Non-Profit "Business" - SO Irritating

I am SO mad at the people running (or rather, pretending to run) our local children’s science museum, I could just spit!

They don’t return phone calls or reply to emails. Just last week I learned that I’d won a $500 grant from a local arts agency to do a big mural there, in the lobby. I wrote that grant application myself, the museum President didn’t have to do a lick of work. The museum never replied to the award letter. The arts agency contacted ME and we made other arrangements; I’ll be painting it at an underserved school instead.

My friends and I worked our butts off over the summer and fall to help the place reopen, it had closed the previous winter. We hauled out the old, broken displays, dusty pillows, filthy stuffed animals. The museum’s President brought stuff back in and chided us for “altering the collection”.

I spent hours painting a huge mural of the solar system in the main exhibit hall. Even bought the paint myself. The museum’s Treasurer put his hand out to demand money when I helped myself to some snack crackers.

And lot of talented people volunteered during the reopening, including a local artist from my mom’s group who’s an excellent graphic designer. She re-did the entire website and redesigned the forms. In August. The results are stunning, about 1000% better than what they had. The museum’s President has never approved the new website. So the old one is still up. The information is incomplete and out-of-date, green text set against neon yellow.

Meanwhile, when we complained about lack of communication the President came up with a spiffy newsletter. It’s really jazzy. It’s all about him!

One of my friends is a former NASA engineer, she has amazing vision about making the place a really cool space museum. She and I spent hours writing up a detailed plan for exhibits and for management, for Customer Service and Member Services.

The President will have none of it; instead he’s filling the place with random items people happen to donate. It makes no sense, it’s a visual cacophony without a theme.

And worse, I’ve seen the people at the front desk, Board members, speaking snidely to the public. Even museum members, who happened to ask about the discount they’re promised.

My friends and I wouldn’t have bothered with any of this if it wasn’t for our kids - once we cleaned the exhibits up a bit (I washed the fire truck myself) and got rid of the clutter, the kids really had a blast playing there. Especially at first, when it was novel. We’re all moms - we’ll do anything for our kids.

So, yeah, the President’s self-aggrandizing newsletter makes mention of those great housewives and all the cleaning they’ve done.

I swear. I nearly quit over that one.

What finally sent me over the top was his whining over my misquoting the building rental fee to my kids’ school. The school wanted to do a mutual fund-raiser, charge families like $5/ea for a potluck dinner/come and play evening and split the proceeds. The President wanted $80 upfront, and complained that the $25 base price I quoted for 2 hrs of use (based on the only correspondence I’d seen on the subject) was going to cost him out-of-pocket to heat the building. Because it needed to be warm when they arrived, so that we could make a good impression.

Meanwhile I’m the one who’d been volunteering there during the day while moms and toddlers shivered, because that idiot didn’t turn on the heat and refused to tell me how to do so. He never was crazy about the building being used for preschool playdates because that wasn’t “science enough”.

I’ve gone from being a local cheerleader (people all over town ask me about my involvement there) to hoping the place fails. I tell everyone I left because of creative differences.

I’ll never understand how people can’t comprehend that a business is a business. What fuels it is customers, not vague ideals.

It’s no different from fine art or cheeseburgers – if you’re going to make money, you have to understand and meet your customers’ needs. Or find people whose needs you can meet. Or – better – do both.

And if you’re a non-profit, you’d sure as HELL better not piss off the volunteers.

Fix up your post a bit and send it to the local paper, and ask them to run it on the Op-Ed pages. Sometimes the only way to fix shit like this is to get the town itself involved.

Heh - that’s an amusing idea. I’ll chew on that a bit, thanks.

Why don’t you pit the Museum in the subject title instead of Non-profit business?

Because when I’d vent to my Mom about this, she always remarked that that’s how non-profits tend to run. So I meant to slant this towards that issue & ask if other people had had similar experiences. Only I got so worked up remembering how annoyed I am, I completely forgot.

Maybe if you’d been running this rant for profit, you’d have been more thoughtful about those little details…


Does the museum have a volunteer coordinator you can work with? As business director for a museum (no, not all non-profits are run that way but certainly some are), I work constantly with our excellent coordinator who trains, schedules, and advocates for about 1600 volunteers who put in better than 30,000 hours of work per year. We absolutely could not function without our volunteers, and someone in that organization needs to bring it sharply to the executive director’s attention. Considering the looming volunteer shortage we are all facing, non-profit arts and humanities organizations are all going to have huge issues even if they treat their people like kings.

You might want to organize a letter campaign to the Board chair. Document hours worked and the money value of those hours. Google around for some articles about the upcoming volunteer crisis and send them on. If the executive director gets the museum closed on his watch, the Board officers will be held accountable as well, so it is in their best interests to pull this guy in.

May not do any good - certainly there are likely to be severe Board issues with a marginal organization like this one. Sometimes the best thing that can happen is for the organization to go down in flames so the dead wood can be cleared out and the musume be reinvented.

Museum or mausoleum?

You need to get a bunch of disenchanted people together and meet with the Board. If that doesn’t work you need to put people up for election to the board and take the place over.

That’s kind of what happened the first time, Mrs. Cake - the place closed, with no notice. Sent a letter to the members citing “the community’s lack of interest in science and lack of funding support.” They were considering selling the building, but nobody offered them more than $1.50 so it never actually went on the market.

All the Board quit except for President D and two gals, one of whom I like but she’s already putting in 60 hrs/wk at her job, she has no time.

So D’s wife is a member of my mom’s group, and she asked us if we’d help re-open the place and several of us did. We started off all guns & glory at the first meeting, lots of talk about potential and possibilities…and as soon as we DID stuff, he got pissy.

Three Board members, 2 former volunteers and 8 new volunteers (mostly one other gal and me putting in the hours) and that’s it. No ED, no budget. Zero.

We scrambled and worked personal connections and got lucky with excellent press coverage, and were sort of in the process of building something, starting to foster some relationships - except the Board wouldn’t give us authority to run the place. Every decision needed to wait for the monthly Board meeting.

My email progress reports - ignored. My questions - ignored.

SO odd. How can they claim they want it to succeed when they won’t do the work of running the place?

And I was constantly stunned by the lack of respect, just simple courtesy. When I closed the register I noticed the running tally was getting up there, over $3k by October, so I asked the Treasurer if that was YTD or since the August re-opening. He looked aghast and stammered “That number doesn’t mean anything. Nothing at all.” Asshole, I wonder if he’s skimming. At least give us the satisfaction of seeing some financial success from our work.

I wish I knew how to hijack the thing. When three individuals own a non-profit corporation, what can anyone else do?

I looked into joining the Board myself, even though executive administration is NOT the task for me, but they made it clear I would be expected to assume personal financial liability. Not a chance.

That’s why I said I’m waiting for it to fail. Again.

I think their bias is that I’m not a Ph.D… Hell, I’m not even a scientist (though I am married to one). That’s not what they need to run the place on a daily basis - they need people with customer service skills.

They don’t get that. Not at all.

Someone is lying to you. Individuals do not ‘own’ not-for-profit institutions. If they are in fact tax-exempt, there are all kinds of rules to ensure accountability. If you have members, the members almost certainly have voting rights. Your board must be elected by someone. There must be an annual financial report.

It’s been a long time since I worked with a small NFP, so I am fuzzy on the details, but I will look around for some kind of online primer for you to reference.

And I’ve never heard of board membership criteria that involves putting your personal finances on the line. That’s gotta be bullshit.

Is this a 501©(3)? Something sounds fishy to me. They have certain reporting requirements, the board has certain fiduciary responsibility. The Board should not be responsible for running the museum at all.

It isn’t unusual for Board Members to be expected to contribute some sum of money, whether they donate it themselves or raise it in some other fashion. But personal financial liabilty? That is completely the opposite of a corporation in the first place.

Yup, I’m not surprised. Non-profits ain’t so pure and innocent. Like any business, the scum floats to the top as they build their own little empires. Big fish in small ponds. You upset the status quo don’t you know. No good deed goes unpunished!

Technically that’s correct – the board is supposed to be a policy making and oversight body, and they may have some role in personnel issues, particularly hiring or firing a CEO. Unfortunately, many CEOs manage to control their boards rather than vice versa, usually by spinning or otherwise controlling the formation that the board sees.

In small organizations, individual board members are sometimes volunteers or even staff within the organization. IIRC the CEO is often a board member as well (maybe I’m misremembering this).

Still looking for a primer. I found some IRS pages and a wiki page, none of which are organized very well for the purpose.

Well that’s what I always thought!

I don’t know how many active members they have currently, probably a couple hundred who’ve paid $50/family. The membership form doesn’t say anything about any of them owning a piece of it though.

And yeah, how can the Board run the museum?
They all have full-time jobs fercryinoutloud!

Actually the President came to that realization last month, he said he went to a training session for his job and was surprised to learn that the Board doesn’t actually DO operations. My irony meter pinned.

And re: Board members raising funds, hell’s bells, I DID that.
And was positioned to do more, until they ticked me off & I quit.

I’m not 100% sure what you’re trying to say, but membership on a board of directors absoltely does entail some level of personal financial exposure. If a board makes an incredibly bone-headed decision, the investors can sue the pants off of them. Many carry large insurance policies to protect them from such an event.

What is the name of the museum?

There are no investors in a not-for-profit.