Accreditation & Excellence Programs

The Alliance offers a pathway of standards-based assessment and recognition programs to help your museum be the best it can be in carrying out its public trust, collections stewardship, and educational roles. Called the Continuum of Excellence, this flexible series of programs from AAM and other organizations supports, motivates and celebrates your museum’s commitment to meeting standards and professional practices.

The Continuum programs include the Pledge of Excellence, the Museum Assessment Program (MAP), Collections Assessment for Preservation program (CAP), Standards of Excellence for History Organizations (STEPs), Core Documents Verification, and Accreditation.

Why Strive for Excellence?

When your museum commits to a culture of excellence it will:

  • Be a stronger asset to its community
  • Demonstrate it is worthy of support and public trust
  • Ensure sound stewardship of its collections
  • Enhance its funding opportunities
  • Raise the quality of its operations
  • Leverage change
  • Improve staff and board skills
  • Distinguish itself among peers

How Does the Continuum Help?

Whether taking the first step in its professional journey or already accredited, your museum can benefit from participating in the Continuum of Excellence because it:

  • Is Flexible: There are a variety of program options to fit your institution’s goals and available time and resources. You choose the program that’s right for your museum to start with, and decide if and when to move to the next step.
  • Is Accessible: Programs are open to museums of all sizes and types. You’ll find multiple entry points so you can choose the program that works best for your museum.
  • Is Efficient: The various levels of assessment, feedback, and recognition build on one another.
  • Offers Recognition: Your museum gets national recognition for each step it takes, enhancing its credibility, exposure, community standing, and positioning for funding.
  • Provides Standards Education and Resources: Learn about standards and best practices, and benchmark your museum against them through sample documents, online training, peer experts, self-assessment, and third-party vetting processes.

The Continuum of Excellence Programs

While the programs in the Continuum are presented in a stepping-stone fashion, your museum does not have to participate in all of them or in any particular order. Choose the program(s) that makes the most sense for your museum’s mission, size, resources, time, and needs. Use the Continuum program comparison guide and getting started diagnostic quiz to help you determine which program is right for your museum.

Museum Membership

A good first step on the Continuum is becoming an institutional member of the Alliance. As a member, you and your staff gain access to resources that your museum needs to excel, including standards and professional practices, online learning opportunities, and informative publications. The Alliance embraces all museums–art museums to zoos–and everything in between. Three membership tiers, beginning with a pay what you can option, allow you to select your ideal level of benefits. (Membership is not required to participate in excellence programs administered by AAM.)

Learn more about Museum Membership.

Pledge of Excellence

Show your museum’s commitment to ethics, standards, and professional practices by taking the Pledge online or by email.

The Pledge of Excellence is: “My museum pledges that, in fulfillment of its educational mission, it will strive to operate according to national standards and best practices to the best of its abilities and in accordance with its resources.”

The Pledge is an easy and achievable step along your museum’s path to excellence. Showcase your museum’s commitment to the field by joining a public list of museums whose staff and leadership have pledged to strive to operate according to field-wide standards and professional practices. AAM recommends all museums take the Pledge of Excellence.

Learn more about the Pledge.

Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations (STEPs)

Benchmark your museum against standards at your own pace using performance indicators to tackle challenges in small, manageable steps.

This self-paced, self-study program from the Association of State and Local History is designed specifically for small- to mid-sized history organizations, including volunteer-run institutions. Through a workbook, online resources, and an online community, STEPs helps your museum benchmark its policies and practices against national museum standards by breaking them down into manageable levels: Basic, Good, and Better. You’ll receive a certificate after you complete each level.

Learn more about STEPs.

Collections Assessment for Preservation (CAP)

A great option for small institutions that want to improve the condition of their collections.

CAP provides small and mid-sized museums with partial funding toward a general conservation assessment that includes all of the institution’s collections, buildings, and building systems, as well as its policies and procedures relating to collections care. Participants who complete the program receive an assessment report, with prioritized recommendations to improve collections care, from a conservation professional. CAP is administered by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation.

Learn more about CAP.

Museum Assessment Program (MAP)

Benchmark your museum’s practices to standards and strengthen operations through self-assessment and expert peer consultation.

The Museum Assessment Program (MAP) is a powerful tool designed to support your museum at any point along the Continuum of Excellence. Through a one-year process of self-assessment, institutional activities, and consultative peer review, your museum emerges with an analysis of its strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities; and a prioritized roadmap for improving operations and meeting standards.

“The relationships formed through the MAP process, what you learn about your organization, and the new opportunities that result, are invaluable. I give MAP Assessments five stars.” – Joe Imholte, Vice President, Programs and Operations, The Bakken Museum, MI

Learn more about MAP.

Core Documents Verification

Receive recognition and validation that your museum’s mission and core policies meet standards for professional museums.

Build on your museum’s accomplishments with a document review program that verifies that your institution’s educational mission, strategic plan, emergency plan, code of ethics, and collections management policy meet the standards for professional museums. Use Core Documents Verification as a launching pad for accreditation, as part of the implementation of MAP recommendations, or for third-party vetting of documents created as part of earning STEPs certificates. Pre-requisite: Pledge of Excellence

Learn more about Core Documents Verification.


Earn recognition for your museum’s commitment to, and demonstration of, the professional standards for education, public service, and collections care.

As the museum field’s mark of distinction, accreditation offers high profile, peer-based validation of your museum’s operations and impact. Accreditation increases your museum’s credibility and value to funders, policy makers, community, and peers. Accreditation is a powerful tool to leverage change and helps facilitate loans between institutions.

For more than 50 years, the Accreditation Program has been recognized as the gold standard of museum excellence. With its mix of self-assessment, peer review, and public recognition, AAM Accreditation helps to ensure the integrity and accessibility of museum collections, reinforce the education and public service roles of museums and promote good governance practices and ethical behavior. Pre-requisite: Core Documents Verification

Learn more about Accreditation.

Getting Started

Step 1: Join the Alliance today. Become a member to begin receiving benefits immediately, including a free PDF copy of National Standards and Best Practices for U.S. Museums.

Step 2: Access online resources. The Alliance website has free resources on ethics, standards, and professional practices. Sample documents are available to Tier 3 members.

Step 3. Use the Continuum program comparison guide and getting started diagnostic quiz to help you determine which program is right for your museum.

Step 4: Start a conversation with your staff and board. Make a commitment; set a goal.

The Alliance has resources and staff to help you every step of the way on your excellence journey.

Contact the Excellence Programs

Accreditation & Core Documents Verification, (202) 289-9116

Museum Assessment Program (MAP), (202) 289-9118


A special thank you to the following museums for providing photographs featured in the Continuum of Excellence Brochure: Friendship Firehouse Museum, Office of Historic Alexandria, Alexandria, VA; Hermosa Beach Museum, Hermosa Beach Historical Society, Hermosa Beach, CA; Long Island Children’s Museum, Garden City, NY; San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, San Luis Obispo, CA; The Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, OH.

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