Saturday, October 24, 2015

Be Inspired by the "Bill Gates Brand"

Thanks to Bill Gates’ original mission of providing "a computer on every desk and in every home," he has become an important philanthropist with global impact. He founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, whose primary aims are, globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in the United States, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. Based in Seattle, Washington, the Foundation is controlled by its three trustees: Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

Already a trendsetter due to its support of a myriad of issues and significant funding provided around the world, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is also a leader when for something truly unique in the nonprofit sector, when it comes to Foundations. The Gates Foundation has a visitor center. 

The Gates Foundation's Visitor Center is located in Seattle across the street from the Seattle Center, which is the home of the Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass, Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum, and Pacific Science Center. Admission is free, and the hours are 10am to 5pm Tuesday through Saturday. The Visitor Center presents an array of programs and community events, including family days, educator workshops, and student workshops.

Many nonprofits in the education and preservation sectors have visitor centers so that they can create positive and memorable experiences for their visitors. Where did you go the first time you visited your college or university? What about your favorite museum, presidential library, or national park? When you enter New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, California's Reagan or Nixon Presidential Libraries, or any of the official entrances to the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, you encounter a large desk, a designated area, or a building with docents who will welcome visitors, provide maps, and even provide tours. But why would large corporate foundations that provide funds to these and countless other nonprofits need visitor centers?

What makes the Gates Foundation's Visitor Center different from other nonprofits' visitor centers? According to a description by Jim Dever of King 5, a Washington-based NBC affiliate, "If you're looking to explore the world and learn how to make a difference, you can start by exploring the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Visitor Center." Charlotte Beall, Gates Foundation Visitor Center senior manager, explained why the Gates Foundation's Visitor Center is one-of-a-kind, "This whole gallery is about the fact that we can't do this alone, and we need collaboration with others to be successful and solve some of these big problems [that the world faces]."

According to the FAQ page on the website, "The Gates Foundation built the Visitor Center to motivate and inspire people to take action – in their own unique ways – to improve the lives of others. Through displays, interactive exhibits, and programs, we work to spark conversation about global and local issues and highlight the important progress being made in Seattle and around the world. We designed the Visitor Center as a place where people can share ideas, explore their interests, and experience the power of optimism about the world’s future."

While the Gates family history and their efforts to improve the world are shared at the Visitor Center, visitors also realize, as the history unfolds, that the story is theirs too. For instance, one interactive computer program will tell you where your strengths lie and suggest ways that you can change the world on your own. According to the Gates Foundation's Visitor Center website, "Explore inventions like a life-saving mosquito net, an ingenious personal water filter, and a storage device that can keep vaccines cool for 30 days or more. Learn about the unprecedented effort to eradicate polio in our lifetime. Immerse yourself in debates about education, health and poverty – and decide your own priorities. Tell the world what YOUR FOUNDATION would do."

Perhaps, the reason why the Gates Foundation's Visitor Center works so well is because it makes philanthropy accessible for all visitors, no matter one’s ethnicity, socio-economic status, or political persuasion. For example, the Gates Foundation itself does not dig wells in Africa, but it may fund a local organization that does. At the Visitor Center, children see this "one world" concept come to life in the interactive stations located throughout, and they are able to build their own devices to help others. The Visitor Center works because visitors of all ages quickly become engaged, for example, upon entering and seeing the photo wall, visitors can add their own photos. And best of all, visitors can draw a picture of their own cause on the "Share Your Cause Tree."

While the initial concept for the visitor center may have been to promote the Gates Foundation's community involvement and philanthropic impact, at its core, it is a physical representation of the Bill Gates brand – just recall the initial Microsoft mission mentioned at the beginning of this post, and see the parallel with the tagline for the Gates Foundation's Visitor Center: "Arrive Curious. Leave Inspired."

How has Bill Gates or his brand inspired you?

For more about the Gates Foundation Visitor Center:

For more about the Gates Foundation:

Image Credit: Stuart Miles via