Friday, October 31, 2008

Organizational Darwinism


I'm off to Buffalo today with my Museum Association of New York hat on to attend the annual meeting of the Western New York Association of Historical Agencies. New York State is unusual in that it has four regional museum associations that primarily serve the history community -- historical societies and sites, history museums, archives, municipal historians, and related organizations and individuals. Two of the four associations have been around for several decades. I think the difference they've made in terms of capacity-building for the small and mid-sized organization is palpable.

One of the sessions I'm participating in at this meeting is called "Getting Your [Organizational] House in Order", and I have an opportunity to talk about the types of policies that small museums need to have in place.  I've decided to structure my remarks around Alice Korngold's  article on fastcompany.com, which I wrote about in an earlier post (October 25, 2008).  As Korngold emphasizes, times of economic crisis require organizations to get their houses in order, particularly at the leadership level.    

In addition to having or having up-to-date policies such as bylaws, codes of ethics, and personnel policies, I'm also going to make a case for setting criteria for board skills, for planning, for job descriptions at all levels (paid and unpaid), and for evaluation.  These are all part of an organization's infrastructure that allow it to do its best work.

In the nonprofit realm there's an organizational darwinism at work fueled by too few dollars, lack of understanding of audience needs, poor or nonexistent planning, and sloppy resource allocation.  It becomes most apparent in times of crisis, when many stressors are in play.  And this current economic crisis will, no doubt, be the undoing of some, forcing mergers or bankruptcy.

Here's a good discussion question to have periodically:  If we were to go out of business tomorrow, would anybody notice or - perhaps more importantly, would
anybody care?

Photo:  open closed by © Michael D'Amico... 

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