Friday, May 16, 2008

Civic Leadership: Employee Volunteer Programs

Civic Leadership involves not only the museum's executive director, but also the staff.
The following string of comments was generated by members of the REX Museums Roundtable in St. Louis. (if you'd like to know more about REX Museums Roundtables, email me:

Hi everybody - I was wondering if you knew of any organizations that have an employee volunteer program. Since I think it's important for Villa Finale to be active in the community (following our donor's lead), and so many of my staff are new to San Antonio, I want to encourage them to volunteer at other organizations around the city. I've been thinking about instituting a program where employees can volunteer for other nonprofits during work hours periodically without having to take leave. I'd be interested to see how other programs are set up - whether it's actually a requirement, how many days or hours per year, what kind of reporting I'd need back from the employee, etc.


Sandra Smith Director, Villa Finale
National Trust for Historic Preservation 401 King William, San Antonio, TX 78204

Sandra, I’m considering something similar but haven’t acted upon it yet. We do support select staff in civic organizations and on other boards, but haven’t started a wider volunteer program. I plan to talk with some of the companies around here that have employee programs and get their guidelines to work from. I’d be interested to hear what you come up with and, of course, I’ll share from this end.


Betty Brewer, President & CEO, Minnetrista

Hi Sandra,
First, what a great idea. Talk about being a community leader. Many corporations consider this a plus when it comes to evaluations, but I do not know of any that have benchmarks or quotas for board engagement or community volunteering. I know Goldman Sachs (NY) has a very good program and Deb Schwartz at the Brooklyn Historical Society could fill you in on their volunteerism at BHS.

Just a couple other thoughts on your inquiry. Think about leadership roles they can play by serving on other boards. You don’t want to set them up for an obligatory board gift they cannot afford, but you do want to put them in the places that you see may have ties to Villa F. along the way or those that will give them and Villa F. visibility and connect them to other potential supporters and advocates for your work.

Have you considered contacting the director of your local leadership program and talk about opportunities not only for your employees to take on leadership in the community but also you can use the same visit to ask “who should be on our board.” As part of identifying people who might be good prospective board members, the Leadership organization is often a good source of involved/engaged people. You can test them out over drinks or lunch and get to know them before you explore a real relationship. Another good source is the community foundation—they work with so many nonprofit organizations and their grants often support education, etc.,--they know those who need a forward thinking person.

Great to see you at AAM
My best,


Anita Nowery Durel, CFRE, Durel Consulting Partners, an affiliate of Qm2

The Chickasaw Nation had what they called the Employee Incentive Program. If 100% completed you got an extra pay check (2-weeks) once a year but most people would have done it without the pay. An EIP plan was developed with your supervisor each year. The plan had to have at least 3 activities. It was recommended that one of the activities be civic organization or community based, one be educational, and the others could be anything else. People did things like Relay for Life and volunteering to do story time at schools or day cares, basically any kind of volunteer work. The EIP goals were suppose to be activities above and beyond normal job duties but which contributed to or strengthened your personal development and learning. The activities could be done during normal work hours. Percentages were up to the supervisor but some guidelines were provided. For example, an undergraduate college course was 20%. I used that as a standard to set percentages: 32 hours = 20%, 8 hours = 5%.

Sue Linder Linsley, Director, Trinity River Audubon Center

Hi Sandra:

Our community involvement program is informal but strategic. We encourage staff to get involved with organizations that have complementary purposes to the Children’s Museum, the local chapter of the National Association for the Education of Young Children or the Child Advocacy Center, for example, as a way to extend our reach/credibility. Then there are the various professional associations, American Marketing Association, Association for Fundraising Professionals, etc. Also, I am active in the Downtown Lincoln Association (as we are downtown), and our Director of Development and I frequent the various Chamber of Commerce meetings. Each of these activities requires investment of time, which we track for community responsibility reporting, but not for time off/comp time (even though in Nebraska, technically, there is no such thing as comp time…wink, wink) calculations; it is just a part of people’s jobs. This also only applies to salary; it is not extended to hourly staff.

We have discussed taking a day as a team and serving a meal at the soup kitchen, or pounding nails, or what have you, as a team-building exercise but we haven’t gotten around to that…it’s more of a two to three year goal (I’m still working on filling our bus with the right people…walk before run).

Maybe you already know about this, but there is a national organization that tracks local volunteer coordinators You can use it to find volunteer opportunities, or to list opportunities at your own organization.

Hope this helps,

Darren Macfee
Lincoln Children's Museum

We do not have a formal employee volunteer program either, but now I think it is something I should implement. Our curator and development director are involved in other non-profits and volunteer on our time. I do not think paying them is appropriate as they do it on museum time and reap the benefits of personal developement and friendships. It is a win-win for all.

Sharon Bradham
Executive Director
Cedarhurst Center for the Arts

Friday, May 2, 2008

Museum Leaders must be Civic Leaders

posted by John Durel

I've just returned from Denver where I presented two sessions on the museum director's role as a civic leader, one for ACM and one for AAM.

Museum leaders must be active participants in the civic conversation of their communities. What are people concerned about, interested in, aspiring to? How can you, as a museum leader, help your community create a compelling vision for its future?

The question is not how can the community help the museum, but rather how can the museum's resources be used to help the community achieve its vision.
Drawing on the experiences of four museum directors who participated on the session panels - Julia Bland from the Louisiana Children's Museums, Amy Lent from the Maine Maritime Museum, Shari Buckelew from the Children's Discover Museum in Normal, Illinois, and David Donath from the Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, Vermont - here are some guiding principles:
  1. Create a culture of civic participation in your museum. You, board members, and staff should participate as citizens in community activities and organizations. Become a community leader, not just the head of an organization that is in the community.

  2. Choose a prominent platform that will position your organization for opportunities that arise. Shari, for example, joined the Chamber of Commerce and eventually became president, which put her museum in a position to be the lead tenant in a downtown revitalization project. David served on the state historic preservation commission, which enabled him to take the lead in a statewide program to promote cultural tourism and sustainability.

  3. Choose civic conversations that align with your museum's mission. Look for a win-win situation, where the museum gains as the community gains. Make sure your mission becomes part of the civic conversation and community vision. Julia's vision for New Orleans, following Katrina, focused on the well being of children, which has led to the Children's Museum taking the lead in the creation of an Early Learning Village that will bring together several other organizations.

  4. Use the media to position yourself and your museum as a leader in the community. Amy took the opportunity of the 400th anniversary of Jamestown to write to Time magazine, pointing out that boat building in Maine was just as old, and that boat building remains a major industry in her state. Within a week one of Maine's senators was quoting her letter.

  5. Be politically savvy. As you participate in civic life, become aware of the sources of power and influence, and build relationships accordingly.

Some questions for you:

  • What are your experiences as a civic leader?
  • What challenges have you faced?
  • How do you balance the need to run the museum with the need to be out in the community?
  • How do you know when to say no to a request to get involved in a community project?
  • What success have you had?
  • How has being involved in your community helped your organization?
Share your story! Comment on this blog.