LAPA led SLTM in their first major fundraising campaign.
  • A Community Council was established and integrated into the museum’s development work.
  • A $1 million bond from the State of Connecticut was secured.
  • Board of Trustees giving achieved 100% participation.
  • Charitable giving by SLTM members, beyond paying their annual dues, was established. A donor engagement rollout schedule was also established.
  • LAPA conducted the most significant major gift research in SLTM’s history, identifying 3,000 new major donor prospects.
  • Gift acceptance policies were written and approved.

The Solution

To respond to these challenges, LAPA created and managed a $2.4 million capital campaign that was conducted over two years. The campaign brought together board members, donors, general members, and community leaders to generate ambitious and achievable plans for improving the museum. Through this, a dynamic campaign plan was established to build two industrial buildings and create a new Community Council, major gift fundraising program, online giving program, naming opportunities, a campaign page on SLTM’s website, and a planned giving program. We also folded the cost of the development program into the campaign goal so that the museum’s investment in fundraising was returned to it.

The Impact

From this collaborative effort, LAPA helped SLTM reach several key fundraising, development, and organizational goals:

  • A total of $1,500,000 was raised in the campaign’s first 18 months, and the museum successfully met its goal by the 24th
  • Two new industrial buildings were constructed with the $2.4 million that was raised.
  • One hundred percent of the board members made personal commitments to the campaign.
  • The Connecticut state legislature approved a $1 million bond which functioned as a grant.
  • LAPA led the museum through their first major fundraising campaign and also grew the number of known planned gifts.
  • The culture of SLTM changed. The organization now emphasizes fundraising and community outreach, and they have a long-term view of the museum’s growth.

In the years since that successful capital campaign, SLTM has conducted three smaller campaigns on their own. This new fundraising capability occurred, in part, because LAPA coached SLTM’s staff and board and transferred campaign management skills to them.