By Tracey Silverman, Texas Historical Commission Planner
When Rebecca Borchers moved back to Texas after spending 13 years in Chicago, little did she know her career would come full circle. As the new Executive Director of the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission (Friends), Rebecca now offices in the choir loft of the historic Gethsemane Church and works side-by-side with Terry Colley, the Deputy Executive Director of the Texas Historical Commission (THC). Both Rebecca and Terry started their careers in historic preservation as Main Street managers in the mid-1980s, Rebecca in Goliad and Terry in San Marcos. To boot, the Main Street Program had its office in the Gethsemane Church. It’s a full circle that feels right at home for Rebecca.
What is your title and how long have you been working for the THC?
I have two titles: Executive Director of the Friends and Development Director of the THC. This may seem confusing; however, I believe it represents the essential collaboration between the two organizations.
This is my first position with the THC and I have been here for only a few weeks, but I have quite a bit of experience working with the THC. I was the first Main Street manager in Goliad and was executive director for Victoria Preservation, Inc. for seven years, which included the restoration of the Victoria County Courthouse.
I have also completed several National Register of Historic Places nominations, including the Baker House, a turn-of-the-century brick Victorian home just a block off the square in Goliad. I also worked with property owners on Rehabilitation Tax Credit Projects, the most significant being the Bergman Building in downtown Goliad, which was instrumental in spurring other owners to rehab and restore their buildings downtown.
I continued to be involved in preservation as a volunteer after changing careers, including the establishment of the Armitage Avenue Historic District in Chicago, serving on the planning committee of my neighborhood association in Chicago, and leading the initiative in Goliad to pass a preservation ordinance for the downtown.
If you meet someone at a party and they ask you what you do, how do you describe your job?
I am responsible for administration and fundraising for the Friends of the THC, which is the non-profit organization that raises money to support the THC.
What all does your job entail?
I work with the Board of Trustees to develop and implement a strategic plan for the organization, including fundraising, communications, marketing, and board development. I work with THC staff to identify programs and projects that need financial assistance, and then put all the pieces into place to raise awareness, money, and support to make it happen.
Tell us about your experiences and education that got you to this point.
I have a BA in history from the University of Texas at Austin, and I have worked in preservation for a number of years both professionally and as a volunteer. I returned to UT in 1993 for the executive MBA program while I continued to work for Victoria Preservation, Inc. I then switched careers and worked in investments and trust services, then corporate communications and marketing. I returned to the nonprofit sector in 2004 as director of corporate partnerships and, subsequently, director of institutional relations for Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Prior to returning to Texas, I was a fundraiser for Children’s Memorial Foundation in Chicago.
What are you most excited about working on?
I am looking forward to establishing a planned giving and major gift program, as well as working on the wine bottle project associated with La Belle. The wine bottle project is a fantastic opportunity to purchase a bottle of wine with a special La Belle label, along with a replica decanter of what was found on the ship. We are partnering with several Texas wineries who will bottle and sell this special La Belle label wine, and a percentage of the proceeds will go directly to the Friends.
What are your priorities right now?
I am focused on establishing a planned-giving program, increasing and securing grants and sponsorships for THC programs, and increasing the number of donors who give to Texas Heroes and the 1836 Campaign.
Texas Heroes are individuals who provide ongoing support to the THC through their annual gifts. The 1836 Campaign honors the year Texas became its own nation and is an opportunity for people to honor their personal Texas heroes through a gift to the Friends. All money raised through the 1836 Campaign goes toward establishing an endowment, so the programs of the THC have a stable source of support. We have many meaningful ways to support the important work of the THC, and you can learn more about it by visiting our new website.
What is the most frequently asked question you hear about fundraising? How do you answer it?
I always hear, “Isn’t fundraising hard?” I think most people feel that fundraising is difficult because they don’t want to ask people for money. I’ll admit, it is challenging. But that’s what I like about it. You have to be strategic, tenacious, and patient. You also have to invest energy in building and maintaining relationships with donors.
What’s the key to success in fundraising?
There is not just one key to success in fundraising. First, you must have projects or needs that are appealing to donors, and those projects must have a solid plan for being successful. Next, you need to find the right match between those projects and the interests of people who may want to make a gift. How do you find these potential donors? You begin by identifying donors that have funded similar projects—in this case, historic preservation. You can certainly make a cold call, but ideally you have supporters who have relationships with prospective donors and can help open doors. Last, you need to articulate the project and rationale in a high-quality, concise proposal, whether that’s a grant application, a letter, or a meeting in-person.
It’s 2017 and you are reminiscing about all the things you’ve accomplished over the past five years. What do you hope to say?
We have a robust planned-giving program and have funded numerous THC projects that would not have been completed without the Friends. We have a significant number of new individual, foundation, and corporate donors, and a great working relationship with THC staff.
You’ve got a free weekend to take a road trip in Texas. Where do you want to go and what do you want to do?
I want to head south and visit Roma, Rio Grande City, and San Ygnacio, and stay at the La Borde House. I first read about this area of the state in the late 1980s, and it really piqued my interest. It’s a part of Texas where I’ve never spent any time. Hopefully I’ll change that soon!
Where is your office? How can people get in touch with you?
My office is in Gethsemane Church. Please email me at email@example.com, or call me at 512.936.2241 or 773.318.3363 anytime.