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Lauren Baldwin: Kentucky Derby Museum

By Bill Doolittle • Photography by Matt Johnson 


JUST TELL HER YOUR STORY, AND LAUREN BALDWIN CAN HOOK YOU UP WITH THE KENTUCKY DERBY MUSEUM


Lauren Baldwin grabs you with her summer blue eyes, and pulls you in with a radiant smile. “Now what,” she asks, “can we do for you?” 


Of course, we didn’t actually sit in on a meeting with the Kentucky Derby Museum’s chief fundraiser and a prospective new donating sponsor. And we’re only imagining that “What can we do for you?” is Baldwin’s standard opening line. 


But you get the idea she’s got kind of a switcheroo technique going on from the regular Donations 101 approach. That long before she asks a prospective donor for money for the museum, she’s got the donor telling her all about their business and their giving goals. 

“The biggest thing for me,” Baldwin says, “is getting in front of someone and figuring out where their interests lie. We’re trying to make the connection between what your organization supports and how to tie that to the museum.” 


Fortunately, the Kentucky Derby Museum is full of opportunities for businesses to associate with a very popular, and highly regarded, attraction that celebrates one of the world’s most recognizable events. 


“Our mission here at the Kentucky Derby Museum is to educate, engage, and excite everyone about the extraordinary experience that is the Kentucky Derby,” says Baldwin, the museum’s Director of Development. Her mission includes fundraising, donations, grants -- and the highly competitive quest for new sponsors. 


Some of those sponsors – or partners, as they’re often called -- are naturals. The museum recently secured a major grant from Churchill Downs to fund an educational outreach program to be staffed and administered by the museum. Field trips and free visits to the museum for school children. 


But other connections are less obvious. 


Baldwin notes as an example a partnership just inked with Equine Podiatry Solutions, which markets therapeutic products for horses. Podiatry – as in feet, and the famous saying, “No foot, no horse,” from famous Kentucky Derby horseman John E. Madden. The company is forwardly involved in research and therapeutic medicine for the treatment of laminitis, a devastating equine condition/disease that debilitates and destroys the structure of horses’ feet. 


Laminitis afflicts all breeds of horses. Notably, Secretariat succumbed to laminitis as a 19-year-old stallion. Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was just three when he was felled by laminitis after a suffering a racing injury in 2006. 


Baldwin says the relationship deal with Equine Podiatry Solutions is so new the details of how the museum and the company will partner are still being planned. But the connection is primarily good will, and should be especially appreciated by those directly involved with horses: owners, trainers, veterinarians -- some of the most ardent fans of the Kentucky Derby Museum. 


Open year ‘round to tell the story of one day of the year 


Hotels and restaurants are a more straightforward fit. With over 250,000 visitors every year, The Derby Museum is second only to the Louisville Slugger Museum in annual visitors in Louisville. 


“The majority of our visitors here at the museum are from out of state, they’re tourists,” says Baldwin. “They want to know where to stay, where to dine, and we can refer them to our hospitality partners. And our partners can suggest a visit to the Kentucky Derby Museum. 

“The majority of our sponsorships are corporate sponsorships, and we want to be creative,” Baldwin continues. “We can develop ticketed events sponsored by organizations and put on a stellar event. 


“The Kentucky Derby Museum Ball is an excellent example of that,” she adds. “The Ball is our largest fundraiser of the year. I work alongside our director of events, and everyone at the museum. The 37th Annual ball we just put on is the largest we’ve had since I’ve been here. We sold more sponsorships for the event than we ever have. With the help of our ball chair and ball committee it’s just tremendous. For me, it’s all about networking and getting in front of the right people.” 


For attendees the Derby Museum Ball is one of Kentucky’s most glamourous galas, with ball gowns, an orchestra, and the wonder of Kentucky in the springtime -- all conjuring up a festive mood for the coming Run for the Roses.


“We want everybody to have an amazing time because it’s truly the kickoff to the Derby. It’s a week before the Derby, on the night before Opening Night. This year we hosted the ball over in the First Turn Club, and it was truly incredible.”


Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum are not financially connected, meaning the museum is on its own in financing its operations. The track is a business, while the museum is a 501 C-3 non-profit. The museum also enjoys a healthy endowment, which was inaugurated by Arkansas lumberman and Louisville hotelman J, Graham Brown, a lifetime racing fan and prominent horse owner. It was Brown’s wish that a museum be created to tell the Kentucky Derby story.


But the track is a terrific partner for the museum. And the new field trips sponsorship is merely the latest example -- and a much needed one, says Baldwin.


“I always say you’re the worst tourist in your home city, because how often do we get out and see what is in our own city? Things we take for granted. I come here every day and you don’t realize how special this museum is to people from all over the world.” 


A little noisier at the museum than at the funeral home


Baldwin’s touch with people is so apparent, one wonders if she started out in politics.

“Oh, no,” she laughs. “It’s funny, though. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but I was class president of my seventh and eighth grade classes at St. Gabriel’s school (in Louisville).”

But her career path wasn’t a straight line of related jobs. 


“I always wanted to be a coroner,” she says. “But for whatever reason in Jefferson County it is very political. Itried and tried. I mean, I would call the medical examiner’s office every day and ask them if they needed me to come volunteer, and they’re like, ‘Gosh, lady, leave us alone.’ I took a step back and realized a majority of city coroners have backgrounds in law enforcement or forensic nursing. Neither field interested me. But then I thought that in a lot of rural cities and counties a lot of the coroners are funeral directors.”


Baldwin studied for a degree in funeral service and took an apprenticeship with Ratterman & Sons Funeral Home, in Louisville. It’s a prominent company and Baldwin soon found a niche in administration. From there, she took a position at the Speed Art Museum – then on to the Kentucky Derby Museum.


Now, she says, she sees herself as a storyteller – and a good listener.


While the Kentucky Derby Museum is very well perceived, Baldwin says it is still a tough market for non-profits looking for new sponsors. Corporate giving, she says, is very “grandfathered in” – companies sticking with the giving they’ve traditionally done.

“I think everyone just feels uneasy about what’s to come,” says Baldwin. “It’s like, ‘If we were giving to you before, we’ll continue to give to you. But we’re not going to give to anyone new.’ ”

Which is why Lauren Baldwin asks potential donors to tell their story – and listens to what they say. “Because once you make that connection, it’s just about the storytelling to make it happen.” 

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