Arts, Culture, and Humanities

French Lick West Baden Museum

Biggest little show in town

aka French Lick West Baden Museum

French Lick, IN


The French Lick West Baden Museum is dedicated to educating and enlightening residents and visitors of the French Lick West Baden past and present cultural heritage, to preserving that heritage, and enhancing quality of place and life for all.

Ruling Year



Patty Drabing

Associate Director

Dawn Lofland

Main Address

469 S Maple St Suite 103 P O Box 250

French Lick, IN 47432 USA


historical museum





Cause Area (NTEE Code)

History Museums (A54)

IRS Filing Requirement

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Programs + Results

What we aim to solve

The towns of French Lick & West Baden have fascinating, offbeat histories revolving around two grand historic hotels. It all started with migrating buffalo, nutrient-rich mineral licks, and pungent water that someone figured out was good for your health. The area then became Las Vegas before Nevada was ever a state. Add home to a major circus company, one of the country's best-known basketball players & world-class golf courses just for good measure. The French Lick West Baden Museum chronicles all that & more. It has grown dramatically since its founding as a temporary display in 2007. It has become an increasingly important part of the local community both culturally & socially but, based on our research, has come nowhere near to reaching its potential. The museum has been operating at a financial deficit that must be reversed. It has a two-tier challenge: increasing visitor rates & increasing membership/volunteers; two very different publics.

Our programs

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Circus Day

Where we work

Charting Impact

Five powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What is the organization aiming to accomplish?

What are the organization's key strategies for making this happen?

What are the organization's capabilities for doing this?

How will they know if they are making progress?

What have they accomplished so far and what's next?

The French Lick West Baden Museum is in small-town French Lick, Indiana, in rural Orange County abutting even smaller West Baden. It is about an hour away from the nearest interstate highway in the rolling hills of southern Indiana. The county once had a solid manufacturing base that disappeared, leaving agriculture & tourism as the main economic engines. Tourism languished as the once grand West Baden Springs Hotel was a deserted, dilapidated shell & the French Lick Springs Hotel was in a steady state of decline. The local economy was in a sad state until the Cook company came in & bought the hotels in the late 1990's & started a massive renovation, building a casino & championship-level golf course in the process. That also spurred others to build additional attractions such as an indoor water park, indoor go-karting & a wild animal park. As a result, the tourism business continues to grow in the area. The French Lick West Baden Museum must do a better job of establishing itself as a key part of the "total destination." Giving visitors more to do in the area means longer stays, which benefit all players in the tourism sector. Thus the museum, as a non-profit, should be worthy of business & civic support. The museum cannot survive on admissions & memberships alone. Like many nonprofit organizations, it faces many challenges. Many of those challenges can be addressed with additional funding, therefore a large segment of the plan focuses on these efforts & how to create more revenue for the organization. Key challenges are inadequate funding, limited space, lack of paid staff & volunteers. Secondary issues such as planning challenges & the ability to take advantage of grant writing opportunities. In many ways, the French Lick West Baden Museum finds itself a victim of its own success.

The primary goal is to increase awareness of the museum & its programs; in order to increase revenue, we need to start by increasing attendance & membership. The secondary goal is to establish & set a direction for a new "Friends of the Museum" group in order to organize & run fundraising events, including a donor campaign, recruit volunteers, create more quarterly programs. Objectives for the secondary goal being to establish a core Friends of the Museum group of at least ten people & to coordinate the first Friends run fundraising event. To achieve the goal of increasing attendance, mass media, digital outreach, social media, & creative partnering will be utilized. Increased motor coach tour visits serve as a key means of increasing attendance. The museum will partner more directly with the Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau & French Lick Resort in soliciting these motorcoach tours. That includes improved publicity material, shared staffing at marketing events & improved followup complete with video resources. Another opportunity involves attendance among French Lick Resort (two historic hotels) & French Lick Villas (timeshare guests). Producing a museum video for the resort marketing channel & updating & improving promotional material: rack cards, displays & discount passes are all part of the packaging. The museum has never used testimonials in its marketing despite getting widespread praise from visitors for the quality of its exhibits & presentation. The quote "What an unexpected delight!" uttered by a recent guest will serve as a tag line for marketing materials. While the museum solicits visitors from outside the local area as members, the bulk of the membership is understandably local. To achieve the goal of increasing membership, a variety of local print & broadcast media, direct mail, digital & social media, & in-person contacts must be used. Related print, digital & video materials will be updated with the driving message "Keep our amazing History Alive". A membership drive will be held in the spring as a lead up to the annual member's party in May. The publicity message will key in on the improved benefits that come with membership. Additional member events will also be proposed. Included in but not confined to that membership drive will be a promotion to "Honor Your Family History" by buying an engraved brick in the museum entryway. Many spaces are available so it could be a significant economic boost. The promotional material needs to be updated as well.

In research with the board, it became apparent that this "Friends" group is urgently needed. The creation of a recruiting/fundraising brochure themed around the "Help Keep Our Amazing History Alive" message is step one, followed by a digital & mass media recruiting efforts. Volunteers will be organized by & flow through this group, freeing up staff to pursue administrative & other important duties, such as writing grant applications, membership maintenance & donor follow-up. The first full-on Friends event would likely be the May members party. Next comes the Circus Day event in June. Circus Day is built around the area's rich circus history & the museum's amazing circus diorama display. The first Circus Day was a small affair & proved to be a success both attendance-wise & financially. There is no financial obligation with the Friends group as there is with museum membership, but people can & would be encouraged to be members of both. The "Friends" will play an important role in donor campaigns as well. With a targeted campaign to create more awareness of the French Lick West Baden Museum within the proper publics, more visitors & volunteers/members will be recruited; generating more revenue. The donor base will also expand. The Museum IS a quality attraction, valuable resource & source of pride within the community. The mission is to make that fact better known & accepted within the target publics. Then, by increasing the museum's profile & role with ongoing events, it becomes a social force as well. Tourism is vital to these small communities & partnering with other related entities is essential to tourism success. By raising the museum's profile, it will become a more valued piece of what draws visitors here & keeps them in the area longer.

Given the small staff, the rural nature of the area & limited media outlets, a great deal of evaluation by action will be relied upon in order to gauge the success of the program. Pursuing what is realistic & feasible is paramount. Direct observation & anecdotal evidence will also play a role. The first & most important measure of success is indicated by an increase in attendance. The museum staff will keep count. Museum staff & volunteers will be instructed to ask visitors where they are from & how they heard about the museum, & subsequently keep a log. The "How did you hear about us?" question is key to seeing if suggested strategies are moving the museum towards the goals & objectives identified. Staff will continue to administer the initial survey. Staff will also monitor the website for an increase in clicks, unique visitors, & time spent on the site. The museum's Facebook page will also be monitored for increases in likes, views & shares. So too will staff monitor partner sites & pages for related information, such as the French Lick Resort & Orange County CVB pages. Trip Advisor & Yelp will also be monitored for visitor comments & ratings. Local ®ional media will be monitored for museum-related coverage. A clip file will be kept by staff along with a log of radio & TV coverage. Any meaningful indicators or trends from al lof this will allow for appropriate adjustments to the plan. Staff & board members will also cull the internet & local television for coverage. The museum does not have the budget to enlist an outside monitoring service. An accurate estimate of media impressions & advertising equivalency may be difficult to assess. given the circumstances, but it will be attempted. Audience feedback is key to measurement & the most accurate gauge realistically available. On the visitor front, the museum visitor survey will continue to yield answers about how patrons learned of the museum & their attitudes after visiting. they will be monitored for shifts that would reflect the effectiveness of the program especially in the area of "How did you learn about us?" TripAdvisor & Yelp will be more closely monitored for visitor attitudes & perceptions & possible promotional content. Staff may be able to spot useful trends that could be a basis to modify the plan. More fundamentally, attendance figures will tell the tale in cold, hard numbers. As for membership, a similar yardstick shall apply. As new people come into the museum, staff will survey their attitudes & perceptions to see what motivated them to join. They shall then be recruited as volunteers. Event attendance & financial results from those events will also be clear measures of success. The member's party in May & Circus Day in June will be of major importance & real tests. Brick drive results will also be measurable.

Board members have become more actively & directly involved in the operation & oversight of the museum. Individual members have been taking on specific areas such as communications, finance, programs, etc & working directly through the staff. The board is also more actively involved in setting the budget & further strategic planning. The Friends of the Museum is headed by a board member & is serving as a fundraising, event planning, & volunteer recruitment & coordination arm. Almost immediately, the museum operation has become more organized. The staff has developed an action plan on priorities, volunteer needs & their best use. While the top responsibility has been making sure day to day operations runs smoothly, the second priority has been revenue generation, especially seeking out & successfully executing grant applications, followed by events. Volunteers have helped free up the director from the front desk to work on said grants. While there isn't staff available to offer docent-led tours on a regular basis, the technology exists to offer pre-recorded voice-guided tours. A grant has been awarded to put such an offering in place & the initial groundwork is being laid. We've established the French Lick West Baden Museum Historic Preservation Award. Historic preservation is vital to the well-being of the French Lick West Baden communities but no one has given out such an award locally. Not only is it good positioning for the museum but yet another way to raise its profile as the keeper of local history. The award was announced in April & used as an element to promote the member's party in May where it was presented. We've been seeking out opportunities to work more closely & visibly with the French Lick Resort & Villas for those two primary sources of museum guests. Met with managers ab both facilities & see what else we might offer to more effectively connect with their guests. Added a video spot on the resort marketing channel. Reminded HR that resort employees get free admission to the museum with company ID. Made museum visits part of their training. We've worked with the resort group sales to make sure the museum is included as an offered activity for resort hosted meetings & conventions. We've made sure all printed collateral visible & available at both hotels. We are seeking out opportunities to work more closely & visibly to promote the museum within CVB channels such as upgrading the museum kiosk at the Visitors Center, adding video, integrate discounts into future rack cards which are now more prominently displayed. We are sending event listings & feature material to CVB for inclusion on their website & outreach materials. We are also working more closely with the CVB on the solicitation of motorcoach groups. We are also doing the same with Indiana Landmarks. Our newsletter has become an engaging, dependable quarterly publication. A print version is mailed to members & it's also uploaded to our website & facebook page.

External Reviews


French Lick West Baden Museum

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The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.

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  • Forms 990 for 2018, 2017 and 2016
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Board Leadership Practices

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section, which enables organizations and donors to transparently share information about essential board leadership practices.

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization


Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations?

Not Applicable


Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year?

Not Applicable


Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year?

Not Applicable


Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership?

Not Applicable


Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years?

Not Applicable