Live Webinar: Beyond the Spreadsheet: Finance and Organizational Priorities

Many of us recognize the utility of financial management, but struggle with how to best engage it with other organizational activities like strategic planning, operational needs related to programming and community engagement, messaging, and preparation for institutional change. This webinar helps participants foresee and tackle challenges of incohesive financial planning, such as fragmentation within the institution (the “silo effect”), lack of proper fundraising strategy, and potentially weak and even uncompliant organizational management.

In this 75-minute webinar, instructor Becky Beaulieu, author of Financial Fundamentals for Historic House Museums (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017) will help participants learn to identify financial priorities as they relate to institutional needs and goals. She will also address building buy-in amongst internal and external stakeholders to best position your organization for financial stability and strong partnerships.

This webinar is designed for participants of all levels, including staff, volunteers, and board members.

This webinar is part of the StEPs Lab series of online continuing education offered to both StEPs program participants and all others interested in the topic of financial management. This is StEPs Lab 19.

Details:

DATE: December 12, 2019

TIME: 3:00 - 4:15 pm EASTERN (Remember to adjust for your time zone)

COST: $40 Members / $65 Nonmembers / $15 discount for StEPs participants with promo code found on StEPs Community website

REGISTER HERE

Participant Outcomes:

After taking part in this webinar, participants will:

  • Learn how to engage financial systems with organizational planning.
  • Ensure effective alignment between financial best practices and the needs and responsibilities of paid/unpaid staff and board members.
  • Become more familiar with standards related to financial management and learn best practices for meeting those standards.

Speaker:

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Rebekah Beaulieu, Ph.D. is the Director of Florence Griswold Museum, an art museum, National Landmark historic house, and thirteen acres of gardens and grounds in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Becky is on the boards of the New England Museum Association and Connecticut Humanities, on the faculty of AASLH’s History Leadership Institute, and a member of the AASLH Finance Committee. She is an AAM Accreditation Commissioner and board member for the AAM Historic Houses and Sites Professional Network.


Best Practices for StEPs Success

By Cherie Cook, Senior Program Manager, AASLH

When I think about best practices for museums, my curatorial work from years ago kicks in and I picture white gloves, padded hangers, and other techniques used to avoid damage to artifacts and (hopefully) slow down their natural deterioration.

Best practice: a reliable method or technique for achieving a desired result

If we crowdsourced a list of collections care best practices, I’m sure we could compile hundreds of entries. Indeed, that is why we stopped short of listing best practices in the workbook created for the StEPs program, a self-study assessment program created especially for small- to mid-sized museums, historic houses, and sites. If we had included best practices, we might never have finished the project―or it would have become encyclopedic!

At the annual StEPs Friday Morning MeetUP during AASLH’s Annual Meeting in Philadelphia this year, the topic of discussion was best practices. But instead of best practices for collections care or any of the other five workbook sections, we addressed the question, “What are reliable methods or techniques for achieving success with the StEPs program?” Are there factors that increase the likelihood that an organization will not only earn Bronze, Silver, and Gold certificates, but more importantly, will emerge from the StEPs process a stronger and more sustainable institution?

In response, the MeetUP participants compiled the following list of best practices for using the StEPs program:

  • Stakeholders, especially board members and paid and unpaid staff, are involved in the process. If an organization doesn’t have board members, then members of the governing authority take part. It is advisable that at some point in the assessment process, members of the community, funders, and other stakeholders also participate.
  • A structure for the assessment process is created prior to the start of the project. The structure addresses who is involved in the assessment, how the assessment will proceed, and how the results will be used. Be sure to read the Introduction and How to Use sections of the workbook for help in creating your project structure.
  • A schedule, including a target date for completion, is set. One MeetUP participant emphasized that a schedule that conveys a sense of urgency is particularly helpful. Both best practices are especially valuable given that StEPs is a self-study program, which can be a double-edged sword in terms of completion.
  • Attention is paid to buy-in. Assuming stakeholders are on board with the assessment is risky. Create buy-in by starting the project with an orientation where your board president or whoever is championing the assessment sets the vision and makes sure they place all stakeholders in that vision as critical assets to the success of the project.
  • The assessment is integrated with strategic planning.
  • The organization communicates its progress to all stakeholders throughout the assessment project.

If your organization is one of the 1,050 using the StEPs program, do you have best practices to add to the above list?


StEPs Spotlight: Jackson County Historical Society

Exciting changes are happening at the more than 1,000 organizations taking part in the StEPs program (Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations).

Our “StEPs Spotlight” blog series highlights accomplishments by participating organizations.

Below is another example of how StEPs is helping organizations take a leap forward by improving policies and practices, opening lines of communication, and setting goals for a bright future.

Jackson County Historical Society
Independence, Missouri

By Caitlin Eckard, Jackson County Historical Society

The Jackson County Historical Society formally organized January 19, 1940, when Roger T. Sermon, then mayor of Independence, Missouri, called an organizational meeting to choose officers and prepare by-laws. The headquarters were to be at the County Seat in Independence, and its historical records (now its archives and research library) were then maintained in one fireproof cabinet in the Jackson County Library. The Society ramped up its activity and officially incorporated in 1958 when the oldest structure on Independence Square, the 1859 Jackson County Jail and adjoining Marshal’s Home, was slated for demolition. After a fervent capital campaign under the leadership of Society President W. Howard Adams, the 1859 Jail, Marshal’s Home and Museum opened to the public in June 1959, in the building’s 100th year. The one-room schoolhouse used for ninety years on the William B. Howard farm near Lee’s Summit, Missouri, was also relocated to the site for preservation and interpretation. The restored structures and period rooms were furnished through the acquisition of significant Jackson County-related artifacts from the late nineteenth Century. The society’s archival collection also grew significantly during the surging interest in historic preservation.

Inside the 1859 Jackson County Jail.

In 1972, the society’s Archives and Research Library, which had outgrown temporary quarters in the basement of the Harry S Truman Presidential Museum and Library, relocated to space provided by Jackson County government in the historic courthouse on Independence Square. Today, the Jackson County Historical Society collections continue to grow and we are moving into the twenty-first century with exciting technological projects that will make our collections available to a worldwide audience. In successive years the quantity and quality of the society’s products, services, sites, and programs have adapted to meet the needs of its patrons. Generous benefactors have also helped establish permanent endowment funds for the long-term care of the society’s historic sites and collections. With six paid staff and twenty-five volunteers, JCHS joined AASLH and began the StEPs program in 2018.

Can you describe how your organization is making its way through the program?

We are going through the Basic level indicators by section, meeting the second Monday of every month to complete each section. Updates on our progress go out to the board members each month. StEPs is helping to define the differences between the board of directors' work and staff work. This is the largest staff size the organization has ever seen, so the board has less daily oversight and has focused on other tangible goals to help our staff succeed.

What would you say is the most significant change or improvement within your organization as a result of taking part in StEPs?

We realized we have a lot of out date policies and procedures. Our organization has grown a lot in the past few years, so StEPs is really helping us navigate the ups and downs of that process.

Which section of the workbook has been your favorite, and why?

Although we've only done the Audience and Mission, Vision, and Governance sections at this time, MVG has been my favorite because it is helping our board understand their role.

What advice do you have for organizations just starting in StEPs?

Just pick a time and get started!

Learn more about StEPs...

The StEPs logo, in which the letters of S-T-E-P-S are typed above a curved brush stroke that is lower on the left and higher on the right. Text below logo reads Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations.

Webinar: Is Your Organization Ready for StEPs?

Assessment programs like AASLH’s StEPs program are road maps. They are a valuable tool for moving an organization forward along a path and helping paid and unpaid staff, volunteers, and board members stay focused as they travel together along that path toward a set of common goals.

Organizations that can connect planning and fundraising to an assessment program gain credibility. Funders like to know that your proposed project is based upon goals that are supported by an assessment program, and that your organization’s progress can be measured.

StEPs is a self-study assessment program open to any museum, historical society, historic house, site, or related organization. It is intended for small- and mid-sized organizations that do not feel ready for other assessment programs, but larger museums may find it useful for prioritizing and as a refresher checklist or training tool. Enrollment in StEPs is a one-time fee of $175 for institutional members of AASLH.

Is your organization ready for StEPs? Join us for this free, one-hour webinar to hear how StEPs can help your organization create a road map for meaningful change.

Speaker: Cherie Cook, AASLH Senior Program Manager

Note: This webinar is for organizations that are considering using the StEPs program. Organizations already enrolled in the program should register for the free webinar, “StEPs Welcome or Refresher" on November 6, 2019:

Details:

DATE: October 9, 2019

TIME: 3:00 - 4:00 pm EASTERN (Remember to adjust for your time zone)

COST: FREE

Closed captioning available upon advanced notice. Please contact [email protected] for more information.

REGISTER HERE

About the Instructor:

Cherie Cook is AASLH Senior Program Manager. Prior to joining the Association, Cherie worked with museums in Oklahoma for more than sixteen years, first as field services coordinator and then as executive director of the Oklahoma Museums Association. Much of Cherie’s work at AASLH focuses on smaller history organizations and is influenced not only by her years in Oklahoma but also her experience as a county historical society curator.


The StEPs logo, in which the letters of S-T-E-P-S are typed above a curved brush stroke that is lower on the left and higher on the right. Text below logo reads Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations.

Nine Organizations Earn StEPs Certificates in September

We congratulate these members who earned StEPs certificates last month!

The Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations is AASLH’s self-study standards program designed specifically for small to mid-sized history organizations, including volunteer-run institutions. Through a workbook, online resources, and an online community, organizations enrolled in StEPs assess their policies and practices and benchmark themselves against nationally recognized standards. StEPs certificates mark an institution’s progress towards enhancing standards and management of their resources.

Delhi Historical Society, Cincinnati, OH: MVG Bronze

Dickinson County Historical Society, Abilene, KS: Bronze in all six categories

Effingham County Cultural Center and Museum Association, Effingham, IL: Audience Bronze

Farmers Branch Historical Park, Farmers Branch, TX: MVG Silver

Fort Douglas Military Museum, Salt Lake City, UT: MVG, Management, and Audience Bronze

Hyrum City Museum, Hyrum UT: MVG Bronze and Silver

Jackson County Historical Society, Independence, MO: Interpretation Bronze

Lafayette Miners Museum, Lafayette, CO: MVG Bronze

Ogden Union Station Museum, Ogden, UT: MVG, Management, and Audience Bronze


The StEPs logo, in which the letters of S-T-E-P-S are typed above a curved brush stroke that is lower on the left and higher on the right. Text below logo reads Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations.

Seven Organizations Earn StEPs Certificates in August

We congratulate these members who earned StEPs certificates last month!

The Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations is AASLH’s self-study standards program designed specifically for small to mid-sized history organizations, including volunteer-run institutions. Through a workbook, online resources, and an online community, organizations enrolled in StEPs assess their policies and practices and benchmark themselves against nationally recognized standards. StEPs certificates mark an institution’s progress towards enhancing standards and management of their resources.

Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, Bainbridge Island, WA: MVG Silver

Black Heritage Society of Washington State, Seattle, WA: Management and MVG Bronze

Cache Pioneer Museum, Logan, UT: Audience, Management, and MVG Bronze

Cleo Redd Fisher Museum, Loudonville, OH: Audience and Stewardship of Collections Silver

Effingham County Cultural Center and Museum Association, Effingham, IL: MVG Bronze

Hyrum City Museum, Hyrum UT: Audience and Management Bronze, MVG Gold

Jackson County Historical Society, Independence, MO: Audience Bronze


The StEPs logo, in which the letters of S-T-E-P-S are typed above a curved brush stroke that is lower on the left and higher on the right. Text below logo reads Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations.

Four Organizations Earn StEPs Certificates in July

We congratulate these members who earned StEPs certificates last month!

The Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations is AASLH’s self-study standards program designed specifically for small to mid-sized history organizations, including volunteer-run institutions. Through a workbook, online resources, and an online community, organizations enrolled in StEPs assess their policies and practices and benchmark themselves against nationally recognized standards. StEPs certificates mark an institution’s progress towards enhancing standards and management of their resources.

African American Cultural and Historical Museum, Ann Arbor, MI: MVG Bronze

Cleo Redd Fisher Museum, Loudonville, OH: MVG and Interpretation Silver

Jack Jouett House Historic Site, Versailles, KY: MVG Bronze, Silver, and Gold; Interpretation Bronze, Silver, and Gold; and Audience Bronze, Silver, and Gold

McHenry County Historical Society and Museum, Union, IL: Audience, Interpretation, and Stewardship of Collections Bronze


Moving Luzerne County Historical Society Forward

By Aimee E. Newell, Ph.D., Executive Director, Luzerne County Historical Society with introduction by Cherie Cook, Senior Program Manager, AASLH

Assessment programs are valuable tools for moving an organization forward because they provide a much-needed pathway so board, staff, and volunteers travel in the same direction toward a set of agreed-upon goals.

Organizations that connect planning, decision-making, and fundraising to an assessment program―and to national museum standards―gain credibility. Funders like to know that planning is based upon something that can be justified, substantiated, and measured. You have a much easier time articulating goals and accomplishments when you connect them to the same benchmarks that museums across the country are using. Assessment programs offered by AASLH, the American Alliance of Museums, and the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation all use the same national standards, thus streamlining the transition from one assessment program to another.

Below is Aimee Newell’s story about how her organization has used assessment programs to make impressive progress in sustainability, planning, programming, and more.


When I became Executive Director at the Luzerne County Historical Society in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in late 2016, the organization was facing a number of challenges. It had been without an Executive Director for three years, had four paid staff (three of them part-time) and a $200,000 budget to operate a library, a museum, and two historic houses, as well as to steward the collection of 200,000+ objects, documents, and published works. There was limited programming, confusion about membership status, a ton of deferred maintenance, and the largest annual donation was $2,500.

But, there was also a lot of potential! Luzerne County has a varied history with many interesting stories to tell from prehistoric Native settlements to Revolutionary War battles to anthracite coal mining. The collection and the historic houses could have layers of interpretation and programming added–environmental history, abolition, and diverse family stories, just to name a few. And, we could widen our reach by truly exploring all of Luzerne County and telling its stories.

One of the first things that I did was to enroll the Society in StEPs (Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations) offered by AASLH. I did an initial assessment by going through the entire workbook and we were able to secure bronze certificates in Audience and Collections Stewardship by the end of my first year as ED. The StEPs materials and goals helped me to start thinking about the Society’s first strategic plan in ten years, and to help direct the board and staff toward goals, as well as with understanding their particular roles.

As part of this process of righting the ship, so to speak, and doing some strategic planning, we also participated in the CAP (Collections Assessment for Preservation) and MAP (Museum Assessment) programs during my first two years. In summer 2017, we received a CAP grant that funded a site visit by an architectural/buildings consultant and a collections specialist who met with us and prepared a comprehensive report to identify preventive conservation priorities for our historic buildings and our collection.

We asked the buildings assessor to focus on our two historic houses, while the collections assessor spent the bulk of his time with our library and museum collection. The assessors met with staff members to gain their perspectives and we had a couple of dinners with board members. In addition, I, as the Executive Director, was able to talk about society priorities with the assessors in order to help communicate our needs in the report. Our CAP report communicated the urgency for repairs at our Swetland Homestead, promoted the understanding of the necessity of an inventory and proper environmental conditions for our collection, and helped board and staff see the urgency of the need for a combined museum and library building, rather than our current pair of structures, neither of which is meeting our needs or our goals.

The following summer–in 2018–we participated in an organizational assessment through the MAP program. It helps museums strengthen operations, plan for the future and meet standards. We wanted to increase the board’s understanding of its role and responsibilities, improve the alignment of operations and resources to our mission, improve our financial sustainability and engage the community.

Through the self-study workbook and the assessor site visit, as well as our final report, the MAP raised awareness of our needs and priorities among the board and staff. It also helped jump-start conversations about where we were and where we need to go. One board member commented, “It gives us a shared common experience to move forward with.” Another noted, “The MAP was beneficial in getting everyone on the same page – it’s incredibly refreshing after too many years of stasis.”

In combination with our CAP and MAP surveys, we continue to follow the StEPs workbook. We have used it to help with writing our strategic plan. The StEPs basic, good, and better performance indicators are a nice way for us to measure our progress. StEPs also helps explain goals and priorities to board, staff, and volunteers and allows us to identify and communicate goals for different parts of the organization. StEPs gives us confidence to meet challenges. We enjoy celebrating our progress, and have earned six more bronze and silver certificates!

Assessment programs available to the museum field have been invaluable for LCHS. We have moved forward a great deal since 2016. We still have five staff, but three are now full-time and two are part-time. We increased our annual budget to $325,000. Our fundraising is up across the board – our annual appeal has increased by $20,000 each of the past two years and our largest gift is up to $25,000. We are doing more than 25 programs and events each year and after an initial increase of 67% to our membership, it has remained stable. We still have a ton of deferred maintenance, but now we have a plan, thanks to our CAP report.

The board approved our strategic plan in September 2018. Goals include increasing the diversity of LCHS programming and audiences, making the LCHS collection accessible to our community, maintaining our financial stability, implementing a sustainable plan for growth, and planning for our future, particularly by determining a plan for a combined museum and library building. We still have a lot of work to do, but StEPs, CAP, and MAP have helped us develop a way to approach stages of the process and to measure our progress. As one board member commented, “I feel like everyone has a direction. People realize what needs to be done and they are seeing the future. The assessment has created an energy that is moving all board members and staff.”


Learn more about the StEPs program and the Small Museums Affinity Community.


The StEPs logo, in which the letters of S-T-E-P-S are typed above a curved brush stroke that is lower on the left and higher on the right. Text below logo reads Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations.

Five Organizations Earn StEPs Certificates in June

We congratulate these members who earned StEPs certificates last month!

The Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations is AASLH’s self-study standards program designed specifically for small to mid-sized history organizations, including volunteer-run institutions. Through a workbook, online resources, and an online community, organizations enrolled in StEPs assess their policies and practices and benchmark themselves against nationally recognized standards. StEPs certificates mark an institution’s progress towards enhancing standards and management of their resources.

Bishop Baraga Association, Marquette, MI: Management and MVG Gold

Cleo Redd Fisher Museum, Loudonville, OH: Management, Audience, Interpretation, Stewardship of Collections, and Stewardship of Historic Structures and Landscapes Bronze

Kent-Delord House Museum, Plattsburgh, NY: Audience Bronze

Manitowoc County Historical Society, Manitowoc, WI: Management and Stewardship of Historic Structures and Landscapes Gold

Navy Lakehurst Historical Society, Inc., Lakehurst, NJ: Management and Stewardship of Historic Structures and Landscapes Silver

 

And special congratulations to Manitowoc County Historical Society, our latest StEPs graduate with Gold in all categories!


Webinar: Get Ready to Plan Strategically!

Strategic planning can be a daunting task for many organizations. Lack of time or resources are frequently cited barriers to planning, yet having no mission-driven direction tied to performance measures is risky. This 90-minute webinar will cut through the mystery and (perceived) misery of planning to introduce participants to the process and language of strategic planning.

In “Get Ready to Plan Strategically!” guest speaker Anne Ackerson will discuss the important preparations necessary for meaningful and productive strategic planning. She will also present models for strategic plan formats, address community input and visioning.

This AASLH webinar is part of the StEPs Lab webinar series offered to both StEPs participants and all others interested in the topic of strategic planning. Applying what you learn in a StEPs Lab to your policies and practices helps your organization make meaningful progress. Learn more about StEPs, AASLH’s self-study, self-paced assessment program designed specifically for small- to mid-sized history organizations, including volunteer-run institutions.

This is StEPs Lab 18.

Details:

DATE: June 25, 2019

TIME: 3:00 - 4:30 pm EASTERN (Remember to adjust for your time zone)

COST: $40 Members / $65 Nonmembers / $15 discount for StEPs participants with promo code found on StEPs Community website

Closed captioning available upon advanced notice. Please contact [email protected] for more information.

REGISTER HERE

Participant Outcomes:

After taking part in this webinar, participants will:

  • Understand the difference between strategic and long range planning;
  • Learn other planning definitions like vision, goals, objectives, and tasks and understand the importance of being unified and consistent in the terms your planning group will use;
  • Learn what needs to be done before board, staff, and others gather for the first strategic planning session;
  • Understand that there are a variety of strategic plan formats and your organization should choose one that meets its needs, and
  • Be inspired to trust in the strategic planning process, see it through to the completion of the plan, and use it!

Speaker:

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Anne Ackerson is co-author with Joan H. Baldwin of the publications Women in the Museum: Lessons from the Workplace and Leadership Matters: Conversations with History Museum Leaders. Ackerson is also a co-founder of the Gender Equity in Museums Movement (GEMM).