Tag Archives: Mission statements

Revealing the Big Ideas in Reimagining Historic Sites

At long last, Ken Turino and I have gotten Reimagining Historic House Museums off of our desks and it was released at the American Association for State and Local History annual meeting in Philadelphia in August (all copies sold out!). But there’s no rest. We’ve been encouraging contributors to discuss their chapters at state, regional, and national conferences (Ken, Monta Lee Dakin, and Steve Friesen are presenting this week at the Mountain-Plains Museum Association conference in New Mexico) and we’re debuting a new presentation about the big ideas that cut across the chapters in the book in New York City next week.

Our “Places that Innovate: Reimagining Historic Sites” presentation is part of a HHT-NYC series on Places that Make a Difference.

The Historic House Trust of New York City and NYU’s Archives and Public History MA Program have invited us to talk about these big ideas, which include the need to have a mission that’s meaningful, to cultivate holistic thinking, and to support risk and experimentation. Lisa Ackerman, the chair of the HHT, will join us for a local perspective on these topics. We’ll be in the auditorium (Room 113) at the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center (sounds really grand!) at 53 Washington Square South from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 3. Admission is free, but registration is required.

GW Students Identify Strong Mission Statements

Students in the museum management course at George Washington University ranking museum mission statements.

One of the big ideas confirmed in Reimagining Historic House Museums is the significant role of a strong mission statement. They’ve been in active use in museums since the 1980s and yet, there are still plenty that are uninspiring, convoluted, or superficial slogans.

Because mission statements are so essential to the management of museums, I spend two classes of my museum management course at George Washington University discussing them using the AAM Standards along with articles by Willard Boyd, Stephen Weil, Peter Drucker, Philip Kennicott, and Sebastian Desmidt, and a chapter from Museums in Motion. Through several small group activities, the students develop a list of characteristics for strong mission statements and then test them against the mission statements for the eighteen museums they are using as case studies. Although these are graduate students with very little experience in museums, they do a terrific job identifying mission statements that can inform decisions and guide actions. For the museums they are studying this semester, these are ones with the strongest mission statements (in alphabetical order):

Continue reading

Vision Statement: Encyclopedia Edition

The Encyclopedia of Local History will issue its third edition in 2017.

The Encyclopedia of Local History will issue its third edition in 2017.

Carol Kammen and Amy Wilson are preparing the third edition of the Encyclopedia of Local History for publication in early 2017 and invited me to update my entry on “Historic House Museums in the 21st Century” as well as contribute a couple new entries, including “Vision Statement.”  Businesses and nonprofit organizations have been adopting vision and mission statements for the past two decades but drafting this encyclopedia entry gave me a chance to step back to look at its evolving history and see where they might be headed.  Here’s what I submitted (and remember, while books have been written about this topic, I have to condense it into a short summary):

Vision Statement. A vision statement describes a business’ or non-profit organization’s long-term major goal or desired end state and directs the planning, implementation, and evaluation of its programs and activities. There are many definitions for vision statements, some that conflict with each other, but the consensus is that they describe an ambitious but achievable long-term goal (10-30 years ahead, beyond the term of the current board or tenure of the executive director); that the statement is clear, compelling, and short (about 25-50 words); and yet is sufficiently vague and abstract to be unaffected by typical economic cycles or social fads.

An often-cited example of a vision statement is found in John F. Kennedy’s address to Congress in 1961 on urgent national needs: Continue reading

Rethinking the Mission Statement

Historic map and toolsThis 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.

In “Looking at the Value of Mission Statements: A Meta-Analysis of Continue reading

Making Mission and Vision Visible: Put it by the Coffee Pot

A recent visit to Museum L-A in Maine, a local history museum serving the communities of Lewiston and Auburn, revealed a clever way to keep the mission and vision visible and prominent.  They were posted on large boards in the conference room above the refreshments–whenever a group met, they couldn’t miss these reminders of the organization’s purpose and direction.

Their mission and vision were developed through a community-wide facilitated process led by E. Verner Johnson and they came up with statements that go far beyond the typical “collect, preserve, and educate”:


Museum L-A strengthens community and connections between generations by documenting and celebrating the economic, social, and technological legacy of L-A and its people.


Museum L-A chronicles the history of work, industry and community in Lewiston and Auburn; serves as a community gathering place; creates engaging learning experiences; and contributes to the civic, cultural, and economic revitalization of L-A.

For more details, see their strategic plan highlights on their website.  I was pretty impressed with this local history museum, so you’ll find a post or two about it in the future.

Montpelier Adopts New and Improved Mission Statement

Mission statements are required part of non-profit organizations, but I’ve often found that they’re treated like death and taxes–inevitable but you don’t want to think about it. In museums and historic sites, you can tell when they’re particularly useless when you can swap the name of the organization with another and it still makes sense.  Good mission statements are distinctive, memorable, and passionate.  They have to help you make decisions–is this project, activity, donor, or partnership right for us?  They have to go beyond “collect, preserve, and interpret” and describe what you want your audience to “think, feel, and do“.  Creating a good mission statement isn’t easy and examples are hard to come by, so when I find them, I collect them like golden eggs.

Montpelier's new mission statement on the back of a business card.

When I visited James Madison’s Montpelier last week, I learned they adopted a new mission statement.   Developed as part of their strategic planning process by a small team of trustees and staff, it was then shared with the entire board and staff for comment and revision before it was adopted by the board of trustees.  I thought it was so good I wanted to share it as an exemplar:

Our mission is to inspire continuing public engagement with American constitutional self-government by bringing to life the home and contributions of James and Dolley Madison.

Yes, there’s a bit of jargon that requires some explanation but it’s so much better than the previous one:

The Montpelier Foundation preserves the legacy of James Madison, his family, and
Montpelier’s plantation community, and seeks to inspire an understanding and
commitment to the ideals of the Constitution as the first successful form of self
governance to secure liberty for its citizens. The Foundation’s mission is founded on
the fact that the Constitution is a landmark in the history of mankind’s quest to achieve
freedom. James Madison, the individual most responsible for the Constitution,
provided both the innovative ideas central to its success and the leadership that
brought about its creation and ratification.

Yikes.  Try to fit that on the back of a business card.