Category Archives: Performance measures

Stanford Offers Webinars on Non-profit Management

Stanford Social Innovation Review Fall_2015Everyone knows that Harvard University has the Harvard Business Review, but did you know that on the opposite coast, Stanford University has an equivalent for non-profit organizations called the Stanford Social Innovation Review?  Both have been useful to me because along with the magazine, they offer webinars led by authors of their articles or who are leaders in the field.  Here are a couple coming up from the Stanford Social Innovation Review that you might find useful for your museum or historic site:

Overcoming the Overhead Myth

Presented by Jacob Harold, Ann Goggins Gregory, & Jan Masaoka
September 2, 11 a.m. – 12 noon PDT / 2 – 3 p.m. EDT

A dangerous myth prevails among funders that overhead can be used as a proxy for efficiency. In fact, research shows that under-investing in administrative overhead is often linked with poor performance by nonprofits. Ann Goggins Gregory and Don Howard dubbed this process “the nonprofit starvation cycle” in the eponymous Stanford Social Innovation Review article. In this webinar you will learn:

  • Why the nonprofit starvation cycle exists in the sector
  • How organizations that invested in administration subsequently improved their programmatic work
  • Strategies for explaining to funders the importance of overhead costs for future success
  • Tips for evaluating whether grantees are skimping on crucial investment areas in their budgeting

Price: $49, which includes access to the live webinar; unlimited access to the webinar as many times as you’d like for twelve months; and downloadable slides. Learn more about this webinar and register here.

Valuing Frontline Work

Presented by Lehn Benjamin, Katya Fels Smyth, Maria Peña, & Jesús Gerena
September 23, 11 a.m. – 12 noon PDT / 2 – 3 p.m. EDT

An increasing focus in the social sector on performance-driven frameworks can make it difficult for direct-service organizations to measure their impact. Some nonprofits are using creative strategies to measure and communicate their work’s value to funders. This webinar will:

  • Explain how some of the most popular performance models used in the nonprofit sector fail to measure the true impact of what nonprofit professionals do
  • Examine the reasons why it can be so difficult—yet so important—to recognize the value that on-the-ground work delivers to beneficiaries and their communities
  • Explore examples of nonprofits that have succeeded in capturing and conveying the full value of frontline work

Price: $49, which includes access to the live webinar; unlimited access to the webinar as many times as you’d like for twelve months; and downloadable slides. Learn more about this webinar and register here.

HBR: Where Boards Fall Short

HBR 2014 JanBoards aren’t working. A mere 34 percent of the 772 board members of historic sites surveyed by Engaging Places in 2013 agreed that the boards on which they serve fully comprehended their museum’s strategies. Only 22 percent said their boards were completely aware of how their museums fulfilled their mission and just 16 percent claimed that the board had a strong understanding of the dynamics of the museum field. When it comes to strategy and planning, organizations emphasize the short-term at the expense of the long-term.

You’re probably not surprised by these results–but you may be surprised that this actually describes major corporations based on studies conducted by McKinsey and Company, a national consulting firm. Governance is not just a challenge for nonprofits but the business world as well.

So how can the situation improve? In “Where Boards Fall Short” in the January-February 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Dominic Martin and Mark Wiseman claim that a fundamental issue is that boards don’t understand their “fiduciary duty,” which consists of two core components:

  • loyalty (placing the company’s interest ahead of one’s own)
  • prudence (applying proper care, skill, and diligence to business decisions).

“Loyalty and prudence” encourages boards to focus on the long-term to help the organization thrive for years into the future. Keeping in mind the big distant goal (otherwise called a vision) clarifies choices and directs board actions. From my observations of nonprofit boards, there’s often confusion about fiduciary responsibilities and rarely a vision (but usually a mission–but so vaguely worded to be nearly useless for making decisions). To help clarify fiduciary duty, it’s a good idea to explain it during recruitment and orientation (don’t assume they’ll support it) and consider an annual commitment agreement and planning retreat for both board and executive staff.

In addition to addressing fiduciary duty, Martin and Wiseman suggest four ways to improve board performance.  Here are their key ideas from their article along with my translation for the non-profit environment):

1. Select the right people. “Having a diversity of perspectives and proven experience building relevant businesses as well as the functional knowledge is critical. But if our surveys are any indication, too many directors are Continue reading

Upcoming Workshop on Understanding Audiences

If you want to engage your audiences to build support and increase your impact, you first need to understand their interests, needs, and motivations.  In today’s busy world, the traditional tactics of advertising, rackcards, and signs are no longer sufficient to attract visitors to museums and historic sites.  We have to refresh our understanding of today’s audiences and develop new approaches that will engage them.

On September 22, 2014 from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, I’ll be facilitating a one-day workshop on Understanding Audiences at the Middlesex County Community College in Edison, New Jersey.  Sponsored by the New Jersey Historical Commission and New Jersey Historic Trust, this is part of a series of three workshops on engagement for nonprofit history organizations.  The workshop will be based on the Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations of the American Association for State and Local History.  Registration is $20 (a bargain) and includes breakfast and lunch (even better!); deadline is September 18.

Museums and Historic Sites Climbing Out of Recession Slowly

Museum Revenue 2009-2014 According to data from the U. S. Department of Commerce, museums, historic sites, and similar institutions are climbing out of the 2008 recession but it’s been slow and rocky.  For 2009, quarterly revenues averaged $2.6 billon and for 2013 it grew to an average of $2.9 billion per quarter.  The overall upward trend is slow (red line in chart) but each passing year has improved.  Annual revenues have grown from 1 percent in 2010 to 7 percent in 2013 when compared to the previous year.   On a quarterly basis, however, it is a very rocky road. Within a single year, revenues fluctuated 18 to 38 percent, suggesting that while revenues are looking better over the long run, in the short run Continue reading

Brown University and National Trust Provide Recommendations for Historic House Museums

The financial sustainability and social relevance of historic house museums continue to intrigue scholars, preservationists, organizations, and even pundits on National Public Radio (I was recently interviewed by them about this topic) and adding to the conversation are two recent publications by the John Nicholas Brown Center at Brown University and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Bedroom at Liberty Hall Museum, Kean University, New Jersey.

Bedroom at Liberty Hall Museum, Kean University, New Jersey.

If historic house museums are historic sites that primarily educational (not commercial) in purpose, how would they be different if they were managed by educational institutions? “University-Affiliated Historic House Museums,” a report by the John Nicholas Brown Center at Brown University may provide some answers. Prepared for the 1772 Foundation by Hillary Brady, Steven Lubar, and Rebecca Soules, the report examines the issues facing historic house museums that are owned or operated by colleges and universities based on a survey of existing practices at ten sites.  Offering recommendations for “new ways to make these museums more useful to the university community,” it concludes with a half dozen alternatives for the Liberty Hall Museum at Kean University, which might be applicable to sites that are not affiliated with universities (swap “campus” and “students” with “community” and “residents”).  By the way, the Center is hosting an intriguing colloquium in May 2015 on “lost museums“.

Future of Historic Sites Forum Journal 2014In 1949, Congress created the National Trust for Historic Preservation to Continue reading

What’s the ROI of Your Historic Site?

Jack Phillips (right) discussing ROI at ASTD 2014.

Jack Phillips (right) discussing ROI at ASTD 2014.

Foundations and donors are increasingly questioning the impact of their funds at museums and historic sites, a trend that’s growing as well in  business according to Jack Phillips and James Kirkpatrick at a session at the ASTD conference yesterday. After the recent recession, they’ve found that CEOs are increasingly asking about the return on investment (ROI) of every program and activity, including employee training and education.  Although training claims to be an essential contributor to business productivity and performance, it hasn’t been adequately measured or evaluated, and thus can’t prove their value.  That surprised me because I thought that was a struggle only for museums and historic sites.  We seem to be continually fighting to prove our worth and other than economic impact, haven’t been able to show why we matter in our communities.  It looks like we’re not alone.

Phillips and Kirkpatrick are the leaders in the field of measuring performance in business and developed frameworks that “define the levels at which programs are evaluated and how data are captured at different times from different sources.”  Although they disagree on whether the framework should have four or five levels, they both agree that Continue reading

HBR: The Truth About the Customer Experience

Harvard Business Review, September 2013

Harvard Business Review, September 2013

The September 2013 issue of Harvard Business Review features four articles on women in leadership, which will be of interest to many people who work at historic sites and museums.  The first is on the subtle gender bias that obstructs women’s access to leadership in even the most well-meaning organizations (and how to correct the problem), the second article describes companies who have successfully incorporated inclusivity, and the third reveals the way women make buying decisions differently in a business-to-business (B2B) setting from men.  The fourth article is a roundup of recent research on women in the workplace, such as women receive less criticism but also less challenging assignments.  Of course, the museum and historic site field is dominated by women, so I wonder what these statistics would look like for us.

There’s also a good article on “customer journey mapping.”  It’s a relatively new method of studying a customer’s buying experience by identifying all the places that a company interacts with a customer and evaluating each of these “touchpoints.”   By mapping the customer’s journey to buy a product from their initial search for information to its delivery and installation, a company can better understand the Continue reading

NEA Survey Reveals Patterns in Historic Site Visitation

On Monday, March 11, I’ll be a plenary speaker at the Virginia Association of Museums conference to discuss the trends, challenges, and opportunities facing historic house museums.  It will be followed by a forum with historic site managers, tourism experts, preservationists, and community leaders on the needs and opportunities for historic sites in Virginia, such as a statewide association for historic house museums.  It’s great timing for this topic:  Governor McDonnell declared 2013 as the Year of the Virginia Historic Home in recognition of the bicentennial of the Executive Mansion and Virginia’s more than 100 historic homes, most of which are open to the public as museums and historic sites.

Whenever I’m asked to give a presentation or write an article, it’s an opportunity to do some research and reading to gains some new or deeper perspectives on the issue.  For the VAM presentation, I’ve been looking closely at the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts by the National Endowment of the Arts.  For decades, NEA has interviewed thousands of people across the United States to learn about their involvement in music, art, theater, festivals, reading, and dance.   NEA conducted the last survey in 2008 and published a series of analytical reports in 2009-2011.

Looking back over 30 years, the survey confirms that attendance closely correlates with Continue reading

Donations Aren’t Keeping Pace with NPO Growth

Historic coinsIn its December 6, 2012 issue, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that, “the nonprofit world continues to grow both in number of organizations and in its share of the U. S. work force” but “fundraising isn’t keeping pace”–and the gap is especially wide for those working in arts, culture, and humanities (that includes historic sites and house museums).  If you felt that you’ve been spinning your wheels in the last few years, you can now confirm it with some national statistics.

In the last decade (2000-2010), the number of charities that focused on arts, culture, and humanities grew at 45% but the rise in revenue was only 26%–the bottom of the eight fields studied.  Compare that to health-related charities, whose number grew at 22.4% but their revenues rose by 96.6%.  At the top of the revenue growth for the decade were Continue reading

Is Your Historic Site Unsure About Next Steps?

In this uncertain environment, many organizations are unsure about the direction to pursue for their historic site or house museum.  Through a self-study process and a personal assessment by an external professional colleague, the Museum Assessment Program (MAP) offers a thoughtful and proven approach to refine your operations, programs, and collections.  I’ve participated in several MAPs and clever organizations have used it to confirm a strategy, refine a project, resolve a vexing issue, support a funding proposal, or move to the next level of operations.  I can’t think of a better program available, except if you’re accredited by AAM, you have a large professional staff, or if you’re able to afford a large team of experts.  Really.  To stay sharp, every historic site and house museum in America needs to go through this program every decade and in between, they should be tackling a section of AASLH’s Standards and Excellence Program.  Really. If you’re not sure, call the director of the historic sites that participated this year:  Montpelier Mansion (Maryland), Old Barracks Museum (New Jersey), Louis Armstrong House (New York), Seward House (New York), Stewart House (Ohio), French Legation Museum (Texas), Poplar Forest (Virginia), and Pabst Mansion (Wisconsin).

To participate, your organization needs to meet some basic requirements (such as be open to the public at least 90 days a year), Continue reading