This blog post isn’t so much a sharing of a best practice, but a request for a discussion on best practices. At the Detroit Historical Society, we are blessed to have some very active and passionate auxiliary groups. We have five, to be exact, and most have been around for 30+ years.  They help us preserve and present different stories in Detroit history, and we are so happy that they put on amazing exhibits and programs both at our museums and in the community at large.

But here’s the thing: the “governance” structure is completely different for each group. One is connected to membership, one is the old-fashioned (and dwindling) “guild” model, one is a newly created “young professionals” networking group.  So, frankly, there is no “one fits all” management for these groups.  For the last many years, our staff liaison has been our public relations director, who has engaged several other staff members to support them.  Frankly, they have all been working overtime to give the groups support and get the work done.

The chair of the Detroit Historical Society’s Black Historic Sites Committee (BSHC) with Rev. Jesse Jackson at an event that BHSC helped organize the at the Detroit Historical Museum in February 2013.

Recently, I’ve been thinking that the disparity between these different groups, plus the ineffective way we support and manage them, is just not working.  And it turns out our development department was thinking the same thing.  We all got together – development, marketing, education and programs – to discuss what changes we need to incorporate to do two things:  1) better support and enable these groups to do their noble work in harmony with the Society’s strategic plan and goals, and 2) find a more efficient and productive way to manage them.

So, where are we at with this?  Well, we are early on in this process.  We are in the “information gathering” phase.  Our early findings suggest that art museums rock this type of volunteer group engagement.  Almost all the top art museums have wonderful affinity group programs that, ideally, work to raise money for acquisitions for art pieces.

I think history museums are different.  What we desire is small committees focused on clearly defined content/audiences – African American history, maritime history, young professionals, etc. – to help us develop programs to engage those core audiences.

So, my whole point of this process is to ask for help.  Do you work for a history museum that has volunteer affinity/auxiliary groups?  If so, please answer these questions in the comment section.  If you do, I promise to share the results in a future post.

  • What role do affinity groups play in your organization?
  • What is the primary function of these groups for your organization? Friend/fundraising? Program development?  Exhibition development?
  • Who in your organization is responsible for managing these groups?  Development?  Marketing?  Education?  And why?

As an educator, I see the potential of these groups to supplement our programming.  I want to find a structure where these groups can help our organization reach new audiences with events, tours, and other fun stuff.  Development wants to find a way to turn these folks into donors. Marketing sees it as a way to reach new audiences.  So, what are your thoughts on affinity groups, and the best way to manage them?