Seven Suggestions for Starting Up

So, you have a committed group of folks and a great idea, and maybe some objects to display and/or a building to host exhibits and programs.  Now what?  Here are seven suggestions to get you started in the process of creating a new institution.

             1.  Put objectives your group can agree upon in writing.  A mission statement for your organization/new museum is a good starting point and can guide further policy.  The process of writing a business plan will force you to think about whether similar groups in your area may compete for funds and volunteer support.  Assess whether your new organization/collection would be better off joining or partnering with an existing institution.  Avoid creating an institution that duplicates an existing one.

             2.  Engage your group in board training.  The Foundation Center offers a free online tutorial “Establishing a Non-Profit.”  See  This resource will educate you in the legal, ethical, and fiduciary responsibilities involved in governing a non-profit 501(c) (3).  Consider a regular readings discussion (book group) for your group to become familiar with museum governance topics and how they apply to your particular project.  The Southeastern Museums Conference sponsors Jekyll Island Management Institute (JIMI), an 8-day intensive course on museum management.

            3.  Familiarize yourselves with professional standards on collections care.   Our C2C website provides guidelines and links to many state and national organizations that can help you envision the staff needs and storage capacities of your site.  Draft a collections policy to guide your group as it acquires relevant artifacts.  Form a collections committee to review potential acquisitions.

             4.  Make long-range plans for your collection’s care in perpetuityAvoid building your collection with long-term loans!  Secure deeds of gift for any artifact you bring into the institution, unless it is for a specific short-term purpose, such as a program or exhibition.  Thorough record keeping will help your group avoid future pitfalls.

             5.  Consider your facility.  Will it provide climate control and protection for your collection?  Will it be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant?  How much work will it require to comply with all relevant codes?  If you have an historic building, you may want to review the National Park Service’s guide for rehabilitation.

             6.  Consult knowledgeable professionals.  North Carolina is well endowed with nearly 1,000 institutions containing cultural heritage collections.  Scan the NC ECHO directory  to find institutions near you and stay connected to those professionals close by who can help.  The North Carolina Museums Council (NCMC) offers a Free On-Site Consultation Service (FOCoS).  Take advantage of this early in your museum’s establishment process.  

            7.  Be prepared.  Disasters can affect any institution.  Insurance can mitigate loss, and staff with specialized training can mitigate damage.  Create a disaster plan to be enacted in the event of fire, flood, or other catastrophe.


About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on September 16, 2011, in collections access, collections management, disaster preparedness, historic houses, historic sites, museum governance, museums and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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