Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Museum Director's Questions

In a recent blog post, Nina Simon answered the ten most frequently asked questions about audience participation It caused me to think about the questions often asked by museum directors struggling with their life and work. Here are a few which came to mind easily.

  1. From the new director: Why didn’t the board (or the search consultant) tell me about (fill in the blank)? Usually because they didn’t know. Boards are frequently extremely far from the action and don’t understand what will be important to the new director. The hiring process doesn’t lend itself to the depth of understanding that one would hope. There are almost always surprises, sometimes good, sometimes not.
  1. How can I get the board to take their responsibility to raise money? Phased this way, the answer is, you can’t. The right question is: What is the process by which we can raise money? In other words, what is the process by which we (paid staff and volunteers) can raise money together? Participatory, heh?
  1. How do we align all the moving parts of this complex organization? This is the best question, the real work of the director, and starts with the gathering of constituent views, highlighting those views for everyone to know, see, understand, discuss. Again, participation. Longterm, iterative. Over time, it shows in vision, mission, organization values, leadership, choice of programs and audience, finances, hiring and staff and volunteer deployment, what not to do.
  1. When do I remove a staff member who isn’t able to do the job that needs doing? Most directors consider political fallout, institutional intelligence, personal situations, structural solutions, and legal ramifications before they let someone go. They would probably say they take too long to pull the trigger. If prudent, they understand the legal situation, discuss the release with key board and staff members once they come to the decision. If they are good at their job, they make a careful plan, and they execute exactly.
  1. What is the best way to be evaluated by the board? Ideally, the process is negotiated when the contract is inked. The director is evaluated against a newly created strategic plan or a mutually agreed upon set of goals. It’s also fantastic if the board will agree to evaluate their own work when they evaluate the director. Usually, we don’t live in an ideal world and I’ve witnessed the most ham-handed, unhelpful evaluations imaginable, apparently designed to annoy, obfuscate, and confuse without meaning to. Awful.
  1. Should I have an employment contract? The only downside to a contract is that the board must take positive action when the time comes. When developing a contract, I review the AAMD’s Model Museum Director’s Employment Contract I recommend taking control of this process -- everything is negotiable, use it as the first example of how you and your board will work through a process and solve a problem.
  1. How do I maintain a life beyond the museum? Many directors don’t. They create a life in which their museum activities infiltrate virtually every waking hour, gladly. Family and friends, intellectual pursuits, travel, and hobbies form the tapestry of life, connected to the museum, one way of another. On the other hand, I’ve helped to create several sabbaticals, strongly recommend a “do not do” list and John Durel's article on the subject, I do know the rare director who works to live, not the other way around.

The field of positive psychology provides a set of criteria leading to happiness: meaningful work, mastery over the work, working with others you admire and respect, and working on something larger than yourself. Since mission-related museum work aligns with these criteria, it is perfect understandable that many find happiness fully engaged as museum directors

  1. How big should the board be? The flip answer: as big as necessary to get the job done. Put another way, twelve to seventeen if you are not raising money. No bigger than 17 until each person is well orientated, clear about individual goals and action plans and well supported, proud of the collective success and of their individual giving.
  1. What is the work of the board now? Advocacy for the museum’s mission, fund raising based on a clear plan established in conjunction with the staff, governance including policy-making and board succession, and providing civic reach.
  1. What is my responsibility for the board’s success? In a nonprofit, the CEO has less authority than a for profit CEO, but he or she has the same responsibility, in the end. Everything is your fault. A great board is not an accident, it is a victory. It takes work, attention, luck, skill and a participatory mindset.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Best Nonprofits to Work For in US

Members of the NHA staff dressed for the parade of the Daffodil Festival,
an annual springtime event on Nantucket.
The Nantucket Historical Association is the first museum to appear on the list of the top 50 nonprofit organizations to work for in the US.
For several years we have encouraged the museum leaders we work with to have their museum become the first on this prestigious list. Being known as a great place to work helps to attract talent. It's also a boost to the museum's reputation, a key driver of financial sustainability.
We point to Wegmans Supermarkets as the prime example in the for-profit world. Wegmans is one of the most successful supermarket chains in the country, in an industry not known for treating employees well. It is regularly ranked among the top 10 businesses to work for in the US. Its success is built on loyal customers, strong relationships with suppliers, and philanthropic community involvement. However, at the core of its success is a friendly and knowledgeable workforce. Wegmans has a saying: "we take care of our people, so that they can take care of our customers."
"The Fifty Best Nonprofits to Work For" is a program of the NonProfit Times. This year the Nantucket Historical Association is ranked #8 among small nonprofits, and #13 overall. Congratulations to Bill Tramposch and the Board of Trustees for creating one of the best places to work in America for a talented staff.