Museums and Historic Preservation in FY 2012

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is live-blogging their analysis of President Obama’s proposed budget for next year. They’ll be updating throughout the day as they discuss areas of the budget that relate to historic preservation and public funding for the arts. If you want to do your own research, there’s an interactive breakdown of the budget on the White House website.

For those who have been following the buzz about the budget through other news sources, this budget is an attempt to drastically scale back federal spending in the face of an escalating deficit. Not twenty minutes ago on NPR I heard what seemed like a good summary of where it will go next: essentially, Democrats think it’s way over the top and Republicans think it doesn’t go far enough. Which is to say, this document is still due for a lot of debate and revision.

Either way things shape up, it probably doesn’t look good for federal funding for museums. We’ll be posting wrap-ups this week, as well as some interesting thinking about new business models for museums. The future isn’t looking so bright for the traditional public money dependence that got a lot of museums through the 20th century.

AAM Webinar on Social Media and Museum Advocacy

In early December, AAM sponsored a webinar on social media and museum advocacy. Led by Stephanie Vance of Advocacy Associates, the presentation provided basic lessons in how to use newer tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to cultivate supporters and engage elected officials. Here are some of Vance’s suggestions:

Blogs: If you’re writing on behalf of an organization, Vance advises avoiding politically partisan messages, but there’s no reason you can’t talk about legislation that affects your museum or ask your audience to let their representatives know how important your museum is to them. She cites I Heart Art: Portland, Small Museum
, and Exploratorium Explainers as examples of blogs that do a good job informing and inspiring their audience beyond just marketing.

Twitter: Search for your museum’s name to see who is already talking about you, and respond to those people. Cultivate followers and let them know about issues your museum is facing, locally or nationally. You can follow AAM (@AAMers) to get advocacy action alerts that you can share. Sign up for your legislators’ Twitter feeds and tag them in relevant messages. For example, Michael Capuano (@mikecapuano) is the congressional representative in Tufts’ district, so you might ask your audience to retweet a message asking him to support FY12 funding for IMLS.

LinkedIn Connect to your city councilors, congressional representatives, mayor’s office, etc. and see if you share any 2nd-degree connections. You may find that a former classmate or colleague has a connection that could help your message find its way to a legislator’s desk more quickly.

Facebook The fastest-growing demographic on Facebook are users who are 35 and older, Vance says, and more and more legislators are using it as a major communication tool. You can “like” your legislators’ pages and post on their walls about upcoming events and community partnerships. Search for your museum on Flickr or YouTube and repost links to any user-generated content that shows their constituents are engaging with your organization.

Once you get the hang of in social media as a way to communicate with legislators and cultivate community supporters, make sure you teach these tools to volunteer committees or friends’ groups who are already valuable “real-world” advocates for your museum.

Speak Up for Museums is AAM’s museum advocacy initiative. Check there for more tips and webinars, and to find out more about AAM’s Museum Advocacy Day, February 28 and March 1 in Washington, D.C. You can view a recording of this webinar as part of AAM’s advocacy trainings website.

Kris Bierfelt is a student in the Tufts Museum Studies certificate program, and works as a freelance writer and editor.

A Guide to Guidestar

With the advent of the internet age, we all have a LOT more tools in our hands to begin to learn about specific organizations – and particularly specific museums. Whether you’re doing some research into a museum you’d like to work for, trying to get a good picture for how a museum of a certain size operates, or considering donating to a museum, there are some great tools out there that are promoting transparency and openness for nonprofit organizations.

Today, we’re highlighting Guidestar.

Guidestar is essentially a database of all sorts of nonprofit information. Organizations can establish their profiles and post information – financial statements, programs and events, staff listings, and recent news items. There’s also a section in which the organization can advertise its current funding needs.

Guidestar’s mission is: “to revolutionize philanthropy by providing information that advances transparency, enables users to make better decisions, and encourages charitable giving.”

To access the full capabilities of Guidestar, you’ll need to register. It’s easy and free, and they send a minimum of email. So, start here.

Once you’ve registered, you can navigate the site by searching for a specific organization, or try a more advanced search for organizations in a particular area or focus. Doing a general search on “museum” brings up some of the heavy hitters on the first page:

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museum of Modern Art

American Museum of Natural History

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Field Museum of Natural History

Organizations are responsible for updating their own information, so what you see is what the museum gives you. The Met, for example, hasn’t put up their budget numbers, but they have linked to their 2007-2009 990 tax forms and their 2010 Annual Report. (Watch this space for a guide to interpreting museum annual reports, by the way.) They don’t have a lot under staff or programs, either.

The American Museum of Natural History offers some different information. It lists all its board members, and gives a programs overview that includes its budget: almost $149 million. The MFA Houston also has all its board members and programs information, though no budget.

After quite a bit of searching and clicking, the best museum profile I found belonged to our local USS Constitution Museum. They have background statements, staff information, financial information, programs information, and they’ve even put up some of their funding goals. Bravo to them. (You’ll notice that a Guidestar user has also given the museum an enthusiastic five star review!)

Most museums put a bare minimum of information in Guidestar, which is a shame – it’s a powerful tool that’s quick and simple to update. Administrative and financial transparency is a hot topic in the nonprofit world right now – check out the Christian Science Monitor’s Guide to Giving for recent articles about that very subject.

Think about it: if you’re trying to figure out where to donate your hard-earned money, do you give to the organization that’s tight-fisted and secretive about how it’s going to use that money, or do you want an organization who opens its books and says “here, here’s how your $20 made a substantive difference in the way we do our work”?

Guidestar also offers other tools for nonprofit professionals, including a series of webinars about development, community outreach, and other important topics.

Resources for Weathering the Financial Storm from AASLH

At a panel at NEMA focused on emerging museum directors and professionals, one of the topics that the audience felt they had trouble finding resources about was finances.

I’ve just discovered that the American Association for State & Local History has put together a really excellent guide for museums and other nonprofits during our current difficult economic times.

Check it out: Resources for Weathering the Financial Storm

TED: Ideas Worth Spreading

Museums are in trouble. That’s not news to anyone in the field right now. We need big ideas to take us forward into this next century – we need to reimagine what we’re doing, and why, and how.

Your guess is as good as mine as to where those ideas will come from. But that’s no reason not to keep searching. One great place to turn for ideas is the TED Conference. The conference describes itself as “riveting talks by remarkable people.” The technology industry has turned to this conference for years to get pointers on the future.
Why not museums next? Check it out.

TED: Ideas Worth Spreading