Minnesota Local History

Minnesota Local History Blog.

Minnesota Local History Blog.

Advice and help with building history capacity.

The Minnesota Historical Society’s Local History Services helps Minnesotans preserve and share their history. This blog is a resource of best practices on the wide variety of museum, preservation, conservation, funding, and non-profit management topics. We’re here to help.

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Right All Along?

By: grabitsdm | July 18, 2008
The American Association of Museums chair, Carl Nold, has led Historic New England's 36 museums to reconsider how each adds value to the community the museum serves. As a result, usership and membership have steadily increased. In the summer 2008 edition of "Historic New England Magazine," Nold concludes that "it is not the nineteenth-century model of preserving a historic place and its contents that is outmoded" but rather "the way we have standardized the historic site experience, boxed it into a rigid tour, excluded the public from direct involvement with the collections, and tried to impose a single model on what are really diverse places and constituencies."

Have we been using the right model all along? Is it just our methods that need to be revised? How do you connect with your individual community and walk the fine line between catering to specific needs and not re-inventing the wheel?

150 Years to Forget

By: grabitsdm | July 10, 2008
Three recent articles on MinnPost highlight what journalists suggest are 150 things that happened in Minnesota that would have been nice if they had not taken place. What do local historians have to say about this list? What value might there be in commemorating the ugly and the disasterous? How complete is this list? What events have been left off that you would add? (Such as the 1998 St. Peter Tornado) How do you approach telling difficult stories?

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Life Memberships

By: grabitsdm | June 26, 2008
If your organization offers life memberships, how do you manage the program so that those members remain involved and continue to benefit the organization?

Ready for 2009?

By: grabitsdm | June 16, 2008
MinnPost and Philanthropy Potluck report on a prediction that the 2009-2010 biennium will begin with a $2 billion deficit for the State of Minnesota. Solving that problem will most likely result in tough choices that could restrict funding as in 2003-2004 when the state suffered a $4.5 billion deficit. Therefore, two questions: 1) have you had any early indications of what your local government partners are considering regarding your funding? and 2) what are some measures you are taking now to avoid severe financial problems that could begin next summer?

Improving Credibility

By: grabitsdm | June 4, 2008
Scott Russell covered "Nonprofits discuss how to improve their credibility" recently for MinnPost. Although the Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and Charity Review Council forum he cites looks at nonprofits in general, the observations are instructive for nonprofit historical organizations. On the one hand for historical organizations is the comfort of the often cited statistic that historical museums are perceived by the public as the most trustworthy source of history ("Presence of the Past," by Roy Rosensweig and David Thelen), and the forum showed that the public trusts nonprofits with making better use of financial resources more than government and business. However, there is concern that the level of trust is only 72 percent. History museums seem to take public trust very seriously for all aspects of operation. To help in many of those aspects, the American Associaiton for State and Local History is piloting a Self-Assessment project to further ensure at least minimum standards are used through a graduated system.

Without worrying about other museums, what are some ways that you and your organization seek to bolster public trust in the communities that you serve? Have you seen improved results from users after making a change to improve trust?

Ready to Lead?

By: grabitsdm | May 6, 2008
I recently read the newest study put out by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Meyer Foundation called Ready to Lead? Next Generation Leaders Speak Out. The study is extremely interesting and thought provoking. Many of the issues that the respondests hit on in this study echo some of my own fears about the nonprofit sector. Being a 23 year old just starting out in this sector and coming in with a lot of college debt, I wonder some days how I will ever pay it off with the low pay going to nonprofit employees. I love the sector greatly and the people I've met along the way. My intentions are to stick in the sector for the length of my career. I'm just wondering if anyone else has read the study and what their thoughts are.

Dustin B. Heckman


Martin County Historical Society

Being a social benefit

By: grabitsdm | April 30, 2008
 In January the blog noted in Threat to Tax Deductions that some believe that only those nonprofits that address the social good should have tax deductible status, possibly ruling out local historical organizations. In the most recent issue of The Public Historian (February 2008), the entire volume looks at "Sites of Conscience." The forward cites a 1999 meeting of historic site directors that considered how museums could serve as new centers for democracy in action. They adopted the following statement:

"We hold in common the belief that it is the obligation of historic sites to assist the pulbic in drawing connections between the history of our sites and its contemporary implications. We view stimulating dialogue on pressing social issues and promoting democratic and humanitarian values as a primary function."

How might this statement help satisfy those that want to see tax deductibility reserved for social justice nonprofits?

Finding Taxes

By: grabitsdm | April 15, 2008
A recent article on MinnPost and last year's Rainbow Ruling both deal with taxes and nonprofits. Thankfully neither have involved local historical organizations, yet. Scott Russell writes about "Expanded definitiion of fundraisers is puzzling nonprofits" on MinnPost. Russell details how the Minnesota Department of Revenue is treating art classes provided by the White Bear Lake Art Center as fundraisers rather than as programming designed to further its mission. The Rainbow Ruling from the Minnesota Supreme Court on December 6, 2007, disallowed property tax exemption for a nonprofit daycare. Both resulted in back taxes due. As America's service-based economy is stressed by rising costs for everything, government servants seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, citizens are reluctant to have taxes raised since they face similar rising costs. Yet, government needs to function well, but cannot without additional resources. Russell touches on the way public servants are solving government's need for addtional money when he writes, "the state is trying to collect more taxes through existing laws rather than to pass new laws and new taxes."

Have you experienced anything of a similar nature? What are some measures that nonprofit historical organizations might use to ensure they do not become targets for expanded taxation?

Brand value for historical organizations

By: grabitsdm | April 1, 2008

One of the concepts in business is that there is value in a good name or "brand value," which is the difference between appraised value and purchase price. For example, the good name of sports franchise could be said to be worth $20 million, if the appraised value of the team was $200 million and it recently sold for $220 million. Nonprofit historical organizations likewise have good names that are worth something, but how might that value be measured? Can that value be measured in dollars? Could it be measured in other ways?

Policy Innovations believes there is untapped power in nonprofit brands. Local historical organizations often see results of their good name when people turn to it for all sorts of reasons: community events, genealogical questions, natural disasters, offering artifacts, and on and on. The brand value of a local historical organization can make the organization more than a department of civic life. As the value rises, the nonprofit historical organization becomes more central or meaningful to people's daily life because they think well of it.  Robin Rusch writes more about this in "Do nonprofits have value?"  She concludes: "The more nonprofits understand the value of their brand, the better control they can exercise over how and when that brand gets used and the better they can put their donations to use in furthering their cause.."

How would you measure the value of your organization's good name?

Here's a potential scoring system based on Robin Rusch's work. Measure for Brand Strength

Smarter Voluntourism

By: grabitsdm | March 18, 2008
As reported in the March 12, 2008, issue of the Local History News, GuideStar reports an emerging trend in the travel industry called "voluntourism." This is the idea that people can vacation and volunteer for local nonprofits at the same time. Dave Beal, in his February 15, 2008, entry on MinnPost, wrote about how business leaders are looking to rejuvenate volunteerism through "smarter volunteerism." This is the idea that businesses can strengthen community by encouraging employees to use their skills on local volunteer projects. Both articles hint at personal enrichment for the volunteer. Since volunteering provides benefit to two parties, the first article shows a benefit for organizations where volunteers visit on vacation, and the second suggests businesses could gain more productive employees in more conducive communities.

The Beal article is reminiscent of Mary Warner's post about what businesses could learn from nonprofit historical organizations. The GuideStar article about voluntourism suggests another small-if-growing dimension to heritage tourism. Have any of Minnesota's local historical organizations noticed either trend? In what ways might you want to explore either or both trends to attract more volunteers?