Thought and Notes: Museums Association Conference 2015

MA Conference 2015a

Sharon Heal presents statistics from the Code of Ethics consultation

Earlier this month, I attended my fourth  Museums Association conference. Several things struck me over the course the event. Firstly, the people care about making the sector better and stronger. Secondly, that we don’t have the answers on how to do that yet. Thirdly, more change is coming.

Big themes this year were ethics, diversity and the continuing changes happening in our sector.
The revised Code of Ethics was voted in. If you haven’t read it yet, I advise you to do so. Not only is it a cornerstone of accreditation but it’s a living, breathing document that should influence our everyday practice no matter the size of our museum. The code has been compiled in consultation with museum  staff and volunteers across the country. Given recent controversy over sales from collections, it is not surprising that good practice round disposals continues to be a key element. Reflecting 21st century practice the code also covers sponsorship and recommends that museums seek to work with partners whose priorities match their own.
Museums Change LivesSeveral sessions looked at diversity in the workforce. This is a debate that has been going on for several years and there are no easy answers. Many museums are actively looking for ways to change. Apprenticeships and other work-based training schemes do seem to have had some success, although it is too early to tell if the individuals taking part will continue in museum careers. Some people are concerned that creating additional temporary entry-level jobs when the sector is so competitive is a mistake. I believe that this is a debate that will continue for quite some time, but that it’s good that museums are trying new and different ways to recruit.
With councils being forced to tighten their purse-strings even more, and the Comprehensive Spending Review coming up at the end of the month, it sometimes feels like there’s little time or money for anything creative to happen in museums. However, there were some excellent case-studies which are well worth checking out. For example, Richard Gough from Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust talked about corporate volunteering, which is something our own Museum of Power have good experience with. The Conflict Resolution session included some heart-breaking stories of how museums have the power to knit communities back together, such as the Historical Museum of Bosnia Herzegovina in Sarajevo, National Museums Northern Ireland and the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry. However, the session that really blew me away was “More Than Reminiscence” by Tunbridge Wells Museum and Canterbury Christ Church University. They’ve been doing some fantastic work with dementia groups and their model is easy and low-cost to follow. Have a look at their tool-kit and see if it’s something that you could use with your own collections.

Students and Museums: A Match Made in Heaven

A member of the vTeam supporting young peopleStudents from the University of Essex are looking for meaningful placements within local cultural organisations. The courses these students are on include:

  • Art History/Curatorial Studies
  • History
  • Literature
  • Film Studies
  • Creative Writing
  • Playwriting
  • Multimedia Journalism
  • Business and Marketing

These students have many skills that could be helpful to your museum, beyond traditional volunteering roles of room-stewarding, research, documentation and digitisation (although those are great too!).

Karen Gooch from the University says: “Students bring fresh enthusiasm and ideas, and often new skills, which placement providers welcome”.

Why not:

  • Work with film students to produce a tour of parts of your building that aren’t accessible to wheel-chair users?
  • Ask playwriting students to develop a script for in-character interpretation?
  • Work with marketing students to promote your events and activities?
  • Ask a journalism student to produce your regular newsletter?
  • Work with students to stream talks and “Out of the Box” presentations live on the internet to reach audiences around the world
  • Ask creative writing students to write a children’s story for use in your museum or run a poetry-writing workshop
  • Work with students to develop new tours and trails of your museum
  • Contact me or Karen to discuss your needs and we can help you define a paid-internship or volunteering role

The University may be able to help fund roles for interns with your organisation or help you recruit volunteers. There are campuses in both Colchester and Southend but do not be discouraged if your museum is further afield. There may be ways that travel costs can be supported so do still get in touch.

For further information, contact Karen Gooch, Placements Manager, Faculty of Humanities at the University of Essex

#FundingWeek: Alternative Funding Sources

Miranda Rowlands

Miranda Rowlands SHARED Enterprise Project Officer

Miranda Rowlands is the SHARED Enterprise Project Officer at Norfolk Museums Service.  SHARED Enterprise is a Catalyst Umbrella Project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is supporting museums in the East of England to explore and develop alternative ways of raising money.  As a voluntary fundraiser, Miranda has raised lots of money for charity by organising and hosting gala dinners with auctions of celebrity memorabilia, as well as through online giving.

“With ongoing funding cuts biting hard these are challenging times for museums.  Perhaps the biggest challenge is meeting the shortfall in core funding.  Most grant-making bodies will fund projects, but not salaries or overheads, yet many museums are struggling to cover those costs.  Project funding is good, but as one colleague said at a recent training day, “the icing on the cake is all very nice, but first we need to have the cake”.

So museums need to find sources of unrestricted funding; money that can be used for any purpose.  Most museums generate some income from entry fees, retail, catering or donation boxes.  But what about alternative funding streams?

How good are you at raising funds from the following sources?

Individual giving – this covers everything from major donors and legacies to online giving and donation boxes.

  • Do you research and cultivate relationships with potential major donors?
  • Has your museum ever been the beneficiary of somebody’s will?
  • Do you have an active online giving page?
  • Do you have a prominently placed donation box?
  • Is your front of house team trained to invite visitors to donate?

Events – anything from cake sales to open days to black-tie gala evenings.

  • Could you use any of your regular events to promote your fundraising campaign and generate more income?
  • Do you have a friends group or volunteers who could organise fundraising events on your behalf?
  • Have you considered writing to local businesses to ask for raffle prizes?
  • What about asking celebrities to support you by appearing at an event or donating an item to be auctioned?  From personal experience, it’s surprising what you can get if you ask politely!

Membership schemes

  • Do you have a season ticket or membership offer?
  • Could you offer a corporate membership scheme?

Business partnerships

It’s about much more than just asking for sponsorship.  Business partnerships work in many different ways.  For example, product development; marketing a combined offer with a local attraction; or in-kind support (e.g. supplying a Corporate Social Responsibility team to maintain the grounds).


Over a short campaign (typically around 3 months), the public donate money to support a project, for example to restore a particular object.  If the fundraising target is reached, the museum gets the money and the donors usually receive a small reward.  If the total is not reached, the donors get their money back.  It’s not unrestricted funding, since the money has to be used for the stated purpose, but more and more museums are finding creative ways to incorporate crowdfunding campaigns into their strategies.

Which funding streams you choose to develop will depend on how much you need to raise and what resources you have available to do so.  But regardless of the size of your museum, your fundraising is more likely to succeed when you have a strategic approach with a clear message that involves the whole organisation.

If you’d like support to develop your fundraising skills, visit the SHARED Enterprise website for training and resources

SHARED Enterprise Norfolk Museums Service Heritage Lottery Fund