Museum HR: Size Small

drawing org chart

Ages ago, as a young director of a New York history museum, I remember sitting in the audience at a workshop at the Metropolitan Museum. While I enjoyed myself–it was a day out in a great city and a magical museum–there was the lingering sense that the Met’s huge endowment just made everything so easy. Of course its storage areas were beautiful, its education programs imaginative, and its board of trustees? Don’t even get me started. I was reminded of that experience when I read Anne’s answer to a question on this blog about how an all-volunteer museum might aspire to endowed staff positions or, for that matter, any staff position, and I wondered if we shouldn’t stop to think out loud about how leadership and HR work at smaller institutions.

This is important because while working at small institutions has its own rewards–although sometimes not in the form of a paycheck–size sometimes becomes an excuse for inaction. It could be not having a strategic plan; it could be not having an HR office or its equivalent; it could be a board that resists change. That type of behavior from museum leadership, whether boards or directors, contributes to stasis not growth. As Anne is fond of saying, “Do people get up in the morning and say ‘I’m going to make this organization mediocre’?” Not every museum needs to be the Metropolitan, but every organization needs to aspire, to have a vision that moves things forward. We believe firmly that creative, happy, invested staff–whether it’s one person or 10–make museums change. So if you’re a museum leader at an organization with an annual budget of less than $200,000, here are some things you may want to consider on the staff side of things to make the proverbial needle move.

Does your board have:

  • a philosophy that staff are an investment rather than a cost?
  • a commitment to investing in staff?
  • knowledge about comparable nonprofit salaries, wages and benefits in its community or region?
  • a willingness to apply that knowledge to the museum’s staff?
  • a network of philanthropic and corporate donors who could assist in strengthening the museum’s human capital?

Does your museum have:

  • contextual data that can help board and staff leaders make decisions about staffing levels, salaries, wages, benefits, professional development needs?
  • a staffing plan that specifies what positions, jobs and/or roles will be needed by the organization, usually over the next 12-36 months?
  • attendant financial strategies and plans to support a staffing plan?
  • a commitment to engaging staff about their professional development needs?
  • HR policies and procedures that meet legal standards and best practices?

Joan Baldwin

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One Comment on “Museum HR: Size Small”

  1. Ka says:

    My museum has none of those bullet points…and our budget is well over $200,000. I’m not the leader, but we just got a new leader and here’s to hoping he turns us around.


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