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Conversation The Ringling

Lighthouse Vision Loss Education Center


Marie Selby Botanical Gardens





This page: An exhibit at The Ringling. Orchids at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Peepers magnifier at the Lighthouse Vision Loss Education Center.

INERTIA VS. INNOVATION. It’s an organizational battle as old as there have been organizations, and as the tried and true meets the bold and new in the philanthropic field, Steven High, Executive Director of The Ringling, Lisa Howard, CEO of Lighthouse Vision Loss Education Center, and Jennifer Rominiecki, president and CEO of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, fight stagnation with imagination. From rebrands to reboots and ambitious new master plans, these local leaders have demonstrated how to wage a winning campaign.

WHAT DOES INNOVATION MEAN TO YOUR ORGANIZATION? Steven High: Innovation is critical to any organization, because if you are not on edge, not thinking about changing the way you do things, you’ll never improve and you’ll never grow as an institution. It’s fundamental to management. Jennifer Rominiecki: It’s important for organizations not to do the same thing over and over again. It’s about being able to change the game and giving people new reasons to engage. Otherwise, your organization can become stagnant. Lisa Howard: That’s exactly what happened to my organization. It became stagnant until the last few years. When new things come out, we do everything we can to get it to the people in our community, to know that there are some options out there. High: How did that become stagnant, and then how did you break that? Howard: Leadership, honestly.

HOW DO YOU FOSTER INNOVATION WITHIN AN ORGANIZATION? Rominiecki: Have a bold vision and have the courage to see it through. You have to not be afraid of change. It’s also important to have a forward-thinking board of direc88 | srq magazine_ JULY/AUG19 live local

tors that believes in the vision. Innovation has to come from the leadership, and it needs to be supported at that level if you’re going to affect change. Howard: I couldn’t agree more. It’s hard to get people to change when you’ve done something the same way for so many years, and nobody thought about doing it differently. People are people, employees are resistant. But when you can share the vision and you have that leadership, employees can get excited about it. Rominiecki: Get their buy-in. It’s really important that everyone believes. High: Innovation is a big factor in long-scale planning, but it is also fundamental throughout the organization. Innovation can occur in very small ways that make big differences. It’s about how our staff engages with people coming into the museum, ways to make the experience more special for our visitors. Those ideas aren’t necessarily things that we as leaders of organizations say to do, those are innovations that come from our staff. It’s absolutely critical that we hire smart staff—people who really care about the organization, and who want to make it better—then empower them to make those changes.

HOW DO YOU DISTINGUISH OPPORTUNITIES FOR INNOVATION FROM ‘IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT’? High: There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit that you go after, easy things where you can have success. Then you can begin to be a little more creative. Start off with things that you can really gauge the impact of. Early on in our membership program, our focus was on building base level members. Our upper-level members were five and they gave $1,000 or more. A very easy thing to do was to simply establish a new level of membership that gave access at higher levels and created greater interest, greater return on investment. That program expanded dramatically. Rominiecki: There’s always room for improvement, no matter how well an organization is doing. You always have to be looking at what you’re doing and constantly taking a fresh angle. From our bottoms-up strategic planning process, we arrived at repositioning ourselves as a living museum, with changing exhibits, programs and events. Because we heard people say, “I’ve been to Selby Gardens. It’s beautiful,” as if they didn’t have a reason to come back. As a result, we found ourselves at the


ABOUT THE PARTICIPANTS THE RINGLING The Ringling is the State Art Museum of Florida and is administered by Florida State University. It features an historic mansion, art museum, circus museum, historic theater, and reference library, situated on 66 acres of bay front property in Sarasota. The Ringling serves as the legacy of John and Mable Ringling—a place of art, architecture, and circus in an environment that inspires, educates and entertains. LIGHTHOUSE VISION LOSS EDUCATION CENTER The mission of the Lighthouse Vision Loss Education Center is to educate and empower those affected by vision loss so they may enjoy happy, healthy and independent lives. MARIE SELBY BOTANICAL GARDENS To provide an oasis of inspiration and tranquility, while furthering the understanding and appreciation of plants, especially epiphytes. Its vision is to touch as many people as possible through an urban waterfront garden that is the world leader in conservation and display of epiphytes. Visitors and volunteers alike experience the Gardens beauty, gaining a better understanding and greater appreciation of the natural world.

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forefront of a trend of gardens wanting to connect with the arts. We’ve received 10 inquiries to take our exhibit from last spring to other botanical gardens around the world. We’re now pursuing a trademark on the living museum. All of this has come from assessing the organization, seeing what strengths it had and what shifts could be made. At the same time, in order to make those shifts, everyone has to be involved. Everyone has participated in that success— every member of staff, every board member, every volunteer, every contributor has been a part of the innovation. Howard: You could be telling our story. Everything you’re saying is exactly what we were just doing. CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT THE REBRANDING PROCESS? Howard: We started this in 2015, by looking at our name and our reputation and what the brand means. “Lighthouse of Manasota” doesn’t really say anything about vision loss. We struggled with that for a long time. The original name is Manasota Lighthouse For the Blind. People thought we only served the blind. They thought we were an actual lighthouse. We got a consultant from the Community Foundation. They give you someone at no charge. We began interviews with stakeholders from A to Z. Everybody was interviewed. We went several months. We used that feedback to get to where we are today. I look at it all the time. It’s on the bulletin board next to my desk. WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT THAT EDUCATION BE IN THE NAME? Howard: We’re an


education center. That’s what we do. We teach people how to do everyday things that we do all the time—they just do it a little bit differently because they don’t see it so well. Then just use, “Vision Loss,” instead of, “Blind.” Vision loss means every level of vision. And we had to put braille in there. We kept “Lighthouse.” That was loud and clear from everybody that we spoke to. High: A while ago, we were known as The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, which is a mouthful. And we’re more than an art museum; we’re a historic house museum, a circus museum. We have a collection of trees and wooded shrubs that are significant. We moved toward owning the name Ringling and calling ourselves The Ringling, which embraces all of these different aspects. What it did is identify us as more of a destination and a place for people to come to have extraordinary experiences. HOW DO YOU BRING DONORS ALONG ON TRANSFORMATIVE PROJECTS? Rominiecki: Donors like to invest in innovation. They’re taking a risk because you’re trying something new, but when they can affect positive change by investing in innovation, it’s very satisfying. Howard: They want to be a part of something exciting and new and successful. And our donors usually have someone in their family affected by vision loss, so they’re connected to the organization. And people are connected to this organization throughout the rest of their life after their training. High: We’re lucky to live here because we have a really wonderful donor base. They care about

organizations like ours, that provide some of the intellectual challenges they are looking for. We’re both growing and we’re both sharing. Howard: It’s very cooperative, and in the fundraising community too. When this group gets together, we all know each other, we help each other. Rominiecki: Donors like to see organizations collaborate. That gets them excited when we’re thinking out of the box and working on programming that isn’t the norm. Philanthropists really respond when we collaborate. High: I don’t think you can get too much. The more you get, the more awareness there is. The more organizations are out there telling their stories, telling their missions and explaining the impact they make within this community, the more people step up and help and support. It’s not a competition. It’s more a complementary way of supporting our communities, supporting our culture. Rominiecki: One organization’s success benefits the others. EXAMPLES OF COLLABORATION? High: The programs that we do with [The Lighthouse Vision Loss Education Center] are really intended to break down barriers for new clients. Howard: We take a tour of the Ringling and our students get to put gloves on and feel the sculptures. The docents do an amazing job, in a different language, to explain the piece so that the person can feel and then create their own vision of what that looks like. They also have replications of some of the huge pieces. High: And textures. Howard: A lot of texture stuff. If someone is explaining silk or pearls or something like that,


they have those things there. It’s an awesome way for a visually impaired individual to experience the arts in this community. High: Another fun project we do is with the seeing-eye dogs. When people learn how to work with the dogs, the graduating classes come to the museum and navigate. We do a tour of all the dogs in art, so the dogs get to go around and sniff Remus and Romulus, and see that artists love painting dogs. Lots of dog paintings. Howard: Our instructors are certified vision rehab therapists, and certified orientation and mobility specialists. We came to the museum and taught them how to help someone who is visually impaired through the museum. Rominiecki: That’s what’s so special about Sarasota—that we can all work together like this and make things happen that wouldn’t normally happen. Easter Seals and Operation Eco Vets are going to work with us on the edible gardens in the first phase of our master plan. We’ve had a lot of fun having all the performing arts groups collaborate with us—the opera, the ballet, the orchestra, Florida Studio Theatre. We did a run of performances of Shakespeare in the Gardens with the Asolo. And the Ringling Museum has been invaluable to us in shifting to this living museum model. WHAT INNOVATIONS ARE YOU WORKING ON CURRENTLY? High: We’ve been working on a project called WEB: Where Everyone Belongs, and we’re in partnership with 12-14 social service organizations now. We’re trying to work with families at risk. We offer a free family membership to the museum, and we train the parents to be

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comfortable being at the museum and talking about the work, so that they can then bring their family and make it a comfortable experience for them. We’re doubling down on investing in the community. Our plan is based around inclusion and access— making sure we’re reaching out into every population in our community, and trying to make that experience truly accessible for all. Howard: The Lighthouse Institute and the State of Florida created Vision Refer. It’s an online portal for doctors to refer their patients for vision rehab. It tracks information about who they referred, what that person is doing, did they accept the training, all of those kinds of things. We’re testing it in Florida, and the very first vision referral was done by a doctor here in Sarasota. Eventually it will go nationwide, and hopefully, we’ll be getting to those people that need us. WHAT DO YOU IMAGINE YOUR ORGANIZATION WILL BE LIKE IN 20 YEARS? Rominiecki: Twenty years from now, Selby Garden’s campus is perfected and is a leader in sustainability, not only from the green standpoint, but fiscal sustainability. From that 20-year arch, we hope to have a much more robust endowment to really secure and safeguard the institution for the future. Howard: We do one-toone training with people. As we go forward, we’re only going to have more and more people. We’re going to have to reinvent how we do that training. I picture this huge mobility studio, where Florida Studio Theatre makes all of these plots, where we can stage an intersection that looks like the one in this


woman’s neighborhood. The orchestra records the sounds of traffic flow in surround sound. High: The museum is in many ways an analog experience. And in 20 years that experience is still going to be valued. But we have to continue to innovate in ways that keep our institutions relevant to all generations. As the next generation comes in, we always have to think about how we reach them, how we get them involved and why is it important that they are involved. I would like to think in 20 years that the museum is very much on the forefront of that, and continues to build a very diverse and dynamic audience. WHAT WAS THE ORIGIN OF THE SELBY GARDENS MASTER PLAN? Rominiecki: Selby Gardens has the world’s best scientifically documented collection of Bromeliads and has brilliant talent, but has always been lacking the infrastructure. Our land was acquired in parcels over time and it’s privately owned, so a master plan was never implemented to accommodate the public and truly safeguard the collections. When Hurricane Irma happened, we were so at risk, and it really put an exclamation point on our need to act as quickly as we could. There were three challenges we wanted to accomplish. One: Safeguard the world’s best collections. Two: On peak days we turn away hundreds of visitors. We can no longer accommodate the thousands of visitors who want to connect with our mission. We’re lacking some of the infrastructure needed to accommodate the public. Three was preserving our history and historic structures, and ensuring

that our land remains botanical gardens for the generations to come, because it’s privately owned and at any point could have been sold for high-density development. The innovative piece of this plan is the sustainability portion. When we set out to do this, we were like, ‘We want to be as sustainable as possible. Let’s do it as green as possible.’ All of a sudden, I get a call from our team. They realized that if they just added a few more solar panels, that we could actually be the leader in our area, and have the first botanical garden complex that’s net positive, meaning it will generate more energy than it consumes. Also, the restaurant would be the first net positive restaurant in the world. Innovation creeps up almost when you least expect it. Once the project got going, this opportunity arose to set an innovative standard. You have to take advantage of the opportunity. SRQ The In Conversation program is produced by the BrandStory Division of SRQ MEDIA.

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SRQ Magazine | In Conversation: Innovators In Philanthropy  

In Conversation with Steven High, Executive Director of The Ringling, Jennifer Rominiecki, President and CEO of Marie Selby Botanical Garden...

SRQ Magazine | In Conversation: Innovators In Philanthropy  

In Conversation with Steven High, Executive Director of The Ringling, Jennifer Rominiecki, President and CEO of Marie Selby Botanical Garden...

Profile for srqme