Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 for Museums

Here we are at the close of 2007. All signs seem to indicate that museums by and large have been living the high life this year (link, link, link, link, link, link, link, so many more). There have been openings and expansions galore, not to mention inquiries into the spending habits of top museum officials. I find two things in particular interesting about the reports of the 2007 museum boom. The first is that all of this was happening amidst governmental cuts to museums, so I'd love to know where all of this money was coming from: capital campaigns? earned income? foundation grants? Most likely, a little of all of the above.

What I'd also like to know is whether or not museums are starting to see more active involvement from their major donors in the form of social entrepreneurship/venture philanthropy, or if these expansions and new buildings have just been funded in the same manner that has become the fashion for museums, ie naming opportunities and so on.

The second point of interest for me is this: what next? It's wonderful that all of these museums have been all over the place in the news for their openings, but I hope that they have remembered that Year Two always brings a drop and that a solid marketing plan is essential to survival. But beyond just the issue of what happens after the opening parties have been forgotten like last year's New Year's resolutions is the question of what will happen next in the larger picture for museums? Can this boom continue? At what point does the market become saturated--or does it? And what happens with the other museums that haven't seen great growth in a market? The Art Museum of Western Virginia will soon open its Frank Gehry-look-alike building in Roanoke, but meanwhile down the street the Virginia Museum of Transportation and Explore Park are struggling with funding concerns.

But my question of "what next?" isn't a definite musing on gloom and doom. The overall long-term trend for museums seems to be positive: we saw a similar boom in the late 1990s, followed by a recession and economic hard times for museums, but clearly that downward spiral (that was definitely affected by the events of September 11, 2001) reversed itself fairly quickly. The stock market may be touchy lately and its anyone's guess what the new year will bring to the market, but
the long-range forecast for museums in general seems to be good.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Chronicle of Philanthropy Predictions for 2008

With the new year just around the corner, 'tis the season for things like resolutions and predictions and the Chronicle of Philanthropy asked more than a dozen leading thinkers in the world of philanthropy to weigh in with their thoughts for the future. Not surprisingly, technology/social media, the next generation of nonprofit leaders and the upcoming election were all popular elements in the predictions. Even the comments have some more thoughtful ideas for what 2008 may hold, so go, read and have a happy new year!

What's Good for the Queen...

A gentle nudge to museums: Her Royal Highness, the Queen of England has introduced the official Royal Channel on YouTube with a video of her 1957 television Christmas addess to the people of England. What I love in particular about this chat from the days of yore is that what she has to say actually could pertain to museums and why they should be making videos for the public as well:

I very much hope that this new medium will make my Christmas message more personal and direct. It's inevitable that I should seem a rather remote figure to many of you...but now at least for a few minutes, I welcome you to the peace of my own home.

Sadly, as with Queen Elizabeth, many museums often still seem a bit remote to the general public, just one reason why participation in social media such as YouTube is important for museums. The Brooklyn Museum just recently took YouTube participation a step further with its Visitor Video Competition, inviting visitors to make videos about the museum within its own walls.

Embedded Giving to be Regulated

Lucy Bernholz of Philanthropy 2173 identified "embedded giving" as a buzzword for 2007 early on, and it is proving to be the run-away leader of all philanthropy buzzwords for the year. In fact, the concept has gained such notoriety that one senator has announced plans to introduce legislation to regulate embedded giving,

to require that retailers notify charities when their names are being used in sales promotions, to require charities’ approval of embedded giving and to require retailers to disclose how much they are actually giving to charities.

Hopefully this new legislation, if passed, would help to alleviate concerns such as those posed at one point by

Good News Regarding the New 990 Form

Well, okay, maybe the new 990 form itself hasn't addressed all of the concerns and comments that museums and other nonprofits have posted to the IRS, but the good news this year is that the IRS has announced that it will be phasing in the new form over the course of three years starting in 2008. That gives the nonprofit world a little extra time to adjust to the reporting requirements of the new form. Merry Christmas, IRS.

Follow-Up on the Smithsonian

Last month I wondered what the Smithsonian would do about the huge amount of money it will require in order to address years of building maintenance for its museums and then learned that what the Smithsonian would do is begin fundraising from private sources. Well, now Senator Dianne Feinstein has crafted a plan called the Legacy Fund that would allot an additional $15 million of federal dollars to the Smithsonian, provided that the institution managed to raise $30 million from private sources. Cristian Samper, acting-secretary of the Smithsonian, was hesitant in his response to this proposal, in part because it isn't a one-to-one match.

Stipulations on matching funds and match offers that are not one-to-one are common enough in the world of private funding. It looks as though the Smithsonian's foray into the world of private fundraising will have a bit of a learning curve.

Google Finance as a Portal for Nonprofits

Google Finance is now including vast amounts of information about nonprofits as well as for-profit companies. For example, do a search on the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the Google Finance main page and you will have links to recent blog posts about the museum, learn about its governance, view key stats and ratios (though Sean Stannard-Stockton of Tactical Philanthropy recommends that Google Finance ditch the ratios part and given recent discussions of the usefulness of percent of revenue spent on programs vs. overhead as a metric, I think I agree with him) and be invited to start (or join) a discussion about the museum.

This new portal could rival extant services such as GuideStar--particularly since GuideStar requires membership in order to gain access to certain kinds of information. Sean also sees this latest Google development as "a game changer."

If these Google pages resided at the top of the search results when people look up nonprofits, than these pages will become de facto home pages, but with blog posts, new stories and discussions that are both positive and negative.

So far, however, at least the larger nonprofits such as the Met (or Sean's example of the Red Cross) don't have to worry yet--their homepages still come up in regular Google searches long before their Google Finance pages.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

(c) Murakami at the Geffen Contemporary

photo by lesleyk

I thought I knew what to expect when I entered the (c) Murakami exhibit at MOCA's Geffen Contemporary on Thursday. For example, having seen his distinctive "superflat" blend of anime/manga meets fine art amidst psychedelic childlike images in the "Darker Side of Playland" exhibit at SFMOMA a few years back, I was not surprised to be greeted in (c) Murakami by larger-than-life sculptures of a man and woman playing with their own bodily fluids. (This particular installation was really whimsical--I love any art that gets me laughing and smiling.) However, there was a moment when I looked up from attempting to find some label copy (we wanted to see what material the sculptures were made from) and caught a glimpse of two rooms just beyond the door to the one we were in and I did literally stop and say, "Oh wow." Nice sight-lines, MOCA staff, good job!

What I saw were two of the busiest rooms I had ever seen--busy in the Victorian sense, not the roomful-of-toddlers sense. The walls of each of these two rooms was completely covered in Murakami-print wallpaper, one with "Jellyfish Eyes" in a sort of peachy color with bright blue eyes and the other with multi-colored flowers with smiley faces ("Flower Matango"). But that's not all. Canvases mimicking the wallpaper designs hung on the walls, creating a layering effect, or almost a trompe l'loeuil fresco effect, and in the center of each room were sculptures (we finally did find some label copy that told us that, yes, they were made from synthetic resin) of some of Murakami's popular trademarked characters, such as Kaikai and Kiki. I could have stayed in these sensory-overload rooms all day.

What was it about those two rooms that called to me? Well, I love any exhibit that creates such a unique sense of space that I forget that I am in an exhibit in a museum. I want to be transported. The immersive feel of the Noah's Ark exibit intentionally built that into its design--after all, it was supposed to be a playspace for kids where they could re-enact the saga of the flood. But it can be a lot more difficult to achieve that same sort of effect with an art exhibit, but these two rooms managed to do just that. Similarly, the Rene Magritte exhibit at LACMA a few months back literally put the gallery on its head by having a plush carpet that looked like the sky and a photo mural of an aerial shot of LA freeways covering the ceiling.

I suppose that the completely autonomous Louis Vuitton store smack-dab in the middle of the exhibition (MOCA is apparently not getting a cut from sales in the store) could also be seen as the creation of a unique sense of space, causing me to forget at least momentarily that I was in a museum exhibit, Except that, unlike in a regular store, not everything was actually for sale--merchandise and museum pieces were displayed almost side-by-side in identical manner, so that myself and other visitors had to keep asking, "What about this one? Is this for sale?" I suspect, however, that this is exactly what Chief Curator Paul Schimmel intended with the presence of the store, emphasizing the blurred distinction between "low art" and "high art" that Murakami represents.

In another part of the exhibit (no not the MOCA gift store or the LV store), Murakami merchandise lined the walls displayed in a fashion similar to the for-sale merchandise in the Louis Vuitton store. The funny thing was, this room in particular made me itchy to go visit the MOCA store and whip out my credit card. Imagine my dismay, however, to discover first that many of the items in the gallery were not actually for sale in the museum gift shop (in part probably because some of them were one-of-a-kind items rather than actual commercial products) and that those that were, such as the soft, plush smiley-faced flowers were about as expensive as the Louis Vuitton bags.

Perhaps the most surprising (alarming?) part of the exhibit for me were the video installations. The Inochi ("Life") project is fascinating--first a sculpture, Murakami then decided to make commercial advertisements for the sculpture, similar to ads for cars or other high-end, luxury products, however, the resultant ads are at once both poignant and slightly disturbing, focusing on some of the most awkward of moments, such as the embarrassing aspects of first-love, to signify that, "You're alive! You're alive!"

In a dark screening room, visitors all sat on the Murakami-designed carpeting to watch three short videos, the highlight of which was the first episode of Kaikai and Kiki, in which the adorable little trademarked characters fly around in their spaceship and learn the importance of fertilizer for the growth of over-sized watermelons...

All in all, what did I find at (c) Murakami? A creditable retrospective of Takashi Murakami's work since the 1990s presented in a fun manner with a few surprises along the way!

More photos:
Flower Mantango
Jellyfish Eyes
Products not for sale
Louis Vuitton store and more

Thursday, December 13, 2007

America's Giving Challenge

Okay, this is pretty big news. Parade Magazine, in conjunction with the Case Foundation, has created a challenge to see just how much viral marketing and social networking can do for nonprofits, the America's Giving Challenge. The idea is that through the use of charity badges, the eight nonprofit champions who manage to attract the largest number of unique donors (as in not the same donor over and over and over again) will win $50,000 for their cause. Wow. All told the Challenge will donate $500,000. No wonder this is being mentioned in the news and in blogs as well!

NY Times
Washington Post
Chronicle of Philanthropy
Katya's Non-Profit Marketing Blog
Beth's Blog

As we recently saw through the Tactical Philanthropy One Post Challenge when over 600 comments were left on the winning post all from people voting for their favorite nonprofit, people can be very motivated when they know that their cause can benefit.

I should also mention that you can get involved either directly through the Challenge website, or through the Facebook Causes App and that GlobalGiving and Network for Good are the donation processing partners.

I am especially excited about this challenge because I am very curious to see the results, both in terms of the immediate results and the longer-term results. Challenges and prizes are very popular right now, but what happens when the fanfare has died and the prizes have all been awarded? I've spent the past more than a year researching online giving as a viable strategy for nonprofits and the interesting thing seems to be that e-philanthropy has taken off in many areas of the nonprofit sector, but far less so in the museum world. I wonder how this very public, very mainstream challenge may change that, if at all.

Invitation from the Tech Museum

Nina over at Museum 2.0 has posted an open invitation for people to join her new project at the Tech Museum of Innovation. In her own words:

The Tech Virtual is a project that allows people to conceptualize and prototype exhibits online. The online platform has two parts: a website, where all projects originate, and a Second Life presence ("The Tech" in Second Life), where participants can communicate in real-time, share ideas, and build virtual prototypes. All participation is under a Creative Commons attribution license, which means that all ideas are available for use by anyone with no financial obligation--only an obligation to credit the originators of said ideas.

There is also a prize element: a $5000 prize (eligible through June 2008) will go to any exhibit that the Tech actually decides to develop into a real exhibition on the them of "Art, Film, Music and Technology." Anyone else out there collaborating with people outside their museums to develop exhibits or using social media to brainstorm?

Philanthropy, Charity and Poverty--Where Are the Connections?

Trista Harris from New Voices of Philanthropy asks whether or not philanthropy actually can cause (or at least promote) poverty? She asks this question in response to a story (originally reported in the New York Times) about how foreign aid (pressed upon the nation by the US and other countries as an alternative to subsidies) to Malawi kept its people in poverty and starving, whereas governmental fertilizer subsidies enabled the country to grow enough food to feed its people and create a surplus! So: as Trista asks, "Does philanthropy increase poverty by creating a disincentive for economic development?"

One of the comments in response to this post points out the subtle nuance between "charity" and "philanthropy": charity acts as a band-aid, providing immediate relief through the distribution of commodities such as food or a hand-out, whereas philanthropy focuses on systemic change.

Do you agree? If so, does charity contribute to the problem of poverty rather than mitigate it? What if we look at issues other than starving people in a far-off country? What if, instead, we look at the homeless people right in our own communities? In that case, charity would be when we give some spare change when approached on the street. Are we helping or creating a disincentive for change? Is this too simple a way to view the situation? How do we translate this duality of charity and philanthropy into the museum world--would charity be when a museum seeks immediate funds for a particular need rather than long-term planning? Does this model even work for nonprofits not engaged in human services? I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on the matter.

Two Trends in Nonprofit Revenue Generation

Philanthropic Vacations
I suppose it's really just a variant on luxury eco-tourism, but now there are upscale vacation packages that allow tourists to do charity work while still enjoying first-rate accommodations and fine dining. This is not exactly new, however the trend does seem to be growing--requests for philanthropic trips have grown 15% in the past two years, no doubt fueled by the philanthropic efforts of celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Bono. There appears to be a long-term benefit for the nonprofits that socially-aware tourists visit as well: once people have had a chance to see living conditions up-close and personal, they tend to become ardent supporters of the cause.

Downloadable Cellphone Art
Ah, I was aware of, specializing in downloadable cellphone wallpaper made from museum images primarily from European museum collections, but now it looks like the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has created their own "On-the-Go" downloadable service! [source, source]This is one of the relatively new forms of revenue generation that I identified for my talk at the Mountain-Plains Museums Association and mention in my museum revenue generation survey (pdf) and one that I suspected would become increasingly popular. After all, once you have digitized your images, selling them online is not so difficult.

Incidentally, the NY Times article referenced by Museum Lab is absolutely worth reading because it delves into some of the issues regarding high res digital reproductions and has links to some virtual museums.

New Resources for Nonprofits

Just a brief note on a couple of resources that nonprofits should be aware of:

Network for Good has launched a new nonprofit marketing site with articles to help the over-worked, over-budget nonprofit marketer [source] and Chris Brogan has pledged to write 100 useful blog posts "about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for business, organization, or personal interests." [source]

Nonprofits Ahead of For-Profits in the Use of Social Media

While we're on the subject of museums and social media, there is quite a buzz going around the Internet about a new study done by the UMass Center for Marketing Research that found that nonprofits are ahead of the for-profit world when it comes to the use of social media! Many people are finding this surprising, though I'm not exactly sure why: after all, social media is by-and-large comprised of free tools. For-profit companies can focus on multi-million dollar ad campaigns, but for nonprofits, social media could be seen as an answer to a prayer.

For more commentary on the study, check out:

Katya's Non-Profit Marketing Blog
Beth Kanter's post on the Net Squared blog.

"What is the Single Most Important Function of Museums?"

The Digital Heritage Blog, the blog for the Centre for Museology at the University of Manchester, UK reports that "the [UK] Museums Association has made a short film asking museum professionals 'what is the single most important function of museums?' and uploaded it on YouTube." This is very cool.

I know that the Western Museums Association here in the States has also uploaded some videos (including of AAM President Ford Bell's address at the 2007 conference and psychedelic clown Wavy Gravy's keynote address), but what other museum associations out there are making this move into social media? Something to consider...

Not surprisingly, the functions mentioned most often in this video were:
-- Authenticity (real stuff),
-- Education/information dissemination,
-- Providing a forum/neutral space for exploring issues and
-- Storytelling/serving as a cultural memory.

The comments that I found most interesting were that museums were "secular cathedrals," that they should be sort of transcendent and inspirational and that they were for negotiating identities.

Personally, I agree with each and every one of these statements and I would be hard pressed to value one over another, but I will share with you my own biases by stating that what I love best about museums is their storytelling power. I believe that museums are stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves and about the world around us. My undergraduate thesis focused on museums as places for both cultural transmission (stories by us about us) and translation (stories by us about others), and I believe strongly that from these functions we learn and are educated, we experience moments of wonder and awe and that none of this would be possible without the real-deal, authentic collections. But really it all goes back to storytelling.

Thoughts on Radicalizing Philanthropy

In the Tactical Philanthropy One Post Challenge, Trista Harris of New Voices in Philanthropy won the runner-up prize for having such a radical, innovative and thought-provoking post in which she called for philanthropy to leave the "ivory tower" and essentially send its program officers out into the communities that foundations actually serve.

Lucy Bernholz of Philanthropy 2173 proposes something equally radical and astute: she says that if she were "philanthropy queen" she would

find a way to take advantage of... applications of methodology and creativity from smart people... thinkers (students and faculty) from the social and natural sciences, arts, design, humanities, business, policy, and religion to co-craft possible solutions to poverty, hunger, sickness, cultural isolation, etc... Then I'd develop critiques and review processes that were led by those living the conditions so that only applicable, reality-based strategies would survive the process... The whole process would be public so that those we hadn't yet found who had something to contribute could find it, use it, improve it--and it would feed a marketplace of ideas for the public good.

Lucy calls this "open source charrette philanthropy." Personally, I love this idea. It starts off sort of as I imagine think-tanks (ideally) function, but then the incorporation of transparency, public testing and the open-source aspect of it make it truly novel and worth a real-world look.

Lucy also makes a really strong, valid argument against using overhead ratios as a metric for success for nonprofits:
in what other are of your life do you deliberately seek out the product, service, location, or experience that is being made available in the cheapest possible fashion? We don't pick restaurants because they forgo cleanliness...we don't choose schools for our kids because the administration is keeping costs down and not supporting teachers...

She goes on to argue that the main reason why that is the prevalent metric is that it is easy to calculate and compare. I'd like to take a moment here to congratulate Holden and co. at GiveWell for bucking this system and radicalizing philanthropy by establishing new methods for determining the success of nonprofits. Holden was the guest speaker/respondent at the Chronicle of Philanthropy online discussion yesterday entitled, "Changing the Culture of Philanthropy: a Young Donor's Views."

True Informal Learning Needs A Truly Informal Learning Space--Like a Bar

I have been aware for awhile of the innovative adult-oriented informal congregating-while-learning-and-debating space that is the Dana Centre at the Science Museum, London, however, I was not aware that similar places exist here in the States as well until I read Nina Simon's post on why museums should have bars.

And she is absolutely right. I remember at my last job during the process of exhibit master planning and general planning for rebuilding the museum we used to joke about including a bar that would incorporate informal education into its drinks and atmosphere. But it's not joking matter: there is an actual value that can be gained from having a truly relaxed space in which adult visitors can relax, chat, learn and maybe even show-off a little bit of their own knowledge via things like trivia games, spelling bees or even just sharing their own scientific/artistic/literary/historical musings.

Think about the cafes or salons of Paris and New York. Why shouldn't museums provide spaces like those, especially when they seem eager to woo the elusive 20-something and 30-something audiences? Imagine what kind of crowd could be drawn by having a curator's lecture in a bar, or better yet, a stump-the-curator game in a bar?

I've seen first-hand how successful serious museum-oriented discussions can be within the casual and comfortable atmosphere of a bar. Every year the Mountain-Plains Museums Association has one official Late-Nite Bar session. At this most recent conference, the session addressed the question of, "Who needs museums? We have the Internet!" The session was packed and even AAM President Ford Bell contributed his two cents!

Nina talks about how events that happen in a bar are fluid (you can come and go) and are completely focused on the audience (participants) rather than on the facilitators (say, the bartender or the guy running trivia night), but there is another benefit to bar sessions: they level the playing field. In a bar, you are either the bartender or a bar patron. It doesn't matter if you are a vice-president of a company, an intern, a middle manager or unemployed--while you are in the bar, you are all just bar patrons. Bars are places for people to loosen their ties and at least partially hang up their job titles. You can be king for the night if you win a trivia contest, even if by daylight you are at the bottom of the food chain in your organization.

An argument can be made that, even just within the museum environment, people may still be too aware of their stations in life, their relative knowledge or lack thereof to actually be comfortable enough to fully participate. For example, a visitor to an art museum who doesn't know a lot about art might be too shy to ask a docent a question about a particular painting or artist. However, that same visitor might be fearless in the context of a bar and feel free and comfortable enough to ask his/her neighbor at the bar. Museums are all about informal learning, but this can be tricky when museums often still feel like such formal spaces. Nina's right: museums need bars.

And speaking of neat, new, experimental, interdisciplinary spaces, Le Laboratoire has opened in Paris. It is a laboratory that "promotes the links between art and science." "While similar to MIT's Media Lab and the Wellcome Trust in London, Le Laboratoire is 'a scientific structure that accepts doubt about scientific progress' while also providing 'a place for experimentation.'"

Other informal settings for discussion:
Cafe Scientifique in Denver
Secret Science Club in Brooklyn (whoops! thanks for the correction, Michael!)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Comments Sought on New Proposed Rule for NAGPRA

Seventeen years after the enactment of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), the Office of the Secretary of the Interior is "soliciting comments from museums, Native American tribes and the public on a proposed rule regarding culturally unidentifiable human remains in the possession or control of museums and federal agencies." [source]

Initially, NAGPRA did not address culturally unidentifiable human remains, largely because of the question of how to determine which tribe is the appropriate group to act as the recipients of the repatriation?

Possibly the most notorious dispute surrounding unidentifiable human remains was that of Kennewick Man, the prehistoric skeletal remains discovered accidentally on the bank of the Columbia River near Kennewick, WA in 1996. Five distinct tribes (Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama, Colville and Wanapum) on both sides of the river all laid claim to Kennewick man as one of their ancestors, and requested his repatriation under NAGPRA. Scientists meanwhile rejected the claims, stating that the age of the remains made it impossible to attribute them to any of the tribes. In 2004, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the scientists arguments, noting that a cultural link could not be established between the tribes and the skeleton.

As things stand now, Kennewick Man belongs to the US Army Corps of Engineers, but resides at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington. Would the passage of the new proposed rule change that? Would the Umatilla be able to once again state a claim on Kennewick Man and try to bring him home for burial? Would the other initial tribes who also laid claim to the remains dispute a Umatilla claim and try for repatriation themselves? Would this new rule be a further step towards righting the injustices of the past, or just reopen a can of worms and promote fighting between tribes?

Only time will tell, but what I appreciate about the new proposed rule (link is a pdf) is that it stresses consultation, cooperation and collaboration. The NAGPRA Review Committee, the ultimate arbiters in all things NAGPRA, after years of discussions and recommendations has proposed three guidelines for the disposition of culturall unidentifiable human remains: 1. Respect 2. Recognition that there may be more than one appropriate disposition solution 3. Seeking recommendations from the Review Committee.

In terms of how to proceed with the disposition of culturally unidentifiable human remains, the Review Committee proposed two models: the first requiring joint recommendations by both the tribes and the museums and the second involving the joint recommendations of regional consortia, to be established by Native American tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations, thus hopefully alleviating questions of attribution within a region, or at least establishing a method for addressing such questions.

Honestly, I'm not sure how all of this will work out and it isn't yet set in stone: comments may be submitted through January 14, 2008. But I think that it is a step in the right direction towards more fully implementing the spirit of the law as opposed to just the letter of the law. It still won't answer all questions, however. Many museums hold human remains that long ago lost all of their provenance and provenience, including such basic information as the state or even country of origin. Many of those same museums also lack the funding necessary to perform the scientific testing that would be required to try to piece together the lost information. What's more, such testing may be seen as disrespectful and so undesirable. Like I said, the proposed rule won't answer all of the issues surrounding the disposition of culturally unidentifiable human remains under NAGPRA, but I'm not sure that any rule could.

Ted Turner vs. the Ranchers: Funny Anecdote or Serious Matters?

I couldn't contain my laughter when I read in today'sChronicle of Philanthropy newsletter that apparently there are people out there who are concerned that Ted Turner's real estate activities are actually part of some sort of nefarious conspiracy in which he is in league with the United Nations, trying to establish a wildlife preserve and that his PR people have had to refute those accusations by stating that no, no, he's just trying to make a lot of money, for example by charging $12,000 for weekend-long elk hunting excursions! In what alternate reality is the UN a bad guy and the establishment of a nature preserve an evil plot worthy of a cover-up? When did capitalism become a better motive than preservation and activism? What on earth am I missing here?

Well, the answer comes in the full text of the original article that the Chronicle of Philanthropy was paraphrasing, and suddenly it's not all such a laughing matter. Ted Turner is now the largest private landowner in the United States, holding 2 million acres in 11 states, mostly in New Mexico, Nebraska, Montana and South Dakota where he restoring all sorts of Plains flora and fauna, including buffalo, wolves and species of trout. So what's bad about this? Well, ranchers are worried that he will try to run them out of business, or that he is trying to control the entire Ogallala Aquifer, the world's largest underground water system. Even the ludicrous UN conspiracy theory has a darker side to it; if Turner did establish a wildlife refuge, the land would be turned over to the federal government and removed from the Nebraska tax rolls, resulting in a loss of funding to schools and services.

Despite what Turner's PR guys have said, his involvement with organizations such as The Wildlands Project, the World Conservation Union and the World Wildlife Fund, as well as the establishment of his own philanthropic offshoot, the Turner Endangered Species Fund, have ranchers feeling nervous and suspicious about their neighbor's motives.

So why am I writing about this in a blog about museums and philanthropy? The obvious first reason is because it caught my attention. But beyond that, it made me recognize some serious issues. The first had to do with transparency.

Transparency has become an over-used buzzword in the nonprofit world in the past couple of years, but these articles underlined for me why transparency is important, because at the root of the issue here is that the ranchers are on edge due to a lack of transparency on the part of Ted Turner. All the ranchers see is someone coming in from the outside and buying up all their land with no sense of what happens next. Organizations can run into that same sort of trouble when the public doesn't fully understand the reasoning behind a capital project, campaign or a ballot measure.

The second issue raised for me had to do with the relationship between nonprofits and their communities. I was raised to view nonprofit organizations and NGOs as inherently positive organizations;* these were the groups of people who were trying to save the world--in other words, the Good Guys. But when I think about it, that is a very simplistic view to take. The ranchers are demanding, as is becoming increasingly popular in the philanthropic world, to know exactly what kind of good these environmental organizations will do, not just in terms of meeting their respective missions, but for the ranchers themselves. Right now, the ranchers view the environmental organizations as a threat rather than as a benefit.

This is not new. The conflict between those who seek to protect the environment and those who make their livings from it is an old one. However, it occurs to me that nonprofits, as part of their outreach, have a duty to prove themselves and their worth to the communities in which they perform. An environmental group may see its audience and stakeholders as those who share the goal of saving the environment. But that is really only part of their audience, only some of their stakeholders. Nonprofits make a huge mistake when they target their actions at one group of people exclusively and especially when they neglect the concerns and needs of those people in the immediate community where they do their work. This doesn't hold true just for environmental groups working in the land of ranchers, it is equally valid for any nonprofit--including museums.

Ranchers and environmentalists don't need to be at odds. With a little transparency and communication, they can work together to achieve what Ted Turner says is his ultimate goal: "preserving animal habitat while ranching."

*In the name of transparency, I will state that I have a deep-seated bias in favor of the UN due to the fact that I attended the United Nations International School.