Case Studies: Business Planning

A two-room school (and museum) in the big woods


When we began, the museum had no heat and was open only a few hours a week. The school had 8 students. None of them paid full tuition. Executive Director Loren Spears was giving her time and borrowing everything else.

Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum and Nuweetooun School

True audacity!

How could a very small rural Native American museum with a long name and no cash launch a new private school for Native children…and overhaul their museum facility and collections at the same time? We helped Lor?n Spears and her remarkable band of family and friends make it happen.

Big picture, small strokes

The Tomaquag Museum has a truly visionary board. We helped them organize their visions into one big picture of the future: an intimate, thriving two-room school for 35 or more Native students in grades K through 8, fully integrated into the natural setting of woods, orchard, brook and yard. And along with that, an important, accessible and well-protected collection of Native artifacts and documents drawing scholars, students and tourists to learn the stories of the Narragansett, Wampanoag and other Native people of this part of New England.

Taming the bottom line

At first, the cost of the vision seemed beyond reach. We quelled panic by putting price tags on all the separate pieces. Taken one at a time, paying the electric bill, fixing the wiring, buying a new exhibit case and hiring a teacher all began to look doable. We thought through what had to be done first, what came after that and how the board wanted to set its priorities.

The bottom line was still daunting…so we created seven bottom lines. Each hypothetical annual budget represented more progress toward the full vision, beginning with a “life support” budget, moving through intermediate stages such as “school growth and museum basics” to the goal of “balanced growth” for both sides of the institution.

Make the circle bigger

Narragansett tribal tradition shares community knowledge and resources in the tribal circle. The circle represents the universe, the earth and life itself. In the circle, each person adds strength and takes strength by joining hands. Tomaquag hosts six seasonal Thanksgiving festivals, such as Strawberry or Maple Sugar Thanksgiving, each beginning with a circle of friends and visitors linking hands.

Just as Nuweetooun School integrates Native spiritual and cultural values with hard-nosed science and math, we helped the board understand revenue strategies in the context of the tribal circle. We worked out the numbers showing how growing their circle, plus proper pricing, was the key to growing revenues from all sources: enrollments, workshop fees, admissions, grants and contributions.

A contribution basket at the next Thanksgiving marked the small beginning of sustained development work at Tomaquag. Tomaquag’s fundraising today includes special events, mailed appeals, in-kind and on-site donations and program grants to supplement earned revenues.

The final business and revenue plan showed how the full vision might be achieved in five years. But plans have a way of taking their own time. We showed the board how achieving intermediate stages short of the ideal would also be remarkable successes, not failures. Each stage of success was clearly linked to the kinds of activities and efforts necessary to generate supporting revenues.

Today, Tomaquag Museum is open five days a week with a steady flow of visitors, including tourists from all over the world. The collection has been protected and new exhibits created. Nuweetooun School’s enrollment grows slowly but steadily. The school’s program has received support from local educators, Foundations, Native tribes, and individuals around the U.S. as well as regular attention from the Rhode Island press.

    Services provided:

  • Visioning
  • Strategic planning
  • Budgeting
  • Revenue planning
  • Case statement
  • Marketing Plan