Non-profit organizations often grumble about the inefficiencies of the typical board-executive director governance model, but it appears that corporate boards share many of the same frustrations. In the April 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Jeffery Sonnefeld, Melanie Kusin, and Elise Walton analyze the opinions of dozens of CEOs and distilled them into five pieces of advice for board members:
1. Focus on the risks that are the most crucial to the future of the enterprise.
While boards should serve to rein in the “cowboy CEO,” they often are much more timid and rein in any form or shape of risk. “Boards often lack the intestinal fortitude for the level of risk taking that healthy growth requires” and ironically, this timidity increases with organizational growth and capacity. Young organizations are more flexible, courageous, and bold. Why avoid risk? Surprisingly, it seems that boards “too often put self-interest and self-preservation ahead of shareholder interests”—translated into the non-profit world, they care more about their seats in the boardroom than they do about the audiences they are supposed to represent and serve. “You need to make sure both management and the board are always Continue reading →
Last week I led an AASLH workshop with George McDaniel on the management of historic house museums at Oaklands, a mid-nineteenth century house in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Eighteen people participated, most from Tennessee, but we had a couple from as far as Alaska! Adding to the diversity were several graduate students from Middle Tennessee State University (which has strong programs in history, public history, and historic preservation) and even though it was near the end of the semester and finals were on their minds, they helped enrich the discussions.
One of the features in the workshop is that every participant brings an issue or problem that they’d like to address. The range is wide and unpredictable, but it’s a helpful way to check the pulse on the challenges facing historic sites. In this class, these issues were:
How to prevent staff burn-out (how to keep growing despite small staff; finding the right mix of skills for staff)
TrendsWatch 2012 identified crowdsourcing as one of the seven major trends affecting museums, allowing more people to volunteer in meaningful work. If you’re not familiar with crowdsourcing, it’s a “process of soliciting content, solutions, and suggestions from an undefined set of participants via the Internet.” The April 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Reviewincludes two articles on working with crowds in different ways: one to innovate and the other to solve problems.
In “Using the Crowd as an Innovation Partner“, authors Kevin Boudreau and Karim Lakhani claim that “for certain types of problems, crowds can outperform your company. You just need to know when–and how–to use them.” If you’re hesitant to work with large groups on a project, the authors have identified four ways that best use crowd-powered problem solving and how to manage them:
Contests (example: Longitude Prize) ”The most straightforward way to engage a crowd is to create a contest. The sponsor (the company) identifies a specific problem, offers a cash prize, and broadcasts an invitation to submit solutions. Contests have cracked some of the toughest scientific challenges in history, including the search for a way to determine longitude at sea.”
Collaborative communities (example: Wikipedia). ”Like contests, collaborative communities have a long and rich history. They were critical to the development of Continue reading →
This week I’m attending the Small Museums Association‘s 29th annual conference in Ocean City, Maryland, where I’ll be giving a plenary address this morning on, “Mild-Mannered Superheroes Rarely Make a Difference.” As you might have guessed, it’s a mash-up of a quotation by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and the conference theme on superheros. I hope to encourage attendees to rethink their mission, vision, and strategy to become more relevant and engaging in their communities. Unfortunately, most museum mission statements are mild-mannered, with the usual phrase of “collect, preserve, and interpret” stuck behind the name of the organization.
Funding agencies, museum accreditation, and strategic plans require a mission statement, so many organizations create a least offensive version that can be approved by the board. The result is that mission statements are often so vague that they’re ignored, have little to no influence on day-to-day activities, and are viewed as empty public relations gestures that provokes cynicism. No doubt they’ve found that having a mission statement doesn’t have much impact, but a recent study shows that the right kind of mission statement can significantly improve financial success and organizational performance.
The American Alliance of Museums (formerly known as the American Association of Museums) is offering several resources and workshops that may be interest to historic sites, including:
TrendsWatch 2013: Upcoming Town Hall
This year’s edition of TrendsWatch, the annual report on key social, economic, technological and other trends that are shaping the future of museums, will be released next month. You can also learn about it at the Alliance’s Web-based Town Hall on March 27 at 2 pm ET, which will be hosted by their Center for the Future of Museums. Registration is free for Alliance members, and will open soon. Meanwhile, read (or re-read) TrendsWatch 2012 for a taste of the future.
2012 National Comparative Museum Salary Study Available
A national salary study has long been a top request from Alliance members. Demonstrating that we’re stronger together, the 2012 study was prepared in collaboration with the Association of Midwest Museums (AMM), the Mountain-Plains Museums Association (MPMA), the New England Museum Association (NEMA) and the Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC) and based on surveys conducted in their regions. Together, these associations represent 36 states, 64 percent of the American population and approximately two-thirds of all museums in the United States. Available free to Continue reading →
Project Management for History Professionals
Dates: March 7 – 8
Location: History Colorado, Denver, CO
Instructor: Dr. Steven Hoskins, Trevecca Nazarene University, Nashville, TN
Cost: $475 members / $550 nonmembers
$40 discount if payment is received by January 31 (coming up next week!)
This unique two-day workshop improves how history museums operate and serve their community by teaching the fundamentals of project management to history professionals. Everyday work—exhibitions, programming, fundraising, special events, outreach, and collections care—benefit from the knowledge gained. Registration for the onsite workshop also includes access to an online course with related material.
From Children to Adults: Public Programming at History Organizations
Dates: March 14 – 15
Location: Homestead Museum, City of Industry, CA
Instructors: Tim Grove, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Alexandra Continue reading →
Many executive directors aren’t happy with their development directors and many development directors aren’t happy with their jobs–the result is an inability to adequately raise funds for the nation’s non-profit organizations and deliver much-needed community services and benefits. That’s one of the findings of Under Developed, a recently released national study by Compass Point. In a nutshell, “many nonprofit organizations are stuck in a vicious cycle that threatens their ability to raise the resources they need to succeed.” Their findings and recommendations come from 2,700 surveys of both executive directors and senior development staff, and focus group discussions with 53 executives and board members across the country.
I always assumed that the “revolving door” in the fundraising office was a result of better opportunities (in my ten years at the National Trust, the development department turned over completely nearly three times) but the Compass Point report suggests there are more serious issues at work: Continue reading →
The autumn 2012 issue of History News arrived in my mailbox a couple weeks ago and its four feature articles on interpretation that will be of interest to historic sites:
“From Quiet Havens to Modern Agoras: Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture” by Nancy Rogers, Susanna Seidl-Fox, and Deborah Mack is a report, including the key overarching messages, from an international seminar held in Salzburg, Austria in October 2011.
“‘No More Wiggle-Tail Water’: Interpreting the History of Morgantown’s Water Supply at the West Virginia Botanic Garden” by Barbara Howe is a case study on integrating history in a place that focuses on horticulture and nature.
“When Histories Horrify: Supporting Visitors’ Responses through Responsible Interpretation” by Linda Norris, Danny Cohen, and Stacey Mann is a continuation of a session at the American Alliance of Museum’s annual meeting on the roles and responsibilities of museums in preserving and mediating horrific histories of crimes, violence, terrorism, and oppression, with references to the Kilmainham Gaol, Majdanek, Robben Island, and the Greensboro Woolworth.
“Entering the Mainstream: Interpreting GLBT History” by Ken Turino and Susan Ferentinos addresses four common challenges (institutional policies on discussing sex, lack of documentary evidence, applying modern labels to historical figures, pressure to avoid controversial topics) using examples from Pendarvis, Walt Whitman House, Beauport, Sarah Orne Jewett House, Alice Austen House, and Charles Gibson House.
The Exhibitionist, the journal of the National Association for Museum Exhibition (NAME), has devoted its fall 2012 issue to the longterm impact of the economic downturn on the museums. Daniel Spock, director of the Minnesota History Center, and Marilyn Hoyt, a fundraising consultant, discuss the trends affecting exhibitions but whose lessons can apply to other museum departments. Spock believes that museums may be, “moving into a period of permanent instability–a special challenge for museums which have traditionally been in the continuity business.” Hoyt sees that museums are compensating by relying more on in-house resources and phasing projects, often with good side effects, including more prototyping of ideas and a fresh look at familiar collections.
For those who plan events, programs, and activities months ahead of time, I’ve updated my Compact Calendar for 2013 based on a design by David Seah. The entire year is listed on one page as a continuous series rather than broken out by months so you can quickly calculate time between dates and avoid getting messed up by months with five Mondays. In addition, it includes major holidays to schedule towards or around them, as needed. I’ll use the Compact Calendar to plot out all my events and deadlines for the year to ensure they don’t pile up too much in one place, and I’ll place a copy in a project file to have a handy calendar to determine milestones and coordinate tasks. If the last three sentences didn’t make any sense, you probably don’t need this calendar (and if they do, this calendar will make your year happier!).