Snowstorms, Strategy and Making Membership Great (Again).

2017 board retreat
Nik Honeysett, Carolyn Royston, Elizabeth Bollwerk, Laura Mann, Bert Degenhart Drenth, Eric Longo, Suse Anderson, Julie Aldridge, Deborah Howes

For the second year in a row, a small group of MCN board members–Carolyn Royston (President), Suse Anderson (VP/Pdt Elect), Bert Degenhart Drenth (Treasurer), Laura Mann (Strategic Partnerships chair), Elizabeth Bollwerk (Professional Development chair), Deborah Howes, and Nik Honeysett–joined me at the Newark Airport Hilton on a recent weekend for a strategic retreat. Holding a retreat in February in the Northeast can be a bit of gamble; we were just lucky to have it right in the middle of two snow storms. MCN luck.

These annual mini strategic retreats provide MCN’s leadership an opportunity to come together to focus on a specific strategic area of the organization, as we continue to deliver on our current Strategic Plan. Last year, we focussed on rethinking our approach to strategic partnerships, and our sponsorship offer in particular. This year, we wanted to think about designing a more viable business model for MCN, and specifically focus on membership as driver for long-term sustainability. To guide us through these questions, we invited Julie Aldridge to facilitate the weekend. Formerly Executive Director of the Arts Marketing Association (AMA), a UK-based membership organization, which she led for almost 12 years, Julie is now a consultant specializing in business planning, marketing, membership strategy, leadership, and organizational development.

Reflecting on what MCN means to you

Based on Simon Sinek’s Start With Why approach, Julie immediately challenged us to think through MCN’s alignment of its vision (why we exist) with its delivery model (what it does to deliver on its vision), and then reflect on the impact MCN has on its members, the museums or other cultural organizations they work for, and the museum sector in general. We quickly realized that we had a lot of work to do to align what MCN means to you, our members, with the impact it could have on museums and the sector at large.

Julie then walked us through the findings from the 2017 MCN Community Survey, conducted in January, which saw 203 total responses, including 97 from current members (thank you for your thoughtful comments!). While none of the findings were really surprising to us, they reinforced how you (current and lapsed members, and not yet members) perceive MCN: 50 years since its founding, an undisputed source of inspiration, professional connections, and learning.

Here are a few responses from, you, our community about what MCN is to you that really resonated with us and we wanted to share:

“A ‘go to’ group of professionals who are on the cutting edge of the role of digital technology and resources in museums and who have supported the advancement of the entire museum field.”

“A bunch of hardworking good-hearted nerds who love their work, and they want to change the world but they’re too busy talking about museums.”

“I heard someone comment that at other conferences they feel like they are part of a professional organization, but that with MCN they feel like they are part of a community.”

“Most valuable museum community.”

“An organization that anyone working in technology in the museum sector should be a member of.”

You also voiced the need for more formalized skill training, availability of online resources, and leadership building opportunities such as mentoring. We will be working on projects geared towards meeting those needs in the upcoming year.

With this in mind, and using Strategyzer’s Business Model Canvas–a strategic tool that allows organizations to describe, design, challenge, invent and pivot a business model–we quickly moved to exploring a range of possible business models for MCN to achieve that alignment of purpose and impact. At the heart of these discussions was a focus on membership, and what it means for MCN to be a member organization now, and into the future. Although it became apparent that MCN has significant opportunities to continue to evolve in order to better meet the needs of our community, there simply was not enough time for us to “pin down” a specific direction without the collective input from the rest of the board, which we will seek in the weeks ahead to further our thinking around the myriad of ideas we generated over the weekend.

2017 board retreat
2017 board retreat

Things to watch out for, and what that means for you as a member of MCN

Retreats are always too short but they also work in iterative ways, bubbling up ideas along the way but also cementing others that we all keep coming back to. Clearly, we need to do more work and continue to experiment with canvassing possible business models for MCN. In the meantime, we are planning on rolling out a series of changes throughout 2017 and beyond, that will make your MCN membership even more compelling and rewarding.  

All business but no play? Not really, we are MCN’ers after all!

After a furiously intensive first day, we headed downtown Newark for dinner at Fornos of Spain, and because a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll let you enjoy it. Let’s just say, we had a great time.

2017 board retreat dinner
2017 board retreat dinner

So stay tuned as we announce some changes to your MCN membership in the months ahead, and make sure to keep abreast of the many #mcn50 activities throughout 2017. If you can’t wait until MCN2017 to get together with other MCN’ers, check out our Throw MCN a Birthday Party kit.

You are MCN, and the sense of community and connection that unites you to MCN remains undisputedly strong and vibrant. For the leadership, this means we need to make sure that MCN stays relevant not only to your everyday work, throughout your career, but also to the institutions you work for, the museum sector as a whole, as well as future generations of museum professionals. Thank you and happy birthday MCN!


Eric Longo
Executive Director, MCN