Arts, Culture, and Humanities

Old Dartmouth Historical Society

  • New Bedford, MA

Mission Statement

The mission of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society is to educate and interest all the public in the historic interaction worldwide of humans with whales; in history of Old Dartmouth and adjacent communities; and in regional maritime activity. To accomplish this the Society shall collect, preserve and interpret the artifacts and documentary evidence of these endeavors; maintain a whaling, maritime and local history museum, maintain a library; promote and disseminate historical research; and accept historic sites where appropriate.

Main Programs

  1. Education
Service Areas



Local, Regional, National, and International Audiences

ruling year


Principal Officer


James Russell



Museum, Research Library, Education Center

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Also Known As

New Bedford Whaling Museum






Cause Area (NTEE Code)

Museum & Museum Activities (A50)

Libraries, Library Science (B70)

IRS Filing Requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

Programs + Results

How does this organization make a difference?


Self-reported by organization

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

Program 1


Currently the Museum offers 13 standards-based elementary and middle school programs designed to enhance student understanding of their shared heritage, cultural diversity, local history, ecology and marine science. All programs are certified to address Massachusetts Department of Education Curriculum/ Common Core Frameworks and National Science Standards.

The Museum’s High School Apprenticeship Program is designed to help economically disadvantaged New Bedford students graduate from high school and go on to college, a trade school, or the military while providing valuable life skills and work experience. Of the 36 students who have completed the program since its inception in 2010, 100% graduated high school and 100% were accepted into college. The program has continued to evolve since 2010 and will expand in the next year to increase the Museum’s impact on local youth.

The Museum has delivered educational services to the Greater New Bedford region since 1903. One hundred forty volunteers, including 80 Docents, support a staff of 28, working under the direction of a diverse community-based Board of Trustees of 30. Evolving from traditional museum exhibits to curriculum-correlated field trips, to interactive online learning experiences, the Museum's education offerings increase their impact on students and on the teaching in local schools each year.

New and redesigned educational initiatives allow the Museum to fulfill its goal of improving outcomes from elementary and middle school programs. These improvements will help the Museum better serve students and teachers in the New Bedford region, and beyond who currently participate in our programs, and also attract new school groups.

The recommendations for change came out of deep conversations with and feedback from community partners, teachers and educators from across the region, administrators in the New Bedford Public School system and civic leaders. As State and Federal education reform efforts focus on core reading and math skills, the role of third party education providers like the Museum is changing. The Museum has increased its commitment to providing deeper learning: research, writing and digital media creation skill development and teacher training, to supplement the more focused school programs.


Arts, Culture & Humanities

Population(s) Served

General Public/Unspecified



Charting Impact

Self-reported by organization

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

  1. What is the organization aiming to accomplish?
    As the region's first purpose-built historical attraction, the New Bedford Whaling Museum continues as the preeminent cultural ambassador for the community. It teaches lessons about many pressing global issues, including the consequences of natural resource depletion, entrepreneurialism and the diversification of industry, and the need for tolerance and understanding in a multicultural society. The role the museum plays in its second century is no less important than the role it played one hundred years ago. In studying the history of the region (Old Dartmouth), we can learn to understand and appreciate the complex forces that shaped the past, that echo with remarkable urgency today, and that will help inform a sustainable future.

    The Board of Trustees believes we have a societal obligation to help improve the lives of people in the region, and that the Museum is in a unique position to do so. The Board believes that the Museum can best contribute to this core purpose through a reaffirmation of its investment in educational activities.
  2. What are the organization's key strategies for making this happen?
    The Board has agreed on these Institutional strategies for 2014-2019:
    • Keen attention to financial management and careful stewardship of our valuable resources including personnel, collections and campus;
    • Emphasis on the museum's role as an educational institution, thus guiding program development & exhibit design;
    • Continued responsiveness to a community-centric approach to programs, social service and civic engagement, often in concert with local partners;
    • Encouragement of entrepreneurial thinking, linking program development to revenue streams;
    • Attraction and engagement of new audiences by creating new “points of access";
    • Create a sense of rediscovery by framing the whaling story in a global, historical and societal context with relevance and context for audiences today;
    • Strengthen a sense of identity by reinforcing the four centuries of stories, both on land and on water, germane to the Old Dartmouth region.
  3. What are the organization's capabilities for doing this?
    Management and trustees recognize that our core competency is the unique combination of service, product and place that together creates an experience that delivers exceptional and differentiating value to the customer. The combination of specialized knowledge and skills, together with, a deep and expansive collection, and a rootedness in the South coast (historically Old Dartmouth) creates the conditions for success.

    Underpinning programmatic growth is a commitment to a conservative fiscal strategy and to the assurance of best practices and transparency expected of a vibrant institution. For the past 8 years, management put in place a balanced operating plan that aims to grow programs and exhibitions, seek out new sources of financial support and earned revenue, maximize operational efficiency, and ensure the vigilant oversight of the endowment such that it continues to provide support for operations. In addition, management and trustees committed to consolidate operations onto a single campus with the construction of the Wattles Jacobs Education Center. Strong financials are a testament to the concerted efforts of management, staff, and volunteers to maintain cost efficiencies in programs and operations and to their determined commitment to our mission and goals.

    This success can be measured by positive year-end operating results, zero debt, and continued growth in net assets. The annual audit was conducted and the auditor issued a “clean opinion". In summary, the Museum is financially stronger than ever. All of the above is accomplished by a relatively small staff of 30 full time employees, supported by a robust 121 strong volunteer corps with oversight from an active and engaged Board of Trustees.
  4. How will they know if they are making progress?
    Quantitative progress is measured by:
    • A focus on year-end operating results;
    • Year-over-year increase in operating revenue and support;
    • Increase in paid attendance;
    Qualitative progress is measured by:
    • Increase in media hits;
    • Increase in social media interaction;
    • Positive feedback through on-line survey tools

    As we prepare for this season, we do so with enthusiastic support from a growing membership. The cache of goodwill seems ample. Visitor feedback is overwhelmingly positive and there is the sense that the brand of the Museum is decidedly on the rise.
  5. What have and haven't they accomplished so far?
    “Build capacity, embrace change" is our motto. Quite literally the changes to the museum campus are systemic, transformative, and liberating. The capital campaign created the conditions whereby, from Johnny Cake Hill to Captain Paul Cuffe Park, the visitor experience is indispensably and irrefutably improved.

    It is worth reviewing the circumstances that dictated a decision to embark on a campaign three years ago. There were five overlapping reasons for the endeavor: expanded programmatic thrusts were putting stress on existing spaces and demanding growth; trustees made the strategic decision to move operations out of the Purchase Street Research Library (four blocks away) and consolidate all assets and personnel on the Johnny Cake Hill campus; trustees and major donors indicated support for the effort; staff was seasoned and had capacity and knowledge to run sophisticated back-to-back campaigns; and the organization was in a debt-free position, managing finances with aplomb.

    We must capitalize on our investment because success breeds success. The completion of the recent capital campaign, and in record time, should give confidence and hope to all who believe in community enrichment. For generations to come our decisions and actions today will be appreciated and utilized to maximum benefit.

Service Areas



Local, Regional, National, and International Audiences

Social Media


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Financial information is an important part of gauging the short- and long-term health of the organization.

Old Dartmouth Historical Society
Fiscal year: Jan 01-Dec 31
Yes, financials were audited by an independent accountant.

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

Old Dartmouth Historical Society



Free: Gain immediate access to the following:
  • Address, phone, website and contact information
  • Forms 990 for 2015, 2014 and 2013
  • Board Chair
  • Access to the GuideStar Community
Need the ability to download nonprofit data and more advanced search options? Consider a Premium or Pro Search subscription.

Principal Officer

James Russell



Carol M. Taylor


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. 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?



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



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



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



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