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What made these tasks more difficult was the uncertainty that prevailed regarding the Society's long-term future. The advisory committee's charge was to address all options including reorganization, merger, and even dissolution if nec­essary. Debs and her staff had to coordinate their efforts with the evolving opin­ions of the committee so that steps taken would not conflict with the committee's final recommendations.

As Debs worked to establish administrative stability, the board also acted, once again taking steps to improve its governance structure and to increase its capacity to provide financial support. In November 1988, at the prompting of the advisory committee, the board approved several changes to its by-laws, some of which reversed changes that had been made during the latter part of the Bell adminis­tration. The board increased its maximum allowable membership from twenty-nine to fifty. The director's position was renamed president and was invested with all the powers of a chief executive officer, including ex officio status on the board of trustees. The title of president was changed to chairman of the board. A process of systematic rotation and evaluation of trustee performance was established and was to be administered by a new committee on trustees. Other new committees established were a development committee; a finance committee; a joint sub­committee on development, planning, and finance; and a collections committee with three subcommittees: exhibitions and interpretation, conservation and preser­vation, and collections management.

This and all other unattributed information and quotations are taken from board meeting minutes or other internal documents and records.

By the latter part of 1988, circumstances had improved. The board had ap­proved the sale of real estate that the Society owned on Forty-Second Street for $1.7 million. Unlike the Peck bequest, the Society's board treated this one-time inflow as capital, adding it to the unrestricted endowment.

An article in the New York Times discussed some of the "small but surely mean­ingful" changes occurring at the Society. It said, "Most remarkably, the Society, which for its 184-year history has been run largely like a private institution, shun­ning contact with city and neighborhood groups, is now eagerly soliciting advice, help and friendship from those groups."

McGill (1988i).
In October, the inaugural His­tory Makers' Gala, which honored Paul Volcker, netted the Society nearly $400,000. In addition, public attention on the Society's financial difficulties dur­ing the summer had helped increase private contributions, especially from trustees. By November, the trustees had contributed nearly $1 million, with six trustees giving $100,000 or more. Although only time would tell whether such levels of giving were sustainable, the increases reduced the projected operating deficit and seemed to indicate that the Society was moving in the right direction.

By the end of November, public opinion had shifted in the Society's favor. An article in the New York Times trumpeted the improving situation. Discussing the Society's $2 million deficit, John Macomber said, "There would be no cred­ibility for this institution if the trustees didn't raise the $2 million, which we think is a lead-pipe cinch. . . . The trustees have responded very well."

McGill (1988c).
Staff members spoke of the positive impact that Debs was having on the institution. Holly Hotchner, the director of the Society's painting conservation department, said, "All these years can't be turned around in a few months. But every correct step that can be taken, at this point, is being taken. Every hard question is being asked." Comparing staff morale under Debs with the situation under Bell, Karen Buck, the Society's assistant director of development, said that "it's the difference between night and day."

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Source:  OpenStax, The new-york historical society: lessons from one nonprofit's long struggle for survival. OpenStax CNX. Mar 28, 2008 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10518/1.1
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