Margaret Hoffman at the Boothbay Railway Village. Photo Thalassa Raasch/MaineCF


Margaret Hoffman was born in Edison, New Jersey. She moved to York, Pennsylvania, in middle school. She attended Catholic elementary and high schools before going to College of the Atlantic (COA) in Bar Harbor, where she graduated in 1997. In 2010 she was part of the team at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens to be awarded the Governor’s Tourism Award for Commitment to Innovation and Creativity. Hoffman is executive director of Boothbay Railway Village.

How did your education at COA prepare you for life after college? 

The interdisciplinary nature of that education totally aligns with nonprofit work. You have to be able to do just about anything, from meeting with a donor to unclogging a toilet. My most valuable asset in my career has been my ability to learn quickly and adapt to new circumstances. I think COA prepares students better than a more traditional education because we learn how to be self-directed and self-motivated. That translates to success in many fields.

You’ve been in the nonprofit world for a number of years now. What are some of the challenges and rewards of this work?  

I’ve been in the nonprofit world now for 20 years (with a nearly two-year break when I worked at the Maine Office of Tourism). For me it was important to feel like I was working hard to make the world a better place.

When I first left COA, I went into graphic design and took a job at a local print shop in Southwest Harbor that was later bought out by Down East Graphics and Printing. Then I moved away for a position with an organization in metro D.C. that creates campaigns for large nonprofits; I had clients like American Farmland Trust, Campaign for Tibet, The Nature Conservancy, and Zero Population Growth. I realized first that I hated the traffic and second that I wanted to work for the nonprofits, not charge them hourly! That led to nearly ten years in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I worked for the Girl Scouts in a series of positions ending as a senior manager.

Among the challenges of nonprofit work is managing a volunteer board of directors. The best part of this work is knowing that you are having an impact on people. I don’t work in a field — health care or human services — where I save lives, but arts, culture, and history are what make life worth living!

You worked for Maine’s Office of Tourism for several years. How do you see Maine’s tourism industry? 

Vital. Tourism is our biggest industry and it touches every single Maine resident one way or another. Portland has done a great job of capitalizing on their accolades to also bring new residents into Maine. That’s an area of great potential for the entire state. We have such a great quality of life that we can use to leverage bringing new and younger talent to Maine. Related industries, like beer, wine and spirits as well as Maine-made products, are also growing by leaps and bounds.

I also think our tourism industry is amazingly collaborative. A great example is the Maine Motorcoach Network. We started out in 2010 or so as a group advising the Maine Office of Tourism (MOT) on group tour marketing. We are now over 250 members and have become our own nonprofit, marketing Maine directly to tour operators in partnership and coordination with MOT. Pete Pantuso, the national director of the American Bus Association, uses this group as an example of what happens when people work together instead of in competition. Our tourism industry in Maine is more like family than an industry. We all know each other and lift each other up. I’m proud to be part of it.

As executive director of the Boothbay Railway Village, how do you go about marketing it? 

We went through a strategic planning process in 2014-2015 and set out some specific goals in relation to broadening our audience, growing visitation, and changing the public perception of the museum. A lot of that upfront effort has been in exhibit design, the addition of interpretive signage and video installations, as well as program development (special events/festivals, lectures, hands-on classes, Artisan Days, etc.). In fact, our marketing budget is 70% smaller than in 2014 and our visitation is nearly double. Our membership grew more than threefold in that time period.

From a true marketing and advertising standpoint, we invested in a new website, use social media as much as possible, and constantly evaluate and innovate the mix of print, radio, and other media in our plan. One of our most important placements is with Maine Public, radio and TV. I’ve also been blessed with very supportive editors at many Maine newspapers who cover many of our events and programs.

The Boothbay Railway Village has received grants from MaineCF’s Lincoln County Fund and the Belvedere Traditional Handcrafts Fund. How have these grants helped further your mission? 

The grant from Belvedere is in action almost every day this season. We leveraged that support along with a gift from the Davis Family Foundation to expand our Artisan Days program. We couldn’t take that big risk without outside help. We’ve learned a lot through the expansion and that will help us budget more operating dollars for stipends for traditional artists in future years.

The work funded by the Lincoln County Fund is only just starting. We’re waiting for responses to an RFP. We are hiring a contractor to help create some tools to guide our fund development efforts. We are a tiny staff: five full-time year-round employees, four year-round part-timers, and about 10 more seasonal staff. But remember we have more than two dozen structures (many historic), plus an operating steam railroad. We have the most dedicated and talented staff who do so much with so little.

As an organization that started out as one-man’s vision and business from 1964 to 1981 and then evolved into a nonprofit, we still have work to do. We continue to build a philanthropic culture here. Our founder George H. McEvoy’s family foundation still gives the largest annual gift to the museum, but the mix has started to change pretty dramatically in the past 18 months. The Lincoln County Fund grant is going to help ensure that we can raise the dollars needed to take the museum into its next century.

What’s your favorite thing at the Boothbay Railway Village?

Oh, that’s hard. I think the thing I love most about the museum is when a multigenerational family comes to visit, and I hear a grandparent saying “I remember when” to a grandchild. Or when I hear someone say “I came here with my parents and now I bring my kids.” It’s that sharing with the next generation that I just find so magical.