Skip to content

TrendsWatch: Creating the Post Pandemic Workplace

Category: On-Demand Programs: Future of Museums
Screenshot of the opening slide for the TrendsWatch: Creating the Post Pandemic Workplace webinar.

As the immediate challenges posed by the pandemic fade, museums face a landscape of work and labor profoundly altered by the stressors of the past three years. The balance of work from on site, hybrid, and remote has undergone long-term shifts.

Watch this recording and  explore specific, actionable steps museums can take to create better, more supportive and equitable workplaces, and to attract the paid and volunteer positions they need.

In partnership with Blackbaud, the host of this webinar, panelists include:

  • Elizabeth Merritt, Vice President of Strategic Foresight and Founding Director, Center for the Future of Museums (moderator)
  • Molly Giordano, Executive Director of the Delaware Art Museum
  • Kara Newport, CEO of Filoli

Learn more about this theme from our free annual forecasting report, TrendsWatch: Building a Post-pandemic World.


Jay Benson:

All right. Well, welcome, everyone. We’re going to go ahead and get started as we have a lot of exciting content to cover today. Blackbaud is thrilled to partner with the American Alliance of Museums to present this session, TrendsWatch: Creating a Post-Pandemic Workplace. And we’re so excited that all of you have taken this hour out of your hectic, busy days to be with us.

A little bit about me. I’m your host today. My name is Jay Benson, and I am the manager of the Arts and Cultural Customer Success Team here at Blackbaud. All true. Our arts and cultural total solution powers hundreds of nonprofits, including the two organizations that are represented here today. I’ve been at Blackbaud personally for 17 years in almost every department across the company. I live in Charleston, South Carolina, and I’m very active in our nonprofit community here. I serve on a board of the Gibbs Museum of Art, and I recently had the honor of chairing our art auction, which raised over $60,000. I’m also involved with Spoleto Festival USA, which is in Charleston as well. And I’m on a grant committee for underprivileged youth at the Coastal Community Foundation. So have a lot of similarities with many of you on the call today. And also, I’m a dog lover. I have two dogs. Hopefully they’ll be well-behaved during today’s presentation, but apologies in advance if you hear my fur friends.

A few things that I want to go through before we get started in terms of housekeeping and before I introduce our moderator and our panelist. Today’s session is scheduled for one hour. The audio for this event is broadcast through your computer, so hopefully you’re hearing us. Make sure the media player is active to hear the sound, and you can manage the volume through your computer sound controls. If your screen happens to freeze during today’s session, refresh your browser and shut down any unnecessary applications. That generally helps.

And also, if you look at the bottom of your screen, you’re going to see all of the applications, widgets and an icon bar. At any point during today’s session, you can hover over those icons to see what each one of them represents. And we’ve got some of those widgets already open for you on your screen today. I want to specifically point out the Q&A widget, which is opened and should be displayed to the left of your screen. One thing that I want you guys to feel empowered to do today is to enter questions that you have for me or our moderator, panelist and to that box. And then we’re going to leave some time towards the end of the presentation to address some of those questions in a moderated discussion.

Also, you’re going to notice there’s several resources available to download in the resources widget, and I’m going to cover that towards the end of the session, so I hope you’ll stick around for that. You can also customize your experience by dragging or expanding the widget on your screen from the title bar of each one of those widgets.

Two more things. There’s a pink survey icon towards the right of that icon bar. And at the end of our session today, I encourage you to take a minute to provide us feedback. And certainly, we use that feedback for future sessions that we put on. And also feel free to use that reactions button to give us a thumbs up or any other reaction that we share with you today. You’ll receive a recording of this presentation from Blackbaud Events, so check your junk or your spam folder to make sure that you’re receiving the recording. And we would love if you shared that with other people at your team or at your organization that perhaps couldn’t join us today.

A couple other things I want to share with you guys. Blackbaud hosts a plethora of webinars, both product related, product agnostic on industry trends and thought leadership. And I certainly encourage you to check out some of our recent webinars available through the resources area. And also, to the right of the screen, in October, we are hosting bbcon 2023 in Denver. We are thrilled to be back in person. We expect over 3000 attendees in person and also over 10,000 virtually. So please check that out. It’s going to be a great conference on innovation trends and some great sessions from inspiring keynote speakers.

And with that, we’ve got a stellar lineup of presenters today. So first up, our moderator is Elizabeth Merrittt. And Elizabeth is AAM’s Vice President for Strategic Foresight and the founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums, which is a think tank and a research and development lab for the museum field. She’s the author of the Alliance’s Annual Trends Watch Report, and she writes and speaks prolifically on the trends shaping the future of the nonprofit industry. So we’re really pleased to have Elizabeth with us.

And then we have two other panelists, Kara Newport and Molly Giordano. Kara is the president and CEO of Filoli. It’s a historic house and garden in the Bay Area. Kara completed her undergraduate degree in botany at the Miami University and her graduate degree through the Longwood Graduate Program in public horticulture administration. She was a professional fundraiser at diverse organizations, including a science museum, a zoo, and other historic properties. So we’re excited to have Kara with us.

And then we also have Molly. Molly is the executive director of the Delaware Art Museum, and she serves as the president of the Delaware Arts Alliance and the vice chair of the Delaware Fund for Women. Molly holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and journalism from the University of Delaware, a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Pennsylvania, and also a master’s degree in creative writing from Rosemont College. So really thrilled to have both our moderator and these two great panelists joining us today.

The last thing I want to do before passing it over to Elizabeth is just to quickly see who is with us today in the audience. And so a couple of things here. You’ll notice on your screen we have the various types of organizations in the arts and cultural space. And so you basically click the type of organization you are. You’re going to need to scroll down on the right-hand side and hit submit. I can see the numbers climbing, so folks have figured that out. But we’ll give it just a second and we will see what some of the results are. So those of us from art museums, children’s museums, history museum, science museums, aquariums, public gardens, zoos, schools, and then hopefully we’ve got some people from other different types of nonprofit organizations as well.

So I’ll give that just another moment and we will see who has joined us. All right. I’m going to proceed forward as we have a large number of folks who have responded. And so it looks like we have a really good mix of organizations today. The majority of folks, it looks like are coming from the art museum space as well as history museums. Got some folks from science museums and other types of organizations. So really well represented here. Exciting. And from there, I’m going to pass it over to Elizabeth Merritt.

Elizabeth Merritt:

Thank you, Jay. The Alliance appreciates Blackbaud’s ongoing supportive trends watch and the opportunity to explore the content more deeply through this webinar series. Let me dive in.

This year’s trends report looks at the world we want to build as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. And today we’re going to take a deep dive into one of the challenges we face, which is building the post-pandemic workplace.

Now, massively disruptive events like the pandemic force us to challenge our assumptions, so they’re a futurist gold mine. Things that may have seemed impossible or impractical turn out not only to be workable but maybe even essential, and practices that were fringe or experimental may catapulted into the mainstream. And when it comes to work, the pandemic forced society to question assumptions and test the boundaries of where and when people work, what kind of work they do. And as businesses struggle to attract and retain staff, managers are critically finding the need to understand what people consider to be a good job, both in terms of salary and working conditions.

AAM has tracked these issues over the past three and a half years through a series of snapshot surveys measuring the state of the field. And this past spring, we fielded the latest of these studies, which is the fifth in the series, to document museums experiences as they emerge from the pandemic. This data shows signs of recovery, but it’s clear that the experiences of individual museums vary widely.

If you look at staff size as a measure of institutional recovery, 38% of museums are actually bigger in terms of staff size than they were in 2019, and they’ve grown by a median of 20%. So that’s significant. About a third or at the same staff size they were pre-pandemic, though I believe in many cases this reflects a rebound from layoffs and closures since 2019, but just over a quarter have not recovered to their pre-pandemic size. In fact, they’ve shrunk by the same median proportion, 20%. Even the biggest chunks of these museums, the ones that have grown their staff size, even as they’re growing, over 60% of the respondents in this survey reported they’re having trouble filling open positions. So clearly, our sector is being affected by the labor shortage being experienced by businesses generally.

We know that one of the things that people are considering in remaining in or applying for jobs is compensation. And it’s clear that museums are responding to these expectations. So almost half have shrunk the gap between the highest and lowest salaries in their institutions. Now, this data doesn’t tell us why. Maybe it’s a response to concerns about equity, but it could also be a financial decision. 84% of the responding museums are planning to increase the hourly rate of their lowest paid employees, and that money has to come from somewhere. Maybe some museums are redistributing salaries between positions. And of course, compensation is more than pay. And it turns out over a third of museums are making or planning to make changes to their benefits packages as well.

General non-US museum specific research over the last couple of years has shown that employees don’t only care about pay. Work culture is as important, or in some cases even more important. And people care about equity and transparency and good communication and generally healthy work culture. Museums are responding to those concerns as well. Half of museums have implemented or are planning to implement new staff wellness policies.

But it’s worth pointing out the pandemic pressures may lead some museum work to be less people-centered as well. 11% of responding museums have already automated some tasks that were formerly performed by human beings, and another 15% are planning to do so. Will this automation help staff out with their jobs or will they replace them? And would either of those options be good or bad overall? After all, replacing staff via some automation would be one strategy to finance higher salaries, or as I’ve put it, one way to have fewer but better jobs.

The takeaway is that the pandemic has challenged museums to question the old normal. This is an opportunity to revisit museum’s workplace and workforce and rebuild it consciously based on our values. This could affect who gets hired. The ongoing labor shortage might prompt museums to revisit assumptions about job qualifications including advanced academic degrees, or to consciously recruit from groups that are underrepresented in the labor force, including people who were formerly incarcerated or people with disabilities. It’s clearly prompting museums to reexamine pay and benefits and it may accelerate improvements in work culture as well.

I’m so happy to be joined today by two museum directors at the forefront of this work and to learn with you from their experiences. So now I’m going to turn over this digital stage to Kara Newport, the CEO of Filoli, to tell you about how that organization is building the post pandemic workplace around their mission and values. Kara.

Kara Newport:

Great. Thank you, Elizabeth. I am going to run through by Filoli’s case study, but I think really important is to give some context about Filoli, and for us, this started as an equity conversation.

Filoli sits on the unseated ancestral homeland of the Lamchin, an independent tribe of the Ramaytush Ohlone peoples, the original inhabitants. As a site-based organization, this is always the first place we start. Also, just for context, Filoli is a made up word that stands for the credo, fight for a just cause, love your fellow man and live a good life, which is good words to live by.

Filoli, just again, to give some context, we are a large space and place in about a $14 million budget with 400,000 visitors. Those visitors are relatively diverse. The Bay Area is a diverse place. We’re diverse in ethnic makeup as well as age, and we’re primarily a regional destination. So for us, this conversation started with alignment and really trying to align our organization around values and strategic direction. And that started for us with the strategic plan.

I share this with you because I think making a dramatic change like we did, didn’t come from nowhere. It had to be based in alignment across all boards. So we had a strategic plan, it established our mission that was based around connection and shared stories, and importantly, it had cross-cut principles with diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion at the top of that list. So all five of our goals were really rooted in those concepts. But important for today’s conversation is our people and culture goal, which is create and support inclusive culture that attracts and retains an exceptionally talented professional staff. So this concept of a staff-centered culture came through really early. This plan was completed in ’18, so this is pre-pandemic, and really helped us through the pandemic process. Also during this time, we invested deeply in DEAI strategy from the top. This is the top of our policy statement and integrates our mission and our credo. So again, we were very committed to equity as an overall concept before this discussion became relevant.

So we knew, and we’ve heard that fundamental employee expectations are having clear policies, healthy work conditions and comprehensive benefits, and of course, appropriate pay. The question is, what does that actually mean, appropriate pay? So we implemented the best practices, we updated our handbook, we redrafted the job descriptions, we outlined policies for equitable access to resources so that there was really an opportunity for everyone. We also enhanced our benefits. We have a flexible workplace. We added time off. We created an educational reimbursement and a sabbatical program that’s available to everyone. And we increased our 401k match to 6%. So we were really trying to line all of this up.

And then we moved to pay. We started where we’ve always started, with industry benchmarks. So we compared our salaries with the Northern California Nonprofit Compensation Survey and of the American Public Gardens Association, some other resources available from AAM. We reviewed industry specific compensation surveys and we just started creating a base alignment. And then, my beloved treasurer, Bob Nibbi, asked such an important question. He said, “If you only benchmark against other nonprofits, aren’t you tacitly agreeing to underpay your staff?” What a great question. I said, absolutely. We are all tacitly agreeing to underpay our staff.

And then that prompted another thought for us is that you can’t actually achieve equity without pay equity. It’s really at the heart of a base need of our employees. So it redirected our research path. And this was a very researched process for us. So we looked at average wages in our industries. We have horticultural workers, we have museum professionals, we have communication marketing professionals, fundraisers. And this is a 2021 average wages of a new graduate without experience. And we weren’t paying some of our experienced people in the Bay Area these salaries. So that was something we really had to think about.

And along this time, this fabulous tweet came out, “This isn’t complicated. If you can’t afford to pay your employees a living wage, you don’t have a viable business model.” And we didn’t. And a lot of nonprofits don’t actually in many ways. So we really decided we needed to figure this out. So we turned to a living wage as a base consideration, and it’s at the market-based approach of, what does it cost to live in your area? And of course we’re in the Bay Area and we are one of the top three most expensive places to live in the country. So it was a very relevant place for us to start.

And some of you may think, “Well that doesn’t really apply to us. I don’t live in a high value city,” but when you look at the distribution of the national living wage and you look at the federal minimum wage, pretty much if you’re paying any employees a minimum wage, they can’t afford to live. So this is a minimum wage discussion, but it’s also just the way that the world is changing. And I think this map has changed considerably in the past couple of years, but I wanted to give you our standards. So the national living wage really ranged even at this time, $21 to $29 an hour. And the Bay Area living wage was $28 an hour when we started this discussion.

So we made the bold proposal and decision to build our pay structure from a living wage basis of $28 an hour for part-time and full-time staff. That currently is $31 an hour. And we made the initial adjustments and some staff received a 40% increase. It was quite a day, still get emotional thinking about it because it was just so unexpected for everybody.

We also changed this philosophically. Our board approved a new compensation philosophy. And not only was it providing this living wage basis of what was $28 now, $31 an hour and making that policy at the board level, it was also a commitment to providing a transparent framework for compensation so that everything’s transparent. Now, since then, transparency has been a big discussion, and I know everyone’s posting salaries, but that’s all built into our compensation philosophy. So the base pay, tiered position ranges is all completely transparent to our employees.

The question I get the most is, what does this cost? And of course, it does have a cost, but there’s also a cost of recruitment and turnover. Companies spend 42 days and $4,000 per hire if they’re lucky. That is a best case scenario just to. Look at my costs, in 2019, we had 50% turnover on my staff. So look at that lost, direct costs and work days, more importantly, the workdays. And so we’re unable to attract and retain a staff in a competitive market. And the Bay Area is a very competitive market.

The financial costs, the first year it was a 12% increase to payroll. However, we had already budgeted for a 4% cost of living adjustment. And considering that reduction in turnover, we were saving $120,000. So I only considered it about a 6% increase. And that still may seem like a lot, but consider two things. Nonprofits really invest in two things, the mission and paying people to deliver the mission. This is core to who we are and what we do. And it makes a difference when you pay people because they can stay and continue to work for you.

What’s next for us? Salary and benefits, like we talked about, are fundamental expectations, but there’s more than that. And I think that this is where Molly and I are great partners in this because she has such wonderful perspective on that. So for us, what’s next is really ensuring that our staff have meaningful work, engaging staff and job development to meet the changing needs. The needs of employees, especially the Gen Zs are different. Post pandemic is a different world. And so really having those engaged conversations are really important. Developing comprehensive recognition, bonus and incentive programs, opportunities for internal professional development and career and advancement, and actually implementing staff ideas. That may seem like a no-brainer, but we don’t often just say, “Yes, we’re going to do what you suggested. These are great ideas.” So do more of that.

Just as a quick snapshot, and I am happy to provide this information, otherwise, this is the background research that we used when we presented our case to the board and to make the decision to move into a living wage minimum wage environment. And Molly is going to now share a lot more with you about her work in those additional opportunities to create a staff employee centered culture.

Molly Giordano:

Hi, everyone. Thank you, Kara, so much. And just a quick note, there are some questions coming in. We are holding those questions until the end. I’m going to move through my presentation in about 10 minutes and then we’ll get into some questions.

But I am excited today to talk about what comes beyond basic needs. And yes, here at the Delaware Art Museum. We too have spent a lot of time these past few years investing in staff salaries, additional compensation, considering other policies to support and ensure basic needs are met. And we are continuing to work on that. Our work is far from over, but today my conversation is going to center more on the culture side.

First, just a little bit about Dell Art. We are located in Wilmington, Delaware. We serve a small, extremely diverse city. We’ve been around for about 110 years and we’re really a community centered space, and I’m going to talk more about that in a minute. We have about 12,000 objects and a lovely outdoor sculpture park, the only one in our state, currently 32 full-time staff members and 11 part-time. We are mostly a philanthropically funded organization. So some of the challenges in terms of investing in staff and investing in culture for us are about educating and advocating to our various funders to ensure they understand how critical it is that we’re able to invest in our mission through supporting staff, which I will talk about in a moment as well.

About 10 years ago, the Delaware Art Museum began a new strategic vision that ramped up in the mid-2010s that centers the needs of our diverse community, the greater Wilmington region, and considering, what is it that they need out of our museum, how are we serving them not only equitably, but how are we serving them so they can see themselves here? And here are just a few examples of highlights. Social programs. This has been especially important during the pandemic. I referenced our outdoor sculpture garden space. It is something we lean on heavily as a gathering place for our community.

Just a few days ago, we had our second annual powwow for arts and culture, which celebrates, led with our indigenous leaders in the state, the arts and culture of our indigenous communities. And tonight we are getting ready to welcome several hundred children for our Kidchella music festival outside in the sculpture garden.

Community-led exhibitions is a core function of our curatorial practice, and I could talk all day about the rich examples of those exhibitions, but I will just leave it to say that we now have quite a bit of expertise in assembling and, of course, financially compensating community advisory groups to lead us through building and assembling these important exhibitions that reprise local history and spark dialogue.

Healing through the arts is another example now six years strong led in partnership with a small business called Mariposa Arts. We serve communities up and down the state with arts wellness programming from youth who are living in communities that might have a high instance of trauma to veterans, Spanish-speaking populations and beyond. Cultural festivals is another pillar of our strategic vision as our school programs. And lastly, our ambassadors.

In 2021, as we brought up the pay of our frontline lowest paid staff, we chose to move away from our third party security source. We had passed along raises to our frontline folks and realized that it took quite some time for that to work through their bureaucracy and actually reach the people who were employed at the art museum. And we chose to bring all of those individuals in-house. They’re now called museum ambassadors.

In thinking about culture, I’m just going to break it down into sort of four broad categories and happy to get into Q&A at the end of this. But one place we consider starting is with empathy. We have values that lead our vision and our work at the museum, but empathy has been the word we come back to you again and again and again when we are figuring out how do you deal with what is an inherent and very natural conflict of protecting and caring for a legacy asset, our art collection, and welcoming in a nurturing environment, our visitors and our supporters in the community.

And often, when we’re talking about empathy, I think a lot of people consider that to be more of an emotional response. The empathy of, what are you going through? What have you experienced? And this is very important to understand the backgrounds of the folks that are working and volunteering at the museum. But just importantly, I consider this the empathy of understanding, what is a person coming into the Dower Art Museum trying to gain from their position? What do they believe the goals are of this job? What has been their professional training inside or outside the art field to lead them to this place? And we’ve begun to figure out that a lot of conflict is resting in a difference of perspective on the values and goals they’re bringing to this institution. And we feel that it’s really important in all of our work building culture to center empathy.

The other thing that’s important and has been increasingly important over the last few years is striving for clear and transparent finances and strategy. Like Kara, I too came up through a background in advancement and community development work. And this is just a language I naturally speak, one that I came to at a, not so much my background or education, but just learning it over time. And when we’re in those all staff meetings, at first we were like, “Let’s present the full scope of our endowment and the finances,” realizing that is just a language most people don’t speak. It is very important for my CFO, my board chair, my finance committee, we take quite a bit of time meeting department by department as well as individually to go through the finances to make sure everybody understands the moving parts and has as much information as they want or need to understand the holistic picture of our finances.

Strategy, of course, that is an ongoing effort for all museums, to make sure the strategy and the vision is clear and transparent. We had a really strong vision and strategic plan that began in 2017 and took us through the pandemic. We, of course, pivoted in the pandemic. And 2020 through 2022 had a separate intermediary plan and now we’re moving into a new vision. And quite a bit of our time over the next year, staff leadership, will be making sure that this strategy is clear and that everybody understands how that equates with our finances.

Create policies that focus on the culture you want, not what you’re trying to avoid is another mantra I try to live by. And just yesterday, in reflection on meeting with a group of my staff, I realized that I made a misstep. And as we were trying to navigate around a question from a staff member, I was focusing more on the conflict that we potentially were trying to avoid and not thinking about what are we really trying to nurture and cultivate here. And that is how we’ve created most of our policies from a parental leave policy to numerous other policies in terms of hiring and how we’ve built our structure and our values.

Parental leave, for example, I welcomed my second child in March 2020, about a week into our state lockdown, and it was a transformative experience. Up until that point, the museum did not have any paid parental leave with staff. So as soon as I came back from my quasi maternity leave, we implemented our first parental leave policy so that anybody welcoming a child into their family had an opportunity to take paid time off. We also believe this is in line with our advocacy, which I’m going to talk about next.

Radical advocacy. This is a place where I feel I’m able to have a lot of impact. We are a very small state and a small city in a small state, and we know all of the players. I know the governor. I know our mayor who’s pictured here at a press conference a few months ago. And I know a lot of the other players at our government foundation and other funding entities. And I’m able to talk to them openly about issues not only of what does the museum provide to the community, but trying to explain to them that the artists and the arts community is essential labor.

It is doing the essential work in our community. Of course, education is something that people can gravitate around and understand, educating our school children, but also, wellness, wellbeing, social connections, recovering that important history that’s bringing our communities together, workforce development. There are so many places that artists as entrepreneurs and artists as social activists are important to the health of our entire community. And I spend quite a bit of my time educating various stakeholders on that work.

As was said in my bio, I’m also the president of the Delaware Arts Alliance, which is our statewide advocacy organization. And this is aligning with a holistic plan. We’re moving into to map out the economic and the value of all of our arts in the state and to really push our government entities to invest more in the arts sector. So this is a place I think naturally as a philanthropically funded organization. It can be a little bit hard to navigate for us to really increase the pay and for us to invest fully in what we need, not only to become a sustainable organization serving our community, but supporting our incredibly creative and talented workers, many of whom I’ll add happen to be artists themselves. We have to get our funders to understand that we need increased support to make that vision a reality.

This work is certainly not done. It is an ongoing commitment and it is part of the fabric of how this organization operates. It’s the fabric of our leadership team, our board. I was pleasantly surprised that when we broached the topic of increasing pay for our lowest paid employees back in 2020, our board was so enthusiastic, they actually expedited those conversations and made sure that was a priority in our budget. And I think this is more of a mindset than it is a list of policies or tools that you can use. And once you cultivate that right mindset, anything is possible in transforming your culture.

I’m going to pause there because I think it’s time for us to move into Q&A, but I’ll turn it back over to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Merritt:

Thank you so much, Molly. Jay’s been collecting your questions, and please keep adding those via the questions’ widget in the platform. We’re going to pivot now to a discussion between our panelists and the audience. While you’re adding some of your queries, I’m going to start with this question. There are so many moving parts to this process of changing the workplace, wellbeing, pay, bringing contracted work in-house. How do you set priorities that support this work? Kara and Molly, how did you decide where to start?

Kara Newport:

I think, for us, we started on the necessities. I feel like pay benefit policies are really the necessities, and as I had outlined, policies was the easy one, right? Let’s start really at least assessing our policies, looking at our job descriptions, things like that. And because I think that without that base level of comfort from employees, then it’s really difficult for them to have job satisfaction beyond that. I’m not saying that’s always the best place to start. I think some of the other things are easier, right? They’re more accessible to have conversations with your staff and talk about job design. And some of those things are not so budget and approval and bureaucratically dependent. So I think it is a challenge, but for us, we really wanted to get that tidiness and put that away so that it wasn’t always a question in people’s minds. And especially since we had such a high turnover rate, we had to do something. We were in just a very different position.

Molly Giordano:

Yeah, we’re in a different position. We’re a small staff and we’re notorious in our community for having a low turnover rate. We tend to have staff that once they join, they want to stay because they believe the culture is really strong. And financially, we are not as strong as we should be. And quite frankly, we have invested in some of these areas of our operation knowing that it wasn’t the financial decision that maybe others would make, but it’s critical for us achieving our vision and we’ve been very intentional about those choices. And that is something that I recognize not all leaders are able to do. And I also recognize, in terms of the wider messaging and advocacy, not all leaders have the freedom to seek quite candidly with their top donors and their top community leaders. In our case, that is possible.

So we view it not only as essential for the workers that we support who are employed by the Delaware Art Museum as well as the contractors, but we believe we need to set a benchmark and take on that leadership position for our very small state and for the entire arts and culture sector.

For example, the parental leave policy I mentioned we knew that coming down in our state legislature, there was a bill that would be mandating parental leave, and we wanted to be among the first in the arts and arts and culture sector to adopt that even though it won’t take effect for several more years. So that’s another way of how we’re considering what to do when, I suppose.

Elizabeth Merritt:

Thank you. Holly Lauridsen from the Western Science Center has asked, “How did your boards react to the concept and support to pay equity to your nonprofit staff?”

Kara Newport:

For me, that was the big question, how are we going to present this? And of course, it helps that Bob Nibbi, our treasurer, was the first to ask the question because then he opened the Pandora’s box of it all. But they were deeply committed to the strategic plan. And the strategic plan had one of the highest goals was attracting and retaining a talented team. And so once they saw the information and saw the data, they said, “Well, we have to do something. It’s very clear that we have to do something.” They did ask if there was a step in between, or do we do it halfway or do we do some of it?

But I will say that one thing that was not in my presentation is that, and this is a point you made earlier, Elizabeth, we had reduced staff during the pandemic, so we brought staff back differently. So we combined positions. We did elevate some of the positions. We don’t have an admissions staff. All of our guest services staff are interpreters, so it’s integrated. So they do some of it some of the time. And really elevated the concept of what it meant to work there. So in the end, we actually were slower to get back to that pre-pandemic number of total staff, but we reduced our turnover. We’re able to pay a living wage. We have babies now. People are having children and staying while they have children, which is just such a great thing.

Anyway, back to the board question though, they are now very glad that they took that bold step because as you were saying, Molly, our aspiration is to be leaders and to not take the easy route and to figure out how to do it. And what has come with it is actually more solidity as an organization. Because people stay, because people are invested, it gives us that support.

Molly Giordano:

And our board was supportive. I mean, your plan, Kara, was so much more intricate and larger and more significant than on our scale what we had to do, but our board was supportive right away. And again, our board easily can look at our finances and say this shouldn’t be a priority. But working hand in hand with them, we’ve built a strong trust between the board and the senior leadership of the museum. And they not only agreed to it, they very aggressively advocated that we increased pay, especially at the lowest level of the institution.

Elizabeth Merritt:

Thank you. Amy Naroca from Neighbor Settlement raised an issue that we hadn’t touched on, which, of course, was a tremendous disruption during the pandemic, which is remote work. She asks specifically, “What are the percentages of remote versus onsite staff for your organization?” And I’m going to broaden that to ask if you could tell us a little bit about whether you pivoted to partial remote work or during the pandemic, and to what extent that’s changed, how much you use it as things recover.

Molly Giordano:

Sure. I’ll jump in. I know California was probably different. Each state had different state mandated lockdowns. We were only required to close for 14 weeks, so we actually reopened July 1st, 2020 and had a number of staff in essential positions back on site. But of course, many administrative staff were working in a hybrid capacity, and we still have some staff working in an almost fully remote capacity. Because our staff is so small, we can set that policy. Earlier I said we’re striving for the culture we want, not what we’re trying to avoid. We really have a case by case policy that determines who can work almost exclusively remotely, who comes in a few days a week. And that right now is working really well for us. The majority of our staff have been fully back on site for about the last two years, and that seems to be working well. And many, many other staff are choosing to take days here and there. But right now we’re mostly a fully onsite staff. Apologies.

Kara Newport:

And I’ll add interesting, Molly, that we’ve ended in the same place. We started as a fully flexible workplace before the pandemic because we’re a seven-day week operation. We were closed for eight weeks different than most of California because we were an outdoor venue, so we were able to open the gardens very much more quickly. But what we did when we revised the job descriptions is that each position has its own amount of time that can be worked remotely. So it’s very position specific. And we’re a larger organization and we’ve just worked this out. This is really important that it’s not two days or three days or weekends or not weekends. It’s by the job and the expectations of the position. So again, it’s very transparent for people.

An interesting trend that we’ve seen is that even when people can work remotely, they’re choosing to come in more than they could, which I think speaks to the culture. And we’re site-based. It’s really hard to do what we do without coming in and seeing what’s happening, and we have a lot going on. So seeing that choice though, I think has been really interesting thing. And I choose it myself. I can work remote, but I usually don’t. So it’s great to be here together with the team.

Elizabeth Merritt:

Tamara Schlosemberg picked up on something I mentioned in my intro, which is that there has been some shifts in what requirements are set for positions. And Kara, I think you mentioned revisiting position requirements in your remarks as well. Can either of you say anything about how you may have changed requirements for new hires and what those changes are?

Molly Giordano:

I can jump in. We have changed requirements for some positions that previously required a bachelor’s degree. For example, we’re no longer requiring that bachelor’s degree, especially for some of our entry-level positions. And I think there are some successes we can point to, which is, for quite some time now, being an organization open to different skillsets and experiences. I am case in point not a traditional candidate. I’ve been at the museum for a while, but I have a different background. And we have a number of staff who have different backgrounds and they’re adding to the diversity and the success of the organization.

One of our favorite examples is a long time maintenance worker who’d been on staff for almost 15 years, who our education team recognized had a strong skill in community organizing, which he did on his free time for his own community. And now he is our community engagement leader. Does not have a traditional background or traditional education, but a lot of the success and vibrancy of our cultural festivals, such as this past weekend’s powwow, are really based on his community organizing skills and his deep connections and relationships in the community.

So we try very hard to invest in people that are invested in the organization, even if they don’t have a traditional background.

Kara Newport:

And I would say we’re following suit, but Molly has really leaned into it. We did change the requirements on all of our job descriptions so that it was really reflective of the need and not our arbitrary degree requirements and things like that. And it has changed the nature. I will also say, because of some of our position combinations that we’ve done, it gives us a lot more latitude in hiring people because you can come from a lot of different perspectives and have experience in one aspect that maybe not all the aspects, and that gives us a chance to really broaden the scope of who we’re searching for in the positions.

Molly Giordano:

The other thing I’ll say just very quickly is that we’ve started a number of apprenticeship programs, museum educators or paid apprentices. We have a workforce program called Public Art Stewards where we’re hiring people to clean and care for the public art in our city, and several other examples, which has been an extraordinary pipeline for us to find talented people who then we are trying to bring into full-time museum positions.

Elizabeth Merritt:

Awesome. One thing I wanted to make sure that I snuck in here was I’m interested to see if you have any comments about other things you’ve seen other museums doing as we come out of a pandemic to improve the workplace. Examples, you can point to in other institutions people might be interested in.

Kara Newport:

Well, I actually think that this is a little bit of… Our watch on this trending is actually looking outside the museum world and looking more to what our true competitors are doing. We’re in the tech world here with unlimited vacation time and some of these other benefits that we struggle with offering, but I think what we’re trying to do is see how we can mirror and mimic that and look to… And I think that regionality is really important too. We’re trying to really hire locally. And so what are the local expectations? What are the regional expectations? Because what’s working in Delaware may not work in California and vice versa. So really trying to keep it to that, but not necessarily benchmark. We’ve really broken our own perspective of benchmarking to a specific industry. And we have the luxury too of being multi-industry. We’re a historic house where we have a museum collection. We have a public garden. We have nature center. So we have a lot of places we can look, but that regionality, I think, really matters in looking at trends.

Molly Giordano:

There’s one example I’m aware of. I don’t know a lot about it. Just hearing about the LGBTQ Museum in New York setting the compensation against the base pay of the lowest paid employee. And again, we are also part of a community where it’s very different. We’re a heavily corporate community, so looking to the corporations is not also necessarily a great example because, obviously, if a lot of people in the corporate sector we’re so happy, so many of them wouldn’t be trying to leave. So it’s a question, but that’s a success that I’ve heard of and just so eager to hear more. And I hope that this webinar prompts more people to share the successes that they’re seeing.

Elizabeth Merritt:

Great. Here’s an interesting question from one of our attendees. You’ve really approached this from the point of view of directors speaking with your boards, but one of our attendee asks, “Do you have any advice about approaching the senior leadership of an organization?” I’m interpreting that to mean as a staff person to work towards more livable wages, more specifically, ways to present the financial aspects of supporting higher wages.

Kara Newport:

I actually have a great story of that. Filoli’s a site of national trust for historic preservation. And so there are 29 sites. We have sister sites, and one of those is Bruce Moore in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. And I’m friends with the CEO there. So he called me and he said, “You’re not even going to believe this, but my staff just put together a proposal for increasing our minimum wage and used your article from AAM as part of their point, as part of their defense and research.” And I was so happy. I thought that was the best news I’d ever heard, but I think it’s such a good… And they did it. They did it actually on the spot because it was something they had already been thinking of. And I think that was my last point. Do what employees ask for.

And in their case, they weren’t saying, let’s go to a living wage. They specifically asked for a $2 increase and they had reasons behind that $2 increase. And so they said, “Okay, we will do a $2 increase today for this group of employees.” So it was a really great example, I think, of an employee-generated initiative that really paid off in all the ways and prompted an organization already thinking about doing something to just do it. Let’s just do this. This is the right thing to do.

Molly Giordano:

That sounds like such a great example. I don’t think I can follow that one.

Elizabeth Merritt:

I’m going to have to go to Bruce Moore and ask them to write that up as a blog post and then we can build on the whole movement.

Okay. Here’s an interesting question. From Carl McKinnon at the Shield Museum, “With increased expense such as moving to a living wage comes the increased pressure to increased revenue or reduce other expenses. How were you able to achieve the funds that allowed for this important and impactful step towards your staff?”

Kara Newport:

For us, it turned to earned revenue. So first of all, as I said, we were slow in bringing back employees so that we weren’t putting ourselves too underwater with the increase. So we took advantage of open positions. But what we have found, and it’s a little bit like if you build it, they will come kind of concept, is that because employees are more motivated, because they’re staying longer, because we’re hiring people at a higher level, because we’re hiring people from the community, they are able to be more creative and generate new ideas and come up with new solutions to the challenges that we have. So our revenue has continued on a wonderful pattern of increasing because of that.

And it’s little and big things. It’s like, “Hey, have you invited this community to come into this event or program?” Or it’s the bigger things of like, “Hey, we needed a whole new program platform and this is going to really take advantage of our available Wednesday nights and let’s have a concert series.” So I think that allowing employees to be creative and not having turnover are surprisingly lucrative. I think it really does change your business model.

Molly Giordano:

Yeah, I agree. We are taking a bit more of a leap of faith because we don’t have as many earned revenue levers to pull upon. Were mostly philanthropically funded. But after bringing our ambassadors in-house, after being a third party contracted service, we immediately noticed an increase in paid admission. And we believe, of course, we’re trying to study and get to the bottom of this, but we believe a lot of that is the welcoming presence that our ambassadors have provided for our repeat guests. We mostly serve repeat regional visitors. And this is critical to our business model that we have welcoming, inclusive, sales-oriented people on the floor that are passionate about their job and really, really care. So I think the investment for us was well worth it.

Elizabeth Merritt:

Awesome. For the final question, I’m going to adapt and combine a couple of related questions that came in. All of this is playing out not only in the context of the pandemic, but also the Black Lives Matter movement and social disruptions of the past few years. And in that context, do you have any comments about what can be done to retain BIPOC staff in particular and to make sure that the workplace is a welcoming environment for them and helps with retaining the kinds of diverse staff museums are working so hard to attract?

Molly Giordano:

I’ll jump in. As an art museum, I think one of the biggest challenges the art museum world faces, and Kara, I’m sure this is true in gardens too, is if you are welcoming in staff that have different backgrounds, they might not have a background necessarily at an art museum. It is just a minefield of conflict because of how we have scaffolded ourselves with the systems and policies and the bureaucracy. And one of the biggest barriers I see is, how do you welcome people in while also giving them the space to understand, learn and question some of those structures where they can make a meaningful impact, where you’re not just asking everybody to adapt to what has been done in the past? It is absolutely about paying that equitable wage, ensuring that we are starting with empathy and understanding their goals, their values, but it’s also about giving people the space and the genuine desire to perhaps change some of those policies in those structures.

And the last thing I will say though is that we also have to be honest and transparent as a sector. And one of the kindest things we can do sometimes is be very clear in our expectations and very clear in the abilities we have today. I’ll just share a quick example. I’ve had staff come from other industries and they are here because it’s a passion. I want them to live their passion, but I also want them to understand the economic ability I have to compensate them today and in the near future. I want everybody to make a decision that is best for their family and their financial future. And sometimes providing that clarity gives them a choice of this is a job that they think they can invest in. And I think that honesty also has to be part of the conversation.

Elizabeth Merritt:

Thank you, Molly. That was a wonderful-

Kara Newport:

I think Molly said it all. That’s wonderful.

Elizabeth Merritt:

Yes, that was a wonderful wrap up.

Jake, I know you have a few housekeeping things to wrap up with, so can we pass it back to you?

Jay Benson:

That’s perfect. And I hate to end such a great session and moderated panel. These are awesome questions and I feel like we could continue to go, but I do want to remind you guys in the audience of a couple of things. The resource widget that we talked about has several free items for you all to download. It’s in the lower center of your screen. It includes that great trends watch report that Elizabeth spoke of earlier, along with a couple of blog posts from Filoli as well as the Delaware Museum of Arts. So please check that out. It also includes a couple of resources from Blackbaud as well. So, our Altru one-pager, which is again, the total solution for arts and cultural organizations. It has that data sheet there as well as the Altru ROI calculator linked as well.

And for those of you who perhaps joined a couple minutes late, again, I just wanted to plug BBCon, which is Blackbaud conference. It’s upcoming in Denver this year. It’s offered both in person and virtually. You can register by clicking more on the link in the resources area.

I’m very cognizant of you guys’ time, so I want to end on time. But again, if you have other things that you would like to see around thought leadership material, Blackbaud produces a lot of content. And so, I would encourage you to visit, check out our website for other resources around thought leadership and webinars similar to today’s session.

Lastly, I really just want to thank our presenters here, our moderator and our panelists. Huge thank you to Elizabeth, Kara, and Molly for an amazing session. I want to thank all of you who took time out of your day to attend today’s session and for the amazing work that you do for the arts and cultural community and your respective nonprofits. Blackbaud is proud to be your partner.

This session is recorded. And again, for those of you, we had several people ask, it will be sent to you from Blackbaud events. Feel free to share that with other colleagues and leaders within your organization. And this concludes today’s session. So, I hope everyone has a great day. Thank you and take care.

AAM Member-Only Content

AAM Members get exclusive access to premium digital content including:

  • Featured articles from Museum magazine
  • Access to more than 1,500 resource listings from the Resource Center
  • Tools, reports, and templates for equipping your work in museums
Log In

We're Sorry

Your current membership level does not allow you to access this content.

Upgrade Your Membership


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Field Notes!

Packed with stories and insights for museum people, Field Notes is delivered to your inbox every Monday. Once you've completed the form below, confirm your subscription in the email sent to you.

If you are a current AAM member, please sign-up using the email address associated with your account.

Are you a museum professional?

Are you a current AAM member?

Success! Now check your email to confirm your subscription, and please add to your safe sender list.