Feedback from AIM conference by the NWFED 20-21 June 2013

Steve Garland, Katy Archer and myself ( Chrissy Partheni ) attended the conference.  There was an excellent turn out ( 200 people ) and it was great to meet so many new people and catch up with old friends. The NWFED is keen to work closer with AIM and we are hoping that we can plan with them a future networking event.

In challenging times an entrepreneurial approach is vital to achieve ‘resilience’ – that was the message from AIM’s annual conference held in Manchester last week.  Reflected in AIM’s buoyant membership and its £930 million contribution to the economy it was clearly “the Age of the Independent”, said chairman Matthew Tanner in his keynote speech. Independents had shown through positivity and vibrancy that they would not be bowed by the economic downturn, and were constantly seeking new and creative ways to sustain themselves for the future.  Independents were “delivering great museums and great experiences”, he said, becoming stronger at a time when it was all too easy to be knocked back.  So it was not a question of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, but “Keep Calm and Bounce Back”. Sound financial management was imperative, he said, citing Mark Robinson’s Making Adaptive Resilience Real advice on Arts Council England’s (ACE) website.  “Don’t do what you can’t afford to do, do what you can’t afford not to”. 

Bill Ferris, Chief Executive of Chatham Historic Dockyards Trust and Vice President of AIM gave an excellent presentation on the business model for success. This is how to get it right: be focused, know why you aim to make money, keep your vision on education and preservation strong, lead the team and let them develop,, people do business with people, enterneurship is a state of mind and is all about recognising oppportunities.  Other tips included : know why you do events, what type of events and how much do they cost you, plan carefully, select the ones you are going to carry on doing, invest to improve and finally never stand still.

Helen Field from The Fusiliers Museum talked with honesty about the challenges of creating a vision and a plan for your museum and how her previous commercial experience at Magna Science Centre helped her transform the service. Some of the steps she took included: clarifying the responsibilities and roles of staff, researching the audiences, encouraging new and repeated visits,  revisiting pricing structures, introducing corporate events and hiring, charging for family history research, and working in collaboration with local attractions for marketing campaigns.

Phil Gibby from the Arts Council defined resilience in terms of place, ideas and partnerships. He summed up the current challenges for museums and heritage centres as the following: what is the potential of your museum to build a new community/hub , how do you convert this to money without compromising your core values? The Arts Council has a role in linking up  museums with other sectors; they may not have a lot of money but they has a lot of genuine will.

Fiona Talbot from the HLF emphasised that the HLF is currently more willing to take risks as well as being keen to see organisations set themselves up in good financial basis. It was interesting to hear that the Digital Innovation fund has only received a handful of applications so one to look out for. They are also launching a fund for Collecting Cultures in December.

Michael Norton’ s presentation on crowdfunding was extremely interesting. He summed up the principles of crowdfunding as putting the fun into fundraising. It is less about giving and more about engaging a crowd and creating benefits in return. Benefits do not have to cost you lots of money but they have to be interesting:  they can be all about unique experiences or about promoting ethical products and responsibilities. His experience has also been that people tend to give more if you are borrowing the money. For many people being an ethical investor with a social responsibility is a particularly appealing offer. Crowdfunding is for you if you are a social venture, and if you are looking to mobilise supporters in an interesting and democratic way. Michael is keen to offer advice to anyone who may be interested michael@buzzwork.org, www.buzzbnk.org

Particularly useful were also the presentations by Elaine Bentley ( Pallant House Gallery) on Legacy Giving and advice on how best to go about it. Reena Chityal ( London Transport Museum ) talked about the importance of planning carefully for e-commerce, accepting that there are no quick wins, investing for a return, creating an intuitive journey for your customer, keeping your offer unique, and refreshing your content.

I also found the workshop by Chris Brown particularly useful and it was great to get ideas of how to make cafes fun and appealing to different customers. Visit Chris Brown’s blog  www.greatcafes.blogspot.com for inspiration.

The examples of Cogges by Judy Niner and of the transformation of the Arnos Vale Cemetery  by Juliette Randall were  also inspirational.

AIM plans to produce full reports of the presentations it its August bulletin. To register visit http://www.aim-museums.co.uk/content/annual_conference/

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