Museum Board as Consultants (What Outside Experts Bring)

On a recent AAM group chat site on LinkedIn, a posting presented a question about using board members instead of hired consultants. While this was mostly a discussion about making do in small museum environments, I read this with a bit of caution. I have seen board members successfully bring incredible expertise to institution. I have also seen projects stagnate, or worse, in obligating boards/volunteers to do “free” work that’s usually best for outside consultants.

I offered a voice to the conversation advocating for the benefits of using paid experts, and share the posting here. It helps articulate how a board can see consulting, and what it offers an institution that is hard to find on the inside.

1. Boards are largely governing bodies. Consultants are doers. Boards that replace the work of staff and consultants risk loosing objectivity and oversight.

2. Boards are volunteers. Consultants are deadline-oriented and are contractually obligated to deliver. Volunteers runout of time and energy long before a paid entity.

3. Consultants can bring outside perspective about an institution.

4.┬áConsultants can be fired or not retained. Failures of a board doing the work of paid professionals quickly leads to board fracturing and weakening. Ask yourself how important is it that a board remain strong when work is not going well. I’ll suggest that board strength is most important then and they should try to avoid being the root of institutional problems (which in spite of good intentions is more likely to happen when a board is self-obligated to do the work of outsiders).

5. Selecting consultants allows for a process to examine what an institution needs as well as best match the consultants to the work at hand. A board may have one person with skills in a particular area, maybe two. Your choices are limited and you never have the opportunity to go through process of hiring, which has institutional value – from crafting an rfp to making a final selection.

6. Boards risk thinking more highly of the skills of their members than the individuals really possess. If you consider your board member while looking at paid professionals you may well find that the board member is both not as skilled as believed or not as well matched to the work at hand. Without considering consultants you’ll never know.