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A Conservatory Comeback Story: How Donors Made A Difference

Two years ago, the Covid-19 pandemic changed the world as we knew it. The Conservatory faced one of its most difficult periods to date, but today we have great cause to be thankful. Because of your support—Monarchs, Women’s Board Members, Volunteers, Members, Visitor, Donors, Corporate and Business sponsors, grant-makers and friends—the Conservatory has returned to its pre-pandemic operating budget in 2022. This includes restoring 20 full-time positions that were lost. This is the comeback story that YOU helped us write. 

When the Conservatory closed in March 2020, we anticipated a brief closure – surely no more than two or three weeks! By mid-April, our Board and leadership team faced the grim reality and made the heart-wrenching decision to lay off or furlough nearly 130 members of our staff, cancel events and cut beloved classes and programs and all their related expenses. But you supported us through it all. You helped keep us afloat with your generous gifts to matching campaigns, the Big Give, the annual fund, and to events that eventually went virtual or were rescheduled. Thank you!

Just like you, our remaining team members rose to the occasion. When we finally reopened in June 2020, they ensured that every guest experienced the much-needed beauty, peace and healing power of time spent in nature—the full experience of visiting the Conservatory—despite staff and budget reductions. Our doors have remained open ever since. As one of the only institutions in Columbus that could safely welcome guests and members during the pandemic, we heard:

From the challenges of 2020, came unexpected opportunities for growth.

As social unrest broke out across our country, we redoubled our efforts to ensure the Conservatory is a space that is truly welcoming to all— staff and visitors alike. Through a newly honed lens of diversity, equity and inclusion, we evaluated our policies, language and hiring procedures. Staff and board members formed committees to research and implement best practices. We surveyed our team to determine what subjects would be interesting and impactful, both personally and professionally, and how we could support their learning. We operationalize more of this learning every day. 

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In October 2020, we joined Museums for All, a national program that encourages broad access to cultural institutions for people of all backgrounds. Participants in WIC or SNAP can now visit the Conservatory for an affordable $3 admission fee. To date, over 12,000 people have been able to experience the art and horticulture you’ve helped to provide through Museums for All.  

2020 also saw record-breaking attendance for both Pumpkins Aglow and Conservatory Aglow. Our community needed ways to safely celebrate the holidays with family and friends and it was truly an honor to be that safe space. We are so thankful you and your families came! 

2021 dawned with the hope of normalcy in the weeks ahead. The Conservatory confidently planned a full calendar of exhibitions and events, including the Paul Busse Garden Railway, sponsored by the Davis Foundation and Resilience in Nature, an exhibition of artwork by local Black artists exploring the theme of diversity as nature’s strongest ally. But surging variants and cases made us uncertain. Would our supporters book events? Could we safely hold Hat Day or Field to Table? How many contingency plans did we need? 

As summer 2021 progressed, the Conservatory remained open, fundraising events sold out and the Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden was full of families enjoying time outside together. Pumpkins Aglow neared and our team and dedicated volunteers were literally up to our elbows in pumpkins, carving over 900 in the weeks before the event! This is just one of the many times that our team and volunteers put in tremendous effort and many extra hours to bring our exhibitions and events to life. 

Despite the many successes we achieved together, there continued to be bumps in the road. Like many other organizations and businesses in our community, the Great Resignation affected the Conservatory. Event Sales and Catering brought back positions, but the steep competition for scarce applicants made hiring a challenge. There were times when Conservatory’s food offerings were limited because we simply did not have enough staff to open the food truck AND the cafe. 

Through the ups and downs of 2021, donors like you ensured that we ended the year on strong financial ground. The Women’s Board raised over $400,000 to fund our Community Outreach and Education programs. Bash and Hat Day were unparalleled successes in raising money for youth education programs. The Monarch Society grew to record numbers and Giving Tuesday (Treesday!) raised $25,000 for tree care on our grounds and the surrounding Franklin Park. We were humbled by the generosity of your year-end gifts. All of which allowed us to plan for growth in 2022. 

In addition to hiring nearly 20 full-time positions back onto the FPC team, because of you we have been able to:

There are many more wonderful, positive ways you have allowed us to grow in 2022 and we are excited to share these stories as the year goes on. Please look for the Annual Report to be delivered to your inbox in May. Thank you for your confidence in our team and your belief in our mission to elevate quality of life and connect the community through educational, cultural and social experiences inspired by horticulture.

Through your gifts of time, talent and treasure, we are living this mission together, every day. We look forward to celebrating this year of re-growth with you and hope you continue to find enjoyment, comfort and a way to make a difference in the world with Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens throughout 2022.

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