Mission? Accomplished!

Anyone who’s worked in a museum with a weak mission can attest to the importance of the statement.  Museums without strong missions often struggle because staff, board members, and the community lack a common understanding of the institution’s guiding principle.  This can have negative effects on exhibits and programs, which may in-turn negatively affect attendance, membership, and fundraising.  The mission statement is indeed one aspect of the museum that affects everyone and everything connected to the organization.

Linda Norris, CGP alum and founder of Riverhill Partners, works closely with museums and communities to help them become stronger organizations.   According to Norris, a good mission is first and foremost understandable.  This means a short, well written statement that’s free of jargon.  A good mission is also inspiring, and states the community the museum exists to serve. Most importantly, in mission-driven institutions, everyone agrees to support the mission – the board, staff, and community.

A mission statement is often accompanied by a vision statement.  Ms. Norris stated that a good vision statement explains why your mission matters – it answers the question of what happens when you achieve your mission.  The vision statement is often a moving target that may never be achieved but it should explain your overall goal.

Mission statements are not documents set-in stone.  They may change over time and should be revisited every time a museum revisits their strategic plan (usually every 3 – 5 years).  The mission may not change, but it does need to be examined.  Revisiting a mission statement is often a long, thoughtful process that involves the community, board members, and the museum staff.  According to Norris, mission statements are reflective of their planning process – if the community was left out of the planning, there’s a good chance they aren’t reflected in the mission.

If you already have a quality mission statement, congratulations!  You’re job isn’t done yet – a strong mission statement isn’t the end point, it’s actually the beginning.  Your next goal is to transform into a mission-driven museum.  That is, an institution in which all activity furthers the mission.  When we begin applying the “mission filter” we see the true importance behind this statement.  It is the gauge upon which the public can hold us accountable, and worthy of our 501(c)(3) status.

AAM holds museums accountable to their mission through accreditation, but the vast majority of US museums are not accredited and do not plan to undergo the process.  So can we, as museum professionals and community members, hold museums accountable to their mission?  Ms. Norris believes that the public should hold museums accountable to their mission but that it is difficult to do.  Non-mission-driven museums are often the ones we see struggling; they limit their hours or offer fewer programs thereby contributing even less to society, but never seem to close.  So this is the question I’ll leave to the blogging community: how can the public and other museum professionals hold museums accountable to their mission?

For more from Linda Norris check out The Uncataloged Museum!

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2 Responses to Mission? Accomplished!

  1. Gretchen Sorin says:

    I think Linda is right about accountability. In New York State we charter museums. How about having a system of renewable chartering so that museums that no longer serve the public lose their charters?

    • ahollister says:

      This sounds like a good system, except that if the charters are issued by the state, each state can dictate their own regulations. Would it introduce a new conflict if all museums are not accountable to the same standards? Although, state-wide standards are better than no standards at all!

      What about a system of renewable 501(c)(3) status? Of course, the issue becomes more bureaucratic at that point and less input from museum professionals would be considered. I don’t see this becoming a popular idea.

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