Category Archives: Performance measures

A Six-Stage Strategy for Engaging People

Engaging people is one of the primary responsibilities of an historic site, although we might call it membership, attendance, advocacy, support, fundraising, or “resources development” (yup, that’s what it was called at one place I worked).  Expanding and growing engagement is usually focused on direct and simple efforts, such as working on individuals to give increasingly greater sums or putting out more announcements to increase attendance.  Results are usually sporadic, rough, and unpredictable.

Engagement Pyramid by Gideon Rosenblatt.

I recently learned of a thoughtful strategy from Gideon Rosenblatt, the former executive director of Groundwire, a company that helps environmental organizations connect, inspire, and mobilize their communities.  He lays out engagement in a spectrum of six stages from Observers to Leaders and each has a decreasing number of people involved.  This is best illustrated as a pyramid, with the large group of Observers at the bottom and the small group of Leaders at the top.  He’s found that each group has a specific mindset and communication preference, and therefore, organizations can effectively engage Continue reading

A Great Conference for Historic Sites Coming Up in April

The Organization of American Historians and the National Council on Public History are combining their annual meetings this year and this double-header is creating a really interesting conference for people who are working to preserve and interpret historic places.  Here are just a few sessions that caught my eye (and just a few–there are more than 200 sessions offered over five days):

  • Museum and Makers:  Intersections of Public History and Technology Buffs from Steam Trains to Steampunk
  • Museums, Historic Sites, and the University:  Public History Projects and Partnerships in the American Indian Great Lakes
  • The Witness Tree Project:  Using Historic Landscapes to Explore History and Memory
  • Toward a Reinterpretation of the Indian Wars at National Historic Sites and Parks
  • Closing Up Shop:  Strategies for Partners and Communities When Historic Sites Close Continue reading

Engaging Exhibits: An Experimental Approach at the Smithsonian Institution

Andrew Pekarik discussing a new theory of visitor typologies to the education staff at the National Air and Space Museum.

Yesterday I had lunch with Tim Grove, the Chief of Interpretation at the National Air and Space Museum and author of the History Bytes column in History News, to catch up on various things.  We were discussing my current puzzling out of methodologies for my book on interpretive planning for historic sites and discussing Howard Gardner’s “multiple intelligences,” when he mentioned that I might be interested in joining his staff meeting that afternoon.  Andrew Pekarik in the Office of Policy and Analysis at the Smithsonian was giving a presentation on a new theory for visitor engagement–would I like to come?   Absolutely!

Andy’s presentation was a short 30 minutes but was incredibly intriguing.  It’s based on dozens of evaluations on various exhibits at several different Smithsonian exhibits and is currently being independently verified, but the framework is public and was published with Barbara Mogel in the October 2010 issue of Curator as “Ideas, Objects, or People?  A Smithsonian Exhibition Team Views Visitors Anew.”  Here’s the new framework in a nutshell: Continue reading

Should Historic Sites Become Social Entrepreneurs?

Historic sites and house museums are increasingly being encouraged to think as much about the revenue as they do expenses, as much about profit as they do mission.  It’s often hard for non-profit organizations to embrace this movement–many are still stinging from the years when “business thinking” and MBAs were all the rage in the executive office.  Certainly economic sustainability is a goal (if we go out of business, who will do our good work?) but it doesn’t seem the usual models coming out of business schools is appropriate.  Perhaps it’s time to recognize that another model can be followed, one that combines mission and money along with a new set of performance measures.

“Social Entrepreneurship” and “For Benefit Corporations” may offer a new approach to managing historic sites, although it’s actually not that new.  It’s been around since the 1970s and one social entrepreneur–Muhammad Yunus for his microlending program through Grameen Bank–has received a Nobel Peace Prize.  In “Social Entrepreneurship and the Next Generation of Giving,” the Washington Post provides the latest summary of this type of organization as well as some advice:

  • Get the Right People Working on the Right Team:  “To drive a social innovation to scale, it takes Continue reading

Benchmark Your Museum’s Performance–Free!

Wondering how your museum or historic site is performing compared to others?  Is your admission fee to high or too low?  Is your membership retention rate better than average?  Do similar organizations have the same size staff?  Do you need credible data to make your case for your museum’s needs to your board, members, or city council?

Sample benchmarking chart in PowerPoint.

It’s nearly impossible to find these answers unless you buy an industry-wide survey (usually years out of date) or are part of an informal network committed to sharing data.  But help has come, and it’s free (mostly).  The American Association of Museums has moved and expanded its Museum Financial Information survey to a secure online tool, Museum Benchmarking Online (MBO) (  MBO is a quick, easy way to support your cause and helps AAM better advocate for museums and historic sites across the nation.

Go to for details, including a list of the Continue reading