AAHC Forum: Informal Networks Can Be the Key to Your Success: Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Help

This post is a part of the AAHC Forum. In the coming months we will invite current and past grantees to contribute their project experiences via blog posts on our UpNext Blog and then ask you to respond through the AAHC Virtual Forum. We hope you will add your voice and share your needs and opinions so that AAHC can continue to help African American museums thrive. Please visit the AAHC forum to continue the conversation.

By Kathe Hambrick-Jackson
Founder and Executive Director, River Road African American Museum

Over the past 18 years, the River Road African American Museum has been impacted by a fire, two hurricanes, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, an economic downturn, and the relocation of our facility. During these challenges, we were awarded an IMLS Museum Grant for African American History and Culture to assist with staff development and capacity building. The museum hired a full-time museum curator and a full-time museum educator for the first time thanks to this grant.

As the founder and executive director of this small rural museum, I realized that there were several things that must be in place before taking on the responsibility of a staff development project.

Make sure that your organization can answer the following:

  1. Does your organization have an employee manual or handbook?
  2. Does your organization have the ability to manage the financial reporting guidelines required by this grant?
  3. Do you understand all EEOC guidelines?
  4. Do you have an employee evaluation process?
  5. Do you have a disaster plan that has been approved by your board?
  6. Are you prepared to recruit and compensate trained museum professionals who may not be from your local community?

These are a few of the challenges that we had to overcome before hiring the new full-time staff. Thanks to the relationships established with my colleagues at the Association of African American Museums, I was able to get advice from a wide range of professionals who were eager to help.

Kathe Hambrick Jackson and Lawrence Pijeaux at the White House Dec 2010

Kathe-Hambrick Jackson, President of AAAM, and Former President Lawrence Pijeaux at the White House. Photo Credit: Kathe Hambrick-Jackson, Dec 2010.

Establishing these informal networks of support can be crucial to your success. The River Road African American Museum is approaching its nineteenth anniversary in March 2013. We attribute our success to our many partnerships and collaborations with other museums from across the country. We should not hesitate to share our expertise with others, especially the young professionals coming into the museum field.

Other Lessons Learned from the IMLS Grant Experience

  • If your organization is small, there is nothing wrong with using contract services. This is the model that I had to remember from my corporate training before moving into the nonprofit sector.
  • Clearly assess whether you need a full-time employee before you hire for that position.
  • Don’t hesitate to use part-time staff where possible.
  • Ask to share resources with a state museum or another museum in your region.
  • Make sure that you have someone to manage the financial reporting responsibilities.
  • The IMLS staff is always available to answer questions; do not hesitate to ask for help.
Kathe Hambrick-Jackson is the founder and director of the River Road African American Museum. She is a recipient of the John S. Barton Award from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation for Excellence in Non Profit Management and the first recipient of the Louisiana Rural Tourism Success Award and the Foundation for Historical Louisiana Preservation Award. Hambrick-Jackson holds a Masters Degree in Museum Studies from Southern University New Orleans.
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One Response to AAHC Forum: Informal Networks Can Be the Key to Your Success: Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Help

  1. Beryl F. Hunter says:


    Thank you for sharing your professional wisdom of the lessons learned as founder and director of the River Roads African American Museum. The counsel of many advisors contributes to the wealth of knowledge useful for the preservation of our collective heritage. Congratulations on museum’s nineteenth year and continued success in expanding the presence of Louisiana and the mark of the legacies shared throughout the world.

    Beryl F. Hunter
    Elelyon Cultural Solutions