Thoughts on Preserving Local History
By Robert Griffith, Updated July 2013
I have visited museums of all sizes across Texas. At several, I asked, "How are you funded? How many members do you have? What programs do you employ? Do you receive support from the city, county, or school district? How many visitors do you attract? Do you have a budget? What kind of projects do you take on?" I have been surprised how candid workers are as they chronicle their triumphs and failures. A common theme is how conscientious, civic-minded individuals must overcome the pettiness of a few closed-minded people in their respective communities. That battle is still being fought in Burleson, and until the community comes together and decides to preserve its history, more buildings will continue to fall, and the stories of Burleson's pioneers and early shepherds will be lost.
What organizations need...
- Write a mission statement that describes the role and scope of the organization.
- Craft policies spelling out the role of officers, board members, and committees; the processes for budgeting, elections, and reports; and a timeline for reviewing them.
- Familiarize board members, officers, committee members, and volunteers with those policies on a regular basis.
- Follow administrative policies, but use wise judgment if opportunities arise which must be acted on between meetings.
- Document processes through minutes, board notes, newsletters, and contact with contributors, sponsors, partners, volunteers, and members.
- Involve as many people as possible in creating and reviewing the organizationís policies.
- Discourage individuals from holding the same office for long periods of time through term limits.
- Robertís Rules of Order is a good standard, but groups often use their own judgment in determining procedural guidelines.
What organizations can do...
- Encourage participation and appeal to different age groups -
- Invite schools to take field trips to a local museum or historic site.
- Reach as many grades as possible. Work with schools to schedule around conflicts. If districts cannot afford field trips, find businesses to sponsor them.
- Consider handing out unique, fun trinkets like pens, pencils, folders, yo-yos, and fans.
- If schools cannot come to you, go to them. Think about one-act plays, audio/visual presentations, reenactments, and craft projects.
- Invite groups like the Lionís, Rotary, PTA, teachers, and businesses to attend a luncheon or dinner. Let them present their issues and invite cooperation. Have a raffle
and serve refreshments.
- Host a research, historical, or related event appealing to amateur historians, genealogists, and the public. Include the groupís mission in the presentation.
- Offer membership in your organization for a low rate and do not depend on memberships for the majority of your fundraising. Membership can connect the group to people who
can help logistically or financially.
- Learn about other successful historical organizations and museums -
- Attend Local, State, and Regional Conferences. The Texas Historical Commission (THC) is a resource for grants, scholarships, and training. Their conferences are useful for
networking and organizational ideas. Some local historical commissions, libraries, and universities also hold gatherings.
- Join groups specializing in museum/organization management. The Texas Association of Museums, the American Association of Museums, and the National Trust for Historic
Preservation offers grants, archival tips, management hints, ethical guidelines, and discounts on archival materials. Membership comes at a cost, but services connect the group
with professionals who may be able to help.
- Study state and federal programs which benefit tax-exempt entities.
- Travel to nearby museums of various sizes and locales. Ask how these groups are funded, what their activities are, and what their successes, failures, and challenges are.
- Advertising / Publicity -
- Website are useful for selling merchandise, soliciting donations, providing educational packets, and exhibiting the organizationís projects. Even at up to $2,000 a year,
it is cheaper than ad space in newspapers or on radio and television stations.
- Brochures, business cards, and other printed materials can be distributed to motels, restaurants, businesses, and merchants. Pass them out at gatherings. Quality is not as
important in this instance as content.
- Contact newspapers, radio stations, and television stations about projects, volunteers, and ďhuman interestĒ stories.
- Offer to write regular or semi-regular columns for local newspapers. Incorporate the organization, telling readers to see the group for further information.
- Publish a newsletter and distribute it to local organizations and the media. Always include a mission statement, a list of projects, contact information, and a historical
narrative of general interest.
- Artwork, design, and other ďspecializedĒ products are essential to selling an organization. High schools and universities have classes for students interested in graphic
design. Partnering with them gives students a chance to gain experience and may provide the school with a tax write-off and positive press coverage.
- Projects -
- Establish a purpose, goals, budget, and timetable to sell projects by.
- Accept that goals, budgets, and timetables may change.
- If a contractor is not working, fire them. If materials cost too much, find alternatives. If there are not enough volunteers, recruit more. Do not settle if something can
be done better.
- Do not cut too many corners, though. Some shortcuts may cost more to fix.
- Stick with a project until it is completed. Do not start one as a group and let it become the burden of an individual. The project, and its responsibilities, belongs to
- Listen to the leader of a project. They have been appointed to lead the project, so defer to them as long as they are following protocol, meeting goals, and fostering
- A projectís budget should figure into the groupís fundraising. If a project earns money, ensure profit is shared by all projects, as some will not draw in funds or
- Remember, history is important. Some projects are naturally interesting, while others may not be. Great books are often borne of ďboringĒ material.
- Funding -
- Spend money to make money. While not an invitation to splurge, expenses such as websites, advertising, archival materials, and artifact acquisition may attract larger
- Operate within the organizationís means. If something needs money, raise it.
- Do not expect instant gratification and do not be afraid of failure. If a project, program, or fundraiser does not succeed, find out why and try again.
- Rely on more than one source of income. When drafting a budget, set goals and make an effort to reach them. Do not bank in January on the expectation of a donation in
- Explore grants, hotel-motel tax contributions, private donations, and sponsorships. Mix it up.
- Affix the organizationís contact information on merchandise and include a brochure or business card with purchases.
- If a donor does not stipulate where their financial gift should be spent, spread it across the organization, not a single project.
- If a contributor specifies a project their gift should help with, document how their gift is spent. For example, if the group receives $5,000 to restore an object, set
aside certain purchases as having been paid for by that donation. Then, let the benefactor know.
- Send donors a letter of thanks. Depending on circumstances and the donorís desire, notify the media. Consider honoring the donor with a plaque or award.
- Offer memberships in the group to businesses. Charge a higher amount than to those people who come to meetings and participate.
- Artifact Donations -
- Insist donors fill out paperwork describing the artifact, its condition, the donor (and/or how long it is on loan for), and a description of the artifact. Photograph it
and enter the information into a computer database.
- Depending on the importance of the donation, send a note of thanks. Discuss with the owner if the media should be informed or if it can be used to market the organization.
- Sometimes there is not enough room to exhibit artifacts. In the case of donations, the owner has signed away their right to remove that artifact, whereas with a loaned
artifact, the owner can retrieve it at any time. It is courteous and demonstrates professionalism to inform donors if their artifact is being put into long-term storage.
Sometimes, the removal of one item might cause donors to remove all their artifacts or cease their financial support.
- When a group does not have an exhibition place, receiving artifacts can be difficult. Store items in archival-quality acid-free storage containers in a climate-controlled
- When buildings are offered for donation, assess the pros and cons of accepting them. Assuming ownership or control brings enormous responsibility, commitment of time and
materials, and will define the agenda for the group over a long period of time. When turning down a donation of that scope, encourage the owner to seek out other organizations
or possibilities. Do not be pushed or goaded into accepting large-scale donations, but do not frigidly decline them.
- Refuse donations and loans which do not fit in with the museum or groupís mission. Museums are not fancy walk-in closests. In refusing a donation or loan, ask if that item
can be given to another group. Do not be rude or forceful, but make the potential donor see the institutionís point of view.
- Types of Exhibits -
- Photographs, maps, letters, and drawings can be replicated on large, durable boards made of vinyl, plastic, cardboard, and aluminum. Mounting items preserves originals and
grants freedom in designing compact, efficient displays.
- Consider grants and sponsorships to fund exhibits. Working with businesses to design and construct exhibits provides them a means of advertising.
- Consider building subject-specific banners or posters which can be rotated or stored as events require.
- Utilize these exhibits in high-traffic areas or to accent larger, three-dimensional items. Do not fill a museum with them.
- Three-dimensional exhibits are typewriters, washing machines, furniture, mannequins, and so on. Some require protection, like a rope-line or a Plexiglas surround. Some
take up a lot of space like cars and appliances.
- Do not line a wall with identical cases. If unavoidable, place different-colored felt to set each case apart. Use visible signage and avoid long-winded descriptions.
- Where applicable, create an area where visitors can touch and interact with exhibits. Incorporate sound effects, audio recordings, and music.
- Operating Hours -
- Museums should be open as often as possible. Advertise with appropriate signage like a lightweight folding panel or other signage which requires minimal maintenance.
- Ensure partner organizations and the general public is aware of the museumís operating hours. If these change, announce it to the newspaper or other involved parties.
- Volunteers should be knowledgeable about the museum and the groupís activities and be able to point visitors in the right direction for whatever they are searching for
- The group should decide if it needs an executive director to manage day-to-day business. Look for those who are experienced at handing finances, detail-work, public
(retail) relations, and can interact with a broad spectrum of interests and individuals in the public, not just the stereotypical Ďeccentric, old museum curator.í
A Wish-List for Burleson
The ideas outlined above are taken from conversations with workers at -
- A historical society whose purpose is to preserve, promote, engage, and educate citizens about the History of Burleson
- A museum which provides genealogical and local history resources for researchers, schoolchildren, and the general public
- Partnerships with the City of Burleson, Burleson ISD, and Burleson Area Chamber of Commerce to provide educational opportunities to students and citizens and to promote
the town's history to tourists, teachers, business leaders, and civic organizations
- A marketing plan to bring businesses and residents to Burleson based in part on the town's cultural offerings
- A library of microfilm and microfiche records including census, marriage, birth, and death records, historical works (see partial list
here), and contact information for local historians, libraries, and museums
- Semi-regular workshops, cleanups, and festivals drawing attention to historical sites and figures
- Additional Texas State Historical Markers for each historic brick structure on Main and Ellison Street, an expanded marker for the Renfro-Clark Home, and various other
houses, buildings, and sites
- Outreach with the Boys Scouts, Rotary Club, Lion's Club, and other service and social organizations to beautify Downtown, the cemeteries, and historic sites
- East Texas Oil Museum, Kilgore
- McLean - Alanreed Area Museum, McLean
- Wharton County Historical Museum, Wharton
- Jefferson Historical Museum, Jefferson
- Lee County Museum, Giddings
- Red River Valley Museum, Vernon
- White Deer Land Museum, Pampa
- Buffalo Gap Historic Village, Buffalo Gap
- The Depot Museum, Henderson
- Mills County Historical Museum, Goldthwaite
- Collingsworth County Museum, Wellington
- Edgewood Heritage Park, Edgewood
- Corsicana Pioneer Village, Corsicana
- Roaring Ranger Oil Boom Museum, Ranger
- Medicine Mound Museum, Medicine Mound
- National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg
- Bosque Museum, Clifton
- Coryell Museum and Historical Center, Gatesville
- Bell County Museum, Belton
- Fannin County Museum, Bonham
- Lamar County Historical Society Museum, Paris
- Floyd County Museum, Floydada