Wednesday, February 22, 2012

For the Love of the Small Museum: Propose Conference Sessions

Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko was the plenary speaker on Feb. 22 at the 2012 Small Museum Association Conference in Ocean City, Maryland. Below is an excerpt from her speech entitled “For the Love of the Small Museum: The Making of the Small Museum Toolkit,” where she reminds us about the importance of not only attending conferences, but of bringing the small museum voice to conference panels.

“Small museum people like you can do more to promote a dialogue. Time and again I have sat on conference program committees looking, searching for, and not finding many session proposals from small museum leaders. These are few and far between. More often, panelists from larger museums will propose a session that focuses on nuts-and-bolts work, and because of its basic topic, it’s touted as being for the small museum audience. And there’s no one on the panel who works in a small museum. ALL museum practitioners benefit from nuts-and-bolts sessions from time to time. This is not a “small museum thing;” this is a “continuing education thing.”

Advocacy groups, like AAM’s Small Museum Administrators Committee and AASLH’s Small Museums Committee, work hard to ensure conferences provide ample opportunities for small museum attendees. But I can tell you that too few of you are providing the proposals.

What the museum field needs are more session proposals from small museum practitioners sharing case studies, best practice strategies, and overall museum excellence with panels of colleagues from small, medium, and large museums. This will change the mistaken – and certainly short-sighted – perception that Steve Friesen, from the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, writes about in Chapter 1 of Book 1 of the Small Museum Toolkit:

“To many people a small museum is a museum that has too little money, too few staff, too small facilities, and even too little knowledge. This negative approach to the small museum brings with it a stereotype that the small museum is a place that is somehow incomplete or needs desperately to learn from big museums.”

Your participation in conference panels will focus attention on small museums in the best light. Yes, money is tight; it is for everyone. But please, find a way to attend AAM or AASLH (or both) each year and be a session chair or panelist. Maybe hatch a plan with some of your closest museum colleagues to take turns attending these conferences. Apply for scholarships. Get grant funding to attend. Many of you already attend, and I’m glad you do, but the small museum field needs you to prepare session proposals and show our colleagues how awesome we all are.

What will we get in return? More seats at the table, as we talk about the museum community’s future. More resources shared with us by our museum peers and awarded to us through grants. More visitors to our museums, allowing our missions to spread more broadly and deeply across America. This is our highest purpose and the reason why we do the work we do.”

Working in museums for nearly 20 years, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko has been a museum director since 2001. Cinnamon became CEO of the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine in 2009. Before that, she was the director of the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where she led the organization to the National Medal for Museum Service in 2008. She is co-editor of the recently released
Small Museum Toolkit from AltaMira Press.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

When to CAP – is now the right time?

You just learned about the Conservation Assessment Program (CAP) from a colleague, from a session at a museum association meeting, or possibly even from the Small Museums Toolkit. It sounds like a great way to receive conservation advice for your museum, and you can't wait to apply! But is it the right time?

Although Heritage Preservation strives to make the CAP assessment process as easy and effortless as possible, museum staff should know that CAP assessments require a time investment. The entire CAP timeframe spans 12-18 months, start to finish. From interviewing assessors, to supervising the site visit, to reviewing the final report, the museum has work to do towards their CAP, and should ensure that the person in charge of the CAP at the museum has ample time to do this work.

The Small Museums Toolkit, Book 1: Leadership, Mission, and Governance, chapter 1 has some good advice about appropriate times to embark on a CAP assessment. Here's a short list of times NOT to attempt a CAP:

1. When the curator or director position is about to turn over. Nothing disrupts an assessment more than having it started by one staff member and finished by another.
2. Before the museum is open and offering regular services to the public. Per CAP's eligibility requirements, assessments can only be granted to museums that were open for at least 90 days in the preceding year.
3. If the museum has a staff of one or two people, don't apply for CAP when major events are about to occur in the lives of one of the staff members. Whether you're finally having that knee surgery, helping plan a child's (or your own) wedding, or your dog is having major health problems, these life events can (and have) understandably diverted small museum staff members' attention away from their CAP assessment. This can lead to delayed site visits, reports being reviewed and returned to assessors late, and ultimately a final report that is disjointed, out-of-date, and unhelpful to the museum.

The CAP staff hopes that all eligible small museums in the U.S. will at some point apply for CAP. To make sure that the assessment is as impactful and helpful as possible, apply for CAP when both you and your institution are the most ready for it.

Sara Gonzales is the Coordinator of the Conservation Assessment Program at Heritage Preservation. A graduate of the Museum Studies program at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, she has been the collections manager of a number of small museums in the suburbs of Chicago. Her previous publications include issues of CAPabilities, CAP’s bi-annual newsletter, and articles about CAP in the American Association of Museums’ Museum and the American Association for State and Local History’s History News magazines.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Catlin-Legutko Speaking at SMA Conference

Small museums and their employees and volunteers are a wonder and clearly attendees of the Small Museum Association conference know this. Right? Perhaps you need to be reminded why you rock.

Join me for the plenary session, For the Love of the Small Museum: The Making of the Small Museum Toolkit, on Tuesday, February 21 from 8:30 – 9:20 to hear why your work matters, what the museum community can learn from what you do, and how the Small Museum Toolkit was inspired by you, the small museum champion.

Conceived during a marathon road trip to two back-to-back museum conferences, my co-editor, Stacy Klingler and I, tackled a dream to produce practical how-to resources for our over-worked small museum colleagues. Partnering with dozens of authors, whose writings are spread over six books, the Small Museum Toolkit was published by Altamira Press last month.

During my talk, I hope to challenge you, motivate you, and celebrate you; preparing you to return to your fabulous small museum with a focused and energized agenda.

Following the plenary, I will lead an informal conversation or "fireside chat," titled Big Ideas in Small Museums: A Conversation about Moving Mountains. Session participants are encouraged to connect with colleagues and talk about the burning issues and solutions they may have that can improve the small museum environment. Discussions will focus around the importance of assessment, planning, fundraising and board development.

See you there!

For more information about SMA and the conference, visit

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Some Facts About Fundraising

There are a few well-proven facts that board members and staff need to understand as you evaluate and plan for current and future fundraising, or development, efforts, e.g., membership, annual fund, capital and endowment campaigns, planned giving, and major gifts.

*Individual giving is the cornerstone of nonprofit annual and major giving. In 2009, 75% of the charitable gifts to nonprofit organizations came from individual donors, with only 13% coming from foundations, another 8% from bequests, and 4% from corporations[i].
*Of the total giving in 2009, only 4% went to Arts, Culture, and Humanities (this is the sector where museums and history organization show up). The largest sector, religion, received 33% of the contributions. Of particular note, Education is second at 13%.[ii] The more connected you are with K-12 education, the more eligible you are for a bigger piece of the funding pie.
*On average, 80% of the dollars comes from 20% of your donor base; the reverse is true as well. As a result, both groups require your attention, but in different ways.
*It’s a very rare gift that is a large first gift. With caring stewardship combined with appropriate solicitation methods, identifiable segments of the membership base will move up the donor ladder toward larger and larger gifts. This process is a natural progression – a continuum – for our solicitation efforts and our donors.
*Donors must be an involved constituency and care about the service you provide.
*The board must be the vanguard of those supporting the Museum. They must have 100% participation in the giving program at the highest level they can each support. Major gifts usually come in large part from the board and their relationships.

It is also important to note that diversified income streams are critical to the sustainability of any organization. If one revenue source is negatively impacted by external or internal forces, then the others can pick up the slack in a given budget cycle.

Because individuals are 75% of the charitable giving pool, the Toolkit chapter, titled “Fearless Fundraising: A Roadmap for Kick-Starting Your Development Program,” by Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, focuses primarily on practical approaches to asking individuals to donate.

[i]“The Annual Report on Philanthropy for 2009,” Giving USA, accessed June 8, 2011,
[ii] “The Annual Report on Philanthropy for 2009.”