Thursday, May 22, 2008

AAM Conference Session: Expanding the Hive

While the panelists of "Expanding the Hive: Blogs as Engines of Community Formation"--including blogger extraordinaire Shelley Bernstein from the Brooklyn Museum--all agreed that blogging was a viable tool for community building, they had some important distinctions to make between blogs that will succeed at this function and blogs that will not. Perhaps the most crucial distinction centers around the manner of communication used in a blog--is it a uni-directional monologue or is it an inclusive dialogue? The point of the panelists was that dialogue blogging was more likely to inspire comments, resulting in community formation. Blogs should not be newsletters. If you do re-purpose news and press releases for your blog, be sure to personalize the item so that it will be a post that inspires dialogue rather than just provides information.

What are some of the most comment-inspiring blog posts you have seen? What made them worth commenting on? Do you agree with the panelists that blogs can be useful as community building tools? Is it desirable that blogs be used in this manner?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

AAM 2008 Conference Session: Lobbying in the Lead

"Lobbying in the Lead: New Ideas for Strategic Fundraising" focused heavily on an update on federal earmarks. Currently, earmarks are fairly controversial and there is a movement to declare a moratorium on them, but so far that has not happened and in fact earmarks still seem to be somewhat necessary in order to get appropriations passed. They have, however, been greatly reduced--by about 43%. There are now about 11,600 earmarked projects, or $17.2 billion in earmarks out of $3 trillion budget. Roughly $7 billion of those earmarks are for defense, leaving a little over half of the earmarked funds for everything else. There is $18 million in earmarks in the IMLS budget, down from $40 million.

In a nutshell, what all this means is that while earmarks are still an alternative for funding, they should be seen as supplemental rather than a staple.

The good news is, however, that transparency rules now mean that museums can find out more quickly whether they get their earmarks and see who has sponsored various earmarks.

In addition to earmarks, lobbyists are another alternative for museum fundraising. A couple of key points to remember when engaging a lobbyist are to use your other strategic partnerships and sponsorships to help strengthen your case for lobbying and that lobbyist fees are generally $70,000-$350,000 annually and lobbyists are generally paid on a quarterly basis.

AAM 2008 Conference Session: Corporation and Museum Partnerships

To say that I have been preaching corporate partnerships for museums as a form of revenue generation would be a bit strong, but not too far off the mark. So I was excited to attend the "Corporation and Museum Partnerships: Understanding and Meeting Each Other's Needs" session, which offered these basic, yet important key points for helping museums to understand the needs of corporations.

-- Museums must understand how corporations work in order to successfully ask for support.
-- Museums should be strategic in their requests; demonstrate how their needs fit the needs of the corporations.
-- When competition for money is fierce and the economy is tough, it is crucial to engage in strategic partnerships that will result in strong marketing opportunities. Marketing on the other hand is not considered "tangible value" according to the law.
-- The Sarbanes-Oxley Act mandates (among other things) that public companies be able to demonstrate to shareholders how corporate donations benefit the company's bottom-line.
-- However, corporations recognize that philanthropy does contribute to a healthy economy, thereby contributing to the bottom-line.
-- In the past, corporate sponsorships and donations were considered separate activities, but that seems to be changing.
-- Museums must be willing to adjust the "fixed menu" of benefits available to corporations--they are not interested in more fancy dinners.
-- Offer the corporate name in the name of an event sponsored by the corporation, because unless the name is part of the event itself, the media will often neglect to mention who is sponsoring the event.

AAM 2008 Conference Session: Networks and the Changing Natural History Museum

A question posed to the audience at the "Networks and the Changing Natural History Museum: Expansion or Extinction?" session was truly revealing: all of the grants written by audience members in the past year involved collaboration in some form or another.

This is revealing for two reasons: first, it is consistent with reports that granting agencies are more and more interested in and likely to fund collaborative grants. But second, it is indicative of a shift that the panel was highlighting, that we are now in a "networking economy" in which museums must become hubs in national and international learning networks.

In this regard, the session was very similar in premise to the "Re-Imagining the Museum" session at CAM that I blogged about here and here.

The AAM session pointed specifically at two critical points. The use of the Internet is definitely a part of the shift from individual museum to hub in a vast network, but that the Internet is only a tool rather than a means in and of itself, and that there are other factors that are just important to the shift. In fact, perhaps one of the most integral factors in successfully navigating this transition is a complete re-evaluation and often rewriting of the museum's mission statement.

Both of these points make a lot of sense in terms leading museums into this new "network economy" (my new favorite buzzword--I'll be looking more into this in the near future), described by the panel as "global, intangible and interlinked--in other words, the opposite of museums."

What fascinates and excites me the most about both of these sessions is that they really are describing a huge change in the very nature of what (natural history) museums do and are all about. Fifty years from now, will we even be able to recognize the institutions called museums? Will what we currently conceive of as museums be an historic and obsolete entity relegated to the annals of history? Is anyone else excited about this potential shift?

AAM 2008

Well, the conference may be over, but I am only just now finding the time to settle down and post about the sessions I attended--and, of course, my own session as well. But first, I'd like to point everyone to the official blog of the 2008 AAM annual conference. I have to say, between having an official conference blog, offering handouts via the web and the sheer number of sessions devoted to technology, it is clear that AAM is serious about the "new media" revolution. Kudos!

Lost Hero

Robert Rauschenberg, the visionary, multi-faceted artist known for his assemblages and for always pushing the limits of artistic genres, died yesterday. He has inspired other great artists such as Jasper Johns and composer John Cage--and he is one of my personal favorite artists. The world has suffered a great loss.