How to Work with Museum Boards: A Relationship Between the Staff and the Board

Added to Medium, November 9, 2017

As I assist with preparations for my museum’s board meeting this week, I thought more on what I have learned about the board’s role in the museum. Throughout my career so far, I became more involved in getting to know the board and what their impact is on the museum. I continue to learn more as I become more involved in projects that help the board see the museum’s progress. To absorb more knowledge about museum boards, in addition to personal experience, I read books, articles, and blog posts on various information about museum boards.

There are a number of responsibilities boards have for museums and other non-profit organizations. According to Hugh H. Genoways and Lynne M. Ireland’s Museum Administration 2.0, board members have a number of responsibilities including but not limited to: ensure the continuity of the museum’s mission, mandate, and purposes; act as an advocate in the community for public involvement in the museum; review and approve policies consistent with the museum’s mission and mandate, and to monitor staff implementation of these policies; plan for the future of the museum, including review and approval of a strategic plan that identifies the museum’s goals and ways to attain them, and monitoring implementation of the plan; and ensure that the museum has adequate staff to fulfill the mission.

Museum board responsibilities are not limited to only the previously listed. Their responsibilities do have to be clear to make sure the board members understand how their tasks have an impact on the overall museum’s function. Board members do need to not only understand the museum director and staff roles to see the museum’s impact on the community.

To effectively run a museum there has to be a clear definition of roles and responsibilities of board members, the executive director, and staff. Each of them need to work together to fulfill the museum’s mission and meet the needs of its constituencies. The executive director and board balance their leadership roles between both of them, and the extent to which the board and director achieve this balance will vary from museum to museum and will depend on the size of the museum. Each staff member, director, and board member have a role to fulfill to keep the museum running.

By learning more about my role in the museum and other roles in the museum, I can see how all of our work keeps the museum running for the community.

I began to learn more about museum boards and my role in collaborating with boards during my most recent years in my museum career. For instance, this week I have been asked to look over financial records of Maritime Explorium’s admission records for 2017. I carefully looked through each information between January and October to make sure it was all accurate to prepare for an upcoming board meeting. By completing this task, I will be able to help the executive director and the board understand the trends of this past year so far and they would be able to move forward in planning for next year.

While I was learning from my personal experience and from the book Museum Administration 2.0 about the board’s role in the museum, I also read the blog posts about museum boards.

In the Leadership Matters blog post “It’s the board, stupid”, Joan Baldwin pointed out that not everyone on boards internalizes the museum’s mission, gets along with the executive director, contributes time and money and gets others to do the same, but if board members have understood their trusteeship as work, based in a museum’s mission, there would probably be less disruption, less mediocrity, and more organizational success.

No one is perfect, and it can be a challenge to keep things functioning in the museum. The most important thing to keep in mind is to have constant and clear communication between the board, director, and museum staff.

Communication also needs to be clear between the board, executive director, and staff. The more effective and accurate the communication among them are the more likely what changes unfold can be accommodated smoothly.

Board members bring a variety of values with them, and the director’s success in the museum is directly related to his or her understanding of the board and its values. The board’s composition needs to be reflective of the community it serves. Museums’ boards, in other words, need to reflect diversity in their leadership. In Rebecca Herz’s blog post “Museum Boards” from a few years ago, one of the former museum directors she talked with pointed out that “we need boards that can represent the range of communities served by our museums”. This is certainly true now as it was when this blog post was written. If we do not effectively represent our communities, then people within those communities will not see how museums can be valued. To be able to represent our communities, we need to start with a diverse museum board.

The best way to have a better understanding of how museum boards function is to take advantage of the opportunities to assist in projects that affect museum boards’ roles and to get to know your museum board members.

Have you been on a museum board? What is your experience like? If you work in a museum, how directly have you worked with board members? What have your experiences with boards been like?

*Announcement: Guess what?! I’m on Patreon! With your help, I can expand my blog & website to do even cooler things. https://www.patreon.com/lindseysteward *

Resources:
Genoways, Hugh H., Lynne M. Ireland, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Museum Administration 2.0, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.
https://museumquestions.com/2013/11/18/museum-boards/
https://leadershipmatters1213.wordpress.com/2017/10/30/its-the-board-stupid/

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