The Glenbow Museum

"Bespoke understood our vision and helped us develop a campaign that resonated with funders and donors. They also provided key executive leadership during a period of transition."

– Irfhan Rawji, former Glenbow board chair

The Challenge

The Glenbow is Calgary’s premier art and history museum. Home to 236,000 pieces of art and one of North America’s largest Indigenous arts and culture collections, Glenbow wanted to design its future as a world-class museum and national destination. On the heels of completing an ambitious strategic plan, the museum was about to launch a multi-million-dollar capital campaign for a top-to-bottom, exterior and interior renovation. There were a few obstacles to overcome first, however. Though they’d been an Alberta institution for half a century, Glenbow’s fundraising program was still in its formative stages—they had an operating budget of ~$10M with approximately $1.5M in philanthropic contributions. In addition, they were navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, where the arts were one of the hardest hit sectors in the country. And to top things off, they were undergoing transitions in their board and executive team. “We needed an external partner to bridge the gap between the past and the future,” former Glenbow board chair Irfhan Rawji explains. “We needed a team who could join us in thinking big.” They called Bespoke.

The Bespoke Solution

We needed to pitch in at the foundational level. We started by installing Bespoke CEO Jolene Livingston as Glenbow’s Interim Vice President of Advancement. We then:
• Developed and defined roles and responsibilities for the fundraising team
• Carried out an audit and assessment of current fundraising efforts
• Worked with the executive team to develop a new fundraising strategy from the ground up
• Wrote and designed a case for support
• Executed the museum’s annual fund campaign

The Impact

The results have been transformative. By rethinking the role of art, cultivating new perspectives at the board and executive level, and letting go of preconceived notions of who they were as an organization, Glenbow built momentum and huge visibility for their Glenbow Reimagined campaign. To date, they have raised $175 million, including the Shaw Family Foundation’s transformative $35 million gift that will make admission to the museum free in perpetuity—a donation that directly spoke to the case for support’s goal of “Ensuring Access for All.” “Bespoke understood our vision and helped us develop a campaign that resonated with funders and donors,” Rawji says. “They provided key executive leadership during a period of transition. They also made it obvious that we were a winning team, which helped us attract top talent.”

Key highlights

$175 million Raised to date

$35 million gift ensuring free access for all

Enhanced skills and visibility of leadership team