Joe Bondi, Senior Vice President of Development, explores how Mount Vernon is funded.

John Bondi was interviewed by Dr. Joe Stoltz about his work at Mount Vernon. Below is only part of their conversation, you can hear the full interview in an episode of Conversations at the Washington Library.

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What is your background? 

I came from George Washington University. I have two degrees from the university and worked there for 15 years, all in development and alumni relations in probably six different jobs. I ran our New York market for a period of time, ran the fundraising for the school of politics there. And then my last job was in a management position at the university and that's a big fundraising operation.

So I really cut my teeth, I suppose you could say, in development in a university setting, which is different than a museum or historic house setting. But much of what we do carries through all across the nonprofit sector. I came to Mount Vernon in January of 2017, so I'm nearing my two year anniversary here.

It's been an extraordinary opportunity to be here. I'd just say in my profession, the job that I have is one of the top best jobs to have in the DC area. I'm very honored to be here and every day my team and I feel this way. It's our honor to be here and not a job, but a pleasure to be at Mount Vernon and to raise money for this important place.

What is development? 

I think very basically, in the nonprofit sector, most good nonprofits have a revenue source. In the case of a university that's tuition, in the case of a museum or a historic home like Mount Vernon, that's generally speaking the admission that one pays when they come through the gate. In virtually every case, the revenue does not pay for the entire operation and so you fill that gap through fundraising and that's what we call development.

In the case of Mount Vernon, about two-thirds of our budget comes from dollars from visitors. So gate admission, what they buy in the gift shop, and what they eat makes up about two-thirds of our revenue. The work that our team does, and the payout from the endowment, make up that remaining third of the pie.

It's asking money from people around the country or around the world, or from corporations or foundations, to support the mission of an institution, where the revenue stream doesn't meet that gap.

As an example, how were the letters of the Marquis de Chastellux acquired?

George Washington to Chastellux, 10 May 1783. Washington Library at Mount Vernon. Courtesy of The Life Guard Society of Historic Mount Vernon, Ambassador and Mrs. Nicholas F. Taubman, Mr. and Mrs. James C. Meade.

George Washington to Chastellux, 10 May 1783. Washington Library at Mount Vernon. Courtesy of The Life Guard Society of Historic Mount Vernon, Ambassador and Mrs. Nicholas F. Taubman, Mr. and Mrs. James C. Meade.

There's a lot of things the institution has to do. We've got to get to the auction, and we have to be willing to make the bid. Mount Vernon has been blessed with some endowed funds to pay for acquisitions, but our acquisition desires outweigh our budget.

So, what happens in a case like that is the institution decides here's an acquisition we want to make, here's how much money we have from endowment or from other sources that we can apply toward that. Then they come to me in my office with an estimation. In this case, I think for five letters the total was about $1.2 million.
Our annual payout from endowment for acquisitions is like $150,000 and that covers all of the items we always want to buy, and these very special things. So we know now that we have to find about $1.2 million to be able to bid on those letters.

It development's work to figure out who might find this particular story interesting and does that person have the capacity to make a gift to support this particular acquisition. 

We raised that money from probably a dozen different donors who are either Francophiles or they believe that Mount Vernon should be acquiring important documents or they're particularly charmed by the Chastellux story, and they have the capacity to make a gift to Mount Vernon to help us with those acquisitions. That's one story and over the course of a year, there might be 50 stories like that from all across the estate.

Explore the Letters

Why spend so much money on one item?

It's part of our mission at Mount Vernon to further the knowledge of George Washington and as such, making these important documents available for all the world to have access to, researchers and common people alike. It may seem like a lot of money but in the grand scope of Washington's work, we believe at Mount Vernon, it's very good money to spend.

What are the other types of funds you raise?

Whitewashing the front parlor's ceiling using period-based whitewash recipe.

Whitewashing the front parlor's ceiling using period-based whitewash recipe.

The Blue Room after restoration.

The Blue Room after restoration.

Our office is focused on two different kinds of dollars; the first is what I'll call unrestricted dollars, money that comes to the estate essentially for the mission of Mount Vernon. Those dollars come to us through our letter writing campaigns, through our membership programs, and through other events that we throw here at the estate. They support everything that happens at Mount Vernon. They are the dollars keeping the lights on, buying paint and nails, and keeping the lawn cut. We raise anywhere between seven and eight million dollars a year for our unrestricted purposes. Those are incredibly important dollars and they come in all sizes.

Then the other dollars that we raised, equally as important, are restricted in nature for particular projects that are happening here. And those are everything from the acquisition of the letters as we just talked about to very important projects that happen in the historic area.

In 2018, we finished the restoration of the blue bedroom. The dollars that went into the new bed hangings, the beautiful, extraordinary wallpaper, the work on the fireplace, restoration of the windows, paint, everything in that room, was generated by a donor or group of donors that supported that project.

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What exciting project is on the horizon for your department?

We have a looming major anniversary coming up in 2026, the Semiquincentennial or 250th anniversary of American independence in 1776. We have an institutional goal to make Mount Vernon the very best it can be by that date. And so there's a lot of work to be done here. Visitors may come to Mount Vernon and say, “Well, the place looks amazing.” And we spend a lot of time and effort making it look amazing.

The education center gets 300,000 or 400,000 visitors a year. It was opened in 2006 before the invention of the iPhone. It's time for it to have more than just a new coat of paint and carpets, it's time for some new media there.

The Museum will have a full changeover of exhibits in 2020 and the Education Center will need one by 2026. All of these things make for a lot of work for our team, to raise a lot of money in advance of 2026 because the work has to get done. We have incredibly generous donors here who really want to join with us to make Mount Vernon the best it can be, to support this mission, and I'm hopeful that they'll get on board with what we're working on.

Who supports Mount Vernon?

Mount Vernon is not supported at all by the government, but entirely by individuals, companies whose missions or interests align with Mount Vernon, and private foundations.

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