‘Hamilton’ Boosts Orphanage’s Story, History

Broadway smash-hit, Hamilton, ends with — spoiler alert for those who slept through history class — the titular character perishing in a duel, leaving the remaining characters to sing about what they did with the rest of their lives. “Can I show you what I’m proudest of,” the character Eliza Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton’s wife, sings. “I established the first private orphanage in New York City.”

The line has elicited some to wonder whatever happened to that orphanage and administrators at Graham Windham in Brooklyn, N.Y., are looking to take advantage of the opportunity. Graham Windham, which descended from the Orphan Asylum Society of the City of New York that Eliza Hamilton co-founded, has leveraged the musical’s success into an opportunity to benefit the families it serves and expand its fundraising reach.

Phillipa Soo, the actress who portrays Eliza Hamilton in the show, has become active with the organization along with dancer Morgan Marcell, according to Sandra April, vice president of development. The Eliza Project has been created as a symposium for hip-hop and dance and a pen-pal initiative with the children of Graham Windham and the Broadway cast.

ElizasStory.org, which links to Graham Windham’s main and list-signup pages, has been used to drive home the connection between the musical and organization to the public. The early-stages effort has already yielded a grant from Broadway Cares, a successfully revived luncheon that featured a cast performance and donations coming in from across the globe, starting with one from the show’s star, Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Graham Windham reached out to Miranda on social media to congratulate him on the show’s extended run and to share some information on Eliza Hamilton, according to Jess Dannhauser, CEO. He responded with a donation to the organization’s holiday drive. Miranda has also supported the organization and linked to ElizasStory.org on social media.

“We’ve tried, for a long time, to tell her story,” Dannhauser said of Eliza Hamilton. “All we had to do was hire Lin-Manuel Miranda, apparently.”

Graham Windham has yet to quantify exactly how much the organization has received due to its Hamilton connection, but Dannhauser estimated it “well into the six-figure range.” The organization is also cultivating a new audience that its managers hope can lead to expanded programming. Graham Windham’s Graham SLAM initiative, which offers support to young people up to the age of 25, currently assists 200 individuals. To reach 1,000 young people, $6 million more would need to be raised annually. Extending the program to families would require an additional $3 million annually, according to Dannhauser.

A complete strategy has yet to be finalized. Social media’s ability to generate attention and donations to Graham Windham has, thus far, resembled a web-based cousin of word-of-mouth marketing, said Harry Beberian, senior advisor for communications and external affairs. The Maze Runner author James Dashner, for instance, recently shared on Twitter that he made a contribution and his followers, in turn, began reaching out to the organization.

Representatives from Blue State Digital, a strategy and technology firm in New York, N.Y., also connected with Graham Windham via Twitter and have since offered pro-bono services to build a campaign. Efforts are currently focused on establishing an online community and evaluating strategies to drive activity, according to Kate Swann, COO. Next month’s Tony Awards is being eyed as an opportunity to leverage the organization’s growing base.

The organization’s potential audience will have an opportunity to expand with the show’s, as Hamilton travels to stages in Chicago, Los Angeles and London, she added.

Ties to Broadway hits don’t necessarily fall from the sky, but Swann said that Graham Windham’s early success could serve as a lesson to other organizational leaders who might be able to turn news, positive or negative, into opportunities to tell their organizations’ stories. “We’re really just getting started in building this,” Swann said. “We’re focused on acquiring new members…People respond when they have a story that they can connect to.”