Category Archives: Fundraising

What Does a Trump Presidency Mean for IMLS?

IMLS LogoPresident-elect Trump continues to demonstrate that he doesn’t plan to govern like his predecessors, having recently nominated department heads who are at odds with the mission of their departments.  What does that mean for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), whose Director and its National Museum and Library Services Board are appointed by the President and whose authorization and funding are approved by the President?  Most house museums and historic sites know IMLS for its grant programs (e.g., Museums for America) but they also conduct research on the state of the museum field (e.g., museum database); tackle national issues that are important to museums (e.g, preservation of collection, digital platforms); and fund the Museum Assessment Program (managed by the American Alliance of Museums) and Collections Assessment for Preservation Program (managed by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works).

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September 11 Memorial Museum visits by President Obama in 2014 and Presidential candidate Trump in 2016. Note the differences in how the groups are moving through the museum.

At this point, it seems President Trump will have little interest in museums or libraries, which could be good or bad, depending on Continue reading

Challenges Facing Historic House Museums: A Report from the Field

AASLH Historic House Management Workshop at Brucemore in 2016.

AASLH Historic House Management Workshop at Brucemore in 2016.

At the annual AASLH workshop on historic house museum management, we always start by asking participants about the biggest or most important challenge they are facing at their historic site.  For the participants, the exercise allows them to get to know each other beyond a name by recognizing the issues they may have in common.  As the instructors, It’s an opportunity for George McDaniel and me to ensure we address their concerns.  For AASLH, it’s a way of keeping a finger on the pulse on what’s happening in the field.  At the end of the workshop, we review the list and provide some time for participants to develop a plan to address their issue.  As a reminder, they also fill out self-addressed postcards with a message to themselves, which I’ll mail to them in six months.

So that you can keep your finger on the pulse of the field, here’s the list of issues and challenges from the Cedar Rapids workshop at Brucemore, which included participants from Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Illinois: Continue reading

Curated Nutrition Bars Interpret Collections and Earn Income

Curated-Blue-and-Gray-Battle-BarCurated nutrition bars are turning out to be an effective way to interpret collections and earn income for museums and historic sites across the country.  First introduced by the Friends of Gettysburg National Battlefield for the July 2015 re-enactment, the “Blue & Gray Battle Bar” drew inspiration from the historic Civil War battle.  “We knew the kinds of foods soldiers were eating so it was just a matter of coming up with a combination that tasted good and was good for you,” said curator John Rupp, “Hard tack, peas, and coffee had to be in there, of course, but we had to work with food scientists to figure out how to include salt pork.  Quinoa wasn’t my idea, but someone said we had to include it for marketing purposes.”  Fortunately, the curators were also able to have some fun and included minie balls, which also resolves a major deaccessioning challenge because of the thousands that fill their collection.

Other museums and historic sites heard about the success of this venture, especially after it was featured in the fall issue of Museum Business.  Currently under development are:

  • Big Met Bar: It’s so big, you’ll be full before you’re even halfway through.
  • Smithsonian Behring Bar: a sprinkling of stars from a spangled banner, dinosaurs, pandas, air, space, and some wonder. So many flavors you can’t tell what you’re eating.
  • Colonial Williamsburg’s Christiana Campbell Bar:  crab, salet, and corn pudding dipped in heritage chocolate (with zombies!).   It’ll be about 4 inches high and equally thick.

If you know of a museum or historic site that’s developing a Curated bar, please share it in the comments below!

 

New Deputy Director for Museum Services Appointed at IMLS

Paula Gangopadhyay, deputy director of museum services, IMLS

Paula Gangopadhyay, deputy director of museum services, IMLS

At Museums Advocacy Day, Kathryn Matthew, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, introduced the new deputy director for museum services, Paula Gangopadhyay.

I didn’t get a chance to meet her but she’s familiar with the challenges and opportunities that are faced by history museums and historic sites on a daily basis.  She was appointed last month and according to the IMLS web site:

She has worked in small, medium and large museums and cultural organizations, as well as government, business and education sectors, where she led systemic change and positive community impact at local, state and national levels. Ms. Gangopadhyay is a respected thought-leader on innovation in education and has been the recipient of several state and national awards and recognitions. Ms. Gangopadhyay has held a variety of positions including, serving as the Chief Learning Officer at The Henry Ford museums from 2008 to 2015; Executive Director of the Plymouth Community Arts Council from 2006 to 2008; Curator of Education, Public Programs, Visitor Services and Volunteers at the Public Museum of Grand Rapids from 2002 to 2006; and Executive Director of the Great Lakes Center for Education, Research and Practice from 2000 to 2001. She was Executive Director of the Commission for Lansing Schools Success (CLASS) from 1998 to 2000 and Executive Director of Meridian Historical Village from 1995 to 1998.  As an independent evaluation consultant for over seven years, she has led formative and summative evaluation directed at producing measurable outcomes. Gangopadhyay received her B.A. and M.A. in history from Indore University (India), her post-graduate certification in archival, museum, and editing studies from Duquesne University, Pittsburg, PA, and an education policy fellowship from the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL).

She’ll probably be visiting national and regional museum conferences this year, so be sure to welcome her!

Video: Non-Profit? Most Museum Visitors Don’t Know

In this 1:51 video, Colleen Dilenschneider of Know Your Own Bone explains that nearly 60 percent of Americans don’t know that history museums operate as non-profit organizations.  It doesn’t get much better for those who visit history museums—53 percent are unaware.  That may be alarming because we often distinguish ourselves by our non-profit status.  Dilenschneider, on the other hand, suggests reframing the issue:

Our key differentiator is not our tax status, but that our dedication to making a difference is embedded in the very structure of how we operate. There’s a thought that we need to run “more like for-profit companies” (and in some ways we do, but the blanket directive is an ignorant miss). But look around. For-profit companies are actually trying to be more like us in the sense that they want audiences to know that they stand for something that makes the world a better place.

The video is a quick overview but you’ll find more details in “Nonprofit Recognition: What Matters More to Visitors Than Your Tax Status“.

Data source: National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study, a partnership project of IMPACTS Research and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Designing Donor Recognition at Historic Sites

Plaque recognizing James Baxter, donor of the Portland Public Library, 1888.

Plaque recognizing James Baxter, donor of land and building of the Portland (Maine) Public Library, as well as the architect F. H. Fassett, 1888.

Major donors or supporters of a historic site are often recognized with a panel or plaque. Most traditional is a panel listing names of donors, often distinguished by the size of their gift, but it can often appear to be more like a somber memorial than a sincere and thoughtful appreciation. That’s the major reason for avoiding off-the-shelf recognition systems of wall plaques and engraved bricks, which have become so common they’ve lost their punch. For historic sites, this is especially important because they should be integrated and complementary to its design and significance, not merely plopped into place as an afterthought.

Donor recognition is typically installed near an entrance (either interior or exterior) so it can be readily seen by visitors on a wall, floor, or freestanding panel; made of durable materials that resist vandalism and years of cleaning; and can be easily corrected or updated in the future. Careful planning and consideration of alternatives will reveal methods that are most appropriate for your organization.

The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties can guide decisions about Continue reading

Wireless Audio Guides and Digital Donor Board at MIM

Last week I visited the huge Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, Arizona and spent four hours just walking through the exhibits.  Whenever I visit a historic site or museum, the first thing I often do is just walk through the entire place to get an overall sense of its organization, design, and content, rarely stopping to read labels or watch videos.  At MIM it took four hours.  Thank goodness for the cafe.  I haven’t seen so many guitars, violins, drums, or bagpipes in my life, but I guess that’s the point.

Along the way I spotted a couple unusual interpretive and fundraising techniques that caught my eye that might interest you:

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1.  MIM has the usual big donor walls in the lobby but next to the exit door, they have a colorful digital version for current donors along with an eye-catching donation box.  The big touch screen is divided into two sections: the top half has announcements for upcoming events and volunteer opportunities and the bottom half has a scrolling list of donors for the last twelve months.  Because it’s digital, it can be easily updated (but of course, requires someone with IT skills for maintenance).  A navigation bar lets you choose the donor category by size of gift from $250 to $5 million+.  Next to the digital display is a donation box featuring the shiny silver bell of a sousaphone with the message, “Blown Away? Join Our Band of Donors” and a window so you can see your money fall inside.  I bet this encourages kids to drop their change (or encourages kids to tell their parents to drop a dollar).  Clever eh?  And notice there’s nothing else around it–no clutter of chairs, signs, or plants to keep visitors focused on support as they leave the museum.

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2.  Interpretation at MIM relies heavily on wireless headsets that are automatically activated as you approach an exhibit.  The headsets consist of a pair of light headphones connected to a Sennheiser GuidePORT device, which is slightly larger and heavier than the old classic iPods.  The device controls volume, holds a rechargeable battery, and contains the antennae that receives the audio in the exhibit.  Most of the exhibits have a monitor showing a series of short videos of musical performances or a demonstration of their manufacture.  The videos cycle continuously and when the visitor comes within about ten feet, the headset connects to the audio. When you finish watching a video, you can take a couple steps, and watch a different video on another monitor without touching the device or punching in a number.  The exhibits can be packed tightly with video screens without worries about sound bleed and turning the exhibit galleries into a cacophony of sounds.  However, it wasn’t perfect.  About five percent of the time it wouldn’t connect to the video and I had to watch it in silence (and when it’s a musical performance, a silent video isn’t very helpful).  Secondly, visitors (especially kids) occasionally dropped their devices. Every time I heard the smack on floor, I cringed.  The admission desk provides lanyards to hang the audio system around your neck, but not all visitors use them. Sigh.

 

 

 

Introducing Amazon “Dash Button” for Historic Sites

Amazon-Dash-for-Historic-SitesIn an exclusive partnership with Engaging Places LLC, Amazon.com has introduced a “Dash Button” for historic sites and house museums. Dash Button is a simple one-touch button that can be placed in your kitchen, bath, and laundry where you store your favorite products.  When you’re running low, simply press the Dash Button and Amazon delivers your household favorites to you so you can skip a last-minute trip to the store.

This innovative technology can be used for a variety of services, not just products, and Amazon and Engaging Places is launching Dash Button specifically for house museums and historic sites.  In the last year, the Dash Button has been field-tested with Continue reading

Is it Time for a Membership Program Tune-up?

Museum Membership Pyramid QuestionOne of the basic ways to raise funds for museums and historic sites is through membership. It’s particularly valuable because those funds are unrestricted and pay for utilities, insurance, office supplies, maintenance, and yes, even salaries–those essential expenses that usually don’t excite donors.  We hope that most members will renew, thus increasing revenue while maintaining expenses, and a few will become more engaged and eventually become donors who contribute the funds that really make a difference.

On the other hand, membership programs are a continual management challenge for non-profit organizations.  The expense of maintaining a basic membership rarely covers the cost of administration (the printing and mailing of member newsletters, membership cards, and renewal notices).   Complicating matters is that it doesn’t seem that people want to be “joiners” any longer–membership  in all types of organizations, including unions, service clubs, professional associations, political parties, churches, and even bowling leagues has fallen.  If the membership piece of the pyramid is getting smaller, that means the number of donors will fall as well.

Museums and museum associations are rethinking membership to overcome these challenges by exploring some new directions and possibilities, including:

1.  Enlarging the pool of potential members (and other supporters).  Begin with a preliminary step of gathering contact information for as many potential supporters as possible.  Some may become members who pay annual dues, others will pay admission to attend events, and some will support a cause with money, time, or talent.  The Dallas Museum of Art went so far as to Continue reading

Video: Aurora Indiana Moveable Feast

Indiana Landmarks‘ “Moveable Feasts” are three summer evening events that each feature a different place in Indiana through a multi-course progressive dinner at several historic sites, along with walking tours, presentations, and films.  This 2:00 video provides an overview of the June 13, 2014 Moveable Feast in Aurora, Indiana on the banks of the Ohio River.  Cost is $50; $45 for members.