A business discussion about the Franklin Park Conservatory

This month, part of my conversation about the new Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, featured in the Uniquely, focused on the business behind the nonprofit.

Over the decade that Bruce Harkey has been president and CEO, the organization has transformed. Its annual revenue grew from $5 million to more than $10 million as both earned and contributed revenue increased.

While Harkey studied horticulture, he also knows business and worked for Honda for 18 years. He uses both skill sets in his job.

“One of the characteristics of this organization that is different compared to other botanical gardens is our earned revenue is 65 percent,” he says. “The typical industry average is about 35 percent.” (The conservatory can be compared against the 64 large botanical gardens across the country, which have budgets of $3 million and above.)

Ten years ago, the conservatory’s percentage of earned revenue was in the high 40s. Harkey says the change has come from a significant growth in education, event rentals and starting a catering business.

“We have worked very hard to ensure that the conservatory continues to strengthen its financial foundation so that we can be sustainable — to grow in a reasonable, responsible way to make sure that we’re debt free and that we’re growing our earned revenue,” he says.

Another focus is innovation, and part of that innovation is balancing art and horticulture, which started with the Dale Chihuly glass exhibition in 2003.

“A lot of botanical gardens do art installations, but I don’t know that they are as integrated into the DNA of the organization as they are here at the conservatory,” Harkey says.

Art is even one of the organization’s three pillars, which are botanical gardens and beauty, community outreach and education, and broad inclusion of the arts. The horticulture and exhibitions development teams, which Harkey has combined into one, work hand in hand. That way, horticulture works with the artists on staff to ensure visitors have a comprehensive, fulfilling experience, he says.