Museum Boards Get Low Marks on Diversity, Policy

The school year is winding to a close this year and, when assessing their own boards’ performance, chairs of museum boards and their directors believe that they are passing, but not excelling. The average self-graded performance is a B-, with improvement to be found particularly in the arenas of diversity and monitoring policy.

The report card comes from “Museum Board Leadership 2017,” a study commissioned by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). Two surveys were conducted in partnership by BoardSource and Northern Trust, and were based on responses collected from Oct. 18, 2016 through Dec. 2, 2016. In all, 861 museum directors and 841 museum board chairs completed the surveys, which shared some of the same questions for comparison.

Among areas in which respondents believe boards are doing well, grades of an A or B, include understanding mission (82 percent), financial oversight (71 percent), and providing guidance and support to the museum’s director, (61 percent). On the flipside, respondents gave their boards a grade of a C or below on objectives including increasing board diversity (85 percent), educating policy-makers (83 percent), and monitoring legislative and regulatory issues (80 percent).

Broken down further, nearly half (46 percent) of boards included in the survey are entirely Caucasian, and, while the problem has been identified, only 10 percent of responding directors indicated that plans of action have been put in motion to improve inclusivity. Meanwhile, just more than one-quarter (28 percent) of museum directors monitor local, state, and federal policy to at least some extent and only 28 percent educate policy makers on behalf of their organization, the museum field, or the nonprofit sector.

“Museum boards are absolutely critical to our ability to fulfill our missions and fully serve our communities,” said Laura Lott, president and CEO of AAM, in a release. “In many ways, the report serves as a source of encouragement, given the high marks museum directors assign their boards. Other results — particularly around board diversity and engagement in critical advocacy efforts — demonstrate a dire need for improvement. We look forward to using these findings as a springboard for important conversations in our field, and a benchmark against which to measure progress.”

Other key findings from the report include:

* The survey’s exercise of self-evaluation was unfamiliar ground for many respondents. More than two-thirds (70 percent) of boards have not conducted a formal written self-assessment to evaluate performance. Only 16 percent of respondents had done so in the past two years;

* Boards meet frequently, but are seldom a full-house. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of museum boards meet five or more times per year, but attendance of 90 percent or better is seen by just 25 percent of boards; and,

* Fundraising is still seen as the greatest need. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of respondents gave their museum board a grade of C or below when it comes to fundraising. The majority, 77 percent of board chairs and 75 percent of directors, believe that fundraising is the area most important to strengthen at their museum.