Trish Wellenbach is the new CEO of the Please Touch Museum - Generocity Philly

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Mar. 17, 2016 12:48 pm

Trish Wellenbach is the new CEO of the Please Touch Museum

Wellenbach takes the helm as the nonprofit pulls itself out of bankruptcy.

Please Touch Museum.

(Photo by Darryl Moran, courtesy of the Please Touch Museum)

Young tactile learners will continue to have a place to explore that’s all theirs: The Please Touch Museum is finally out of bankruptcy, and a new CEO will take the reins to lead it into its next phase.

Trish Wellenbach first connected with the museum years ago when did she did consulting work for them through the agency she ran. Then this past June, the nonprofit of which she was CEO, Green Tree School and Services, restructured to avoid its own bankruptcy, and she stepped down. The museum reached out to ask if she’d consider coming on as an advisor.

Wellenbach is officially taking over as CEO and president sometime next week after the court signs the relevant paperwork, she said. But she’s effectively been in the role since Feb. 1, when former CEO Lisa McMaster stepped down.

The plan for that transition had been in place for several months, according to Wellenbach. McMaster, who Wellenbach called an “iconic, wonderful leader,” had been looking to relocate to her home country of Canada, but because she was so involved in the structuring of the bankruptcy, it made sense for her to stay on for a while.

Trish Wellenbach

Trish Wellenbach with the namesake of the museum’s Curious George exhibit. (Courtesy photo)

Wellenbach in her transitional role was in charge of rebuilding the staff and raising money. She said the latter was achieved thanks to contributions from corporate and foundational philanthropy, half a million dollars in government support and gifts from individuals — two of which were worth seven figures.

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Even so, “we have $10 and $50 gifts, too,” which are also valuable, she said. “It’s all important.”

To keep the museum financially sustainable into the future, staff will continue to fundraise until its $10 million goal is hit, and about $1.4 million in gifts are pledged for the year, Wellenbach said. The museum has continued to have “strong” gate attendance and membership growth. It’s planned that 85 percent of revenue will be earned, and 15 percent will come from philanthropic sources, as it has previously.

This year marks the museum’s 40th anniversary. A number of celebratory activities are planned, including a “Storybook Ball” for families on April 17, a “Night at the Museum” event “for adults to discover their inner child” during the summer, and a community-wide open house on the museum’s actual anniversary, Oct. 2.

Wellenbach has big hopes for the museum beyond this year, too. A new management team is in place, and it will be striving to make the institution more inclusive and to increase the amount of programming taking place outside the building, to name a few plans. There will be a three- to five-year process of reinventing the museum, according to Wellenbach.

“I think it will be a tremendous time of changes and innovation that will reinvigorate the community,” she said.

Wellenbach’s experience leading the restructuring of Green Tree as well as her part in negotiating the merger of Abington Hospital with Jefferson Health System last spring as an Abington trustee has prepared her for this new challenge.

“Leadership is about seeing the potential of the future and moving an organization responsibly to that future,” she said. “I think we do ourselves a disservice in the world by talking about what we did in the past and not about what we want to do.”

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