Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thoughts Inspired by Phialnthropy 2173

The always thought-provoking Lucy Bernholz over at Philanthropy 2173 posted recently on a series of random topics of interest.

Too Many Nonprofits
Lucy poses the question of whether "this economic moment be one in which the age-old trope about "too many nonprofits" passes on, as more and more npos merge or go under?" Good question. Elizabeth Merritt, head of the Center for the Future of Museums recently mused in a blog post whether 20% of museums should be "allowed—even encouraged—to fail?" She goes on to mention that similarly the historic preservation field is already initiating
a serious conversation throughout the historic site community of professionals and volunteers about the choices we must make to ensure that our sites provide maximum value to our society and thus remain relevant and useful for future generations.
Really this topic is one that deserves its own discussion, but the key point made by both Elizabeth and the Forum on Historic Site Stewardship in the 21st Century is that museums and historic sites need to be proactive about the situation--before the decisions are taken out of our hands, we must address hard questions such as
• How do we ensure that valuable cultural, scientific and artistic heritage in the collections are protected and remain in the public domain?
• What or who determines which museums close? ... simple natural selection doesn’t always work...

So would this be like a controlled burn in order to avoid the devastation of a wild fire and keep the forests safe?

Volunteers and Nonprofits
Lucy in her post also briefly mentions new approaches to bringing in volunteers for organizations--particularly since in this economy volunteers may be highly transient, the question then becomes are there ways in which an organization can make short-term use, possibly even online, of new volunteers? She mentions the Jayne Blog where the idea of "crowd-sourcing" volunteer projects is discussed. I think that this could be very useful for museums in terms of lessening the time-cost of social media projects, for example by having other people upload photos of museum events and so on, but obviously this kind of volunteering can never help with the real hands-on needs of museums, such as giving tours or helping with collections. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe in the future it will be just as useful for volunteers to make podcast tours or "tag" collections.

This takes me to the third topic raised by Lucy's post:
"Minimum Viable Product"
Lucy describes "minimum viable product" as the products that go to market with only the most basic features, but with the intention of engaging in an iterative process of further developing these products through listening to the needs and desires of the consumers and watching how consumers use these products. What does crowdsourcing volunteer projects have to do with minimum viable product? Well, because in an ideal world, a museum's forays into social media would count as a minimum viable product, with volunteers and members and hey, even just the general public coming together to crowdsource the content and helping to turn the museum's blog, Flickr presence and so on into a rich dialogue. At the heart of it all, this is really just about expanding the lines of communication.

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