Employee Classifications

Most museums use a combination of employees, volunteers, and interns to keep the museum running smoothly. The 2017 American Alliance of Museums Salary Survey shows an aggregate picture of the employment mix across museums, grouped by position and employment status (Table 2.5). The chart below pulls out some positions from the AAM survey that are relevant to a variety of museums.

TitleFull TimePart TimeVolunteerConsultantResponses
Deputy/Associate/Assistant Director for Programming93.1%4.1%2.8%14
Vice-President/Director of Development94.5%3.6%1.1%0.7%275
Director of Membership82.9%7.1%10.0%170
Director of Education90.4%8.1%1.5%480
Senior Curator91.7%3.9%2.8%1.7%180
Grants Manager79.3%12.2%5.5%3.0%164
Museum Store Manager75.9%16.0%7.5%0.7%294
Collections Manager82.9%11.5%5.3%0.3%375
Web Manager74.1%6.5%12.0%7.4%108
Functions Manager (Rentals/Special Events)90.9%6.7%0.6%1.8%165
Librarian Assistant53.7%31.3%14.9%67
Public Programs Manager/Outreach Coordinator81.6%13.6%3.4%1.4%294
Volunteer Coordinator66.2%22.8%10.5%0.5%219
Employee Status By Position (%)

As the revised chart suggests, senior leadership positions are mostly full-time, whereas manager and coordinator positions feature a mixture of full-time, part-time, and volunteer workers. Several positions with specialized skills –  technical, grant writing, and website development – have a noticeable consultant pool. This data can help your museum determine its staffing options for any given type of work. 

Although volunteers may be considered “staff,” the term “employee” denotes that the employer is withholding taxes on compensation, and employees may be full time, part time, or on a temporary short-term or seasonal contract. However, “consultants” are legally “independent contractors” whose compensation may not involve withholding of taxes. The National Council of Nonprofits highlights this distinction and another crucial one, between exempt and non-exempt work. Understanding the differences between these classifications allows your organization to make the best choices for fairly and legally compensating its workers.

In contrast, although the law requires certain benefits to be offered to employees working a certain number of hours per week, the US Department of Labor and Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not clearly define full-time or part-time employment, stating that these definitions are determined by the employer. In lieu of concrete guidelines, PayScale’s Definitions of Employee Classification is helpful for outlining standard hourly ranges for several employment types. 

Full Time 

Full-time employees are typically paid on a salary basis and work for a specified number of hours per week. In the US, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) doesn’t define a number of hours to be considered full-time. The IRS suggests an average of 30 hours per week whereas some states say 35 hours per week. Your institution must decide how many hours constitute a full-time status, keeping in mind labor standards, required benefits, lunch hours, and work flexibility. The institution must decide how many hours constitute a full-time status. However, the FLSA requires overtime for employees working more than 40 hours a week. Depending on the size of your organization, you may be required to provide benefits for your full-time employees.

Part Time 

Part-time employees are paid hourly and typically work less than 40 hours per week. These workers may be eligible for benefits, depending on your institution’s policy. The amount of weekly hours are determined through conversations between the museum and the employee. Your institution should consider which positions are best suited for part-time staff. Are there museum departments or projects that have a less demanding or regular schedule?


Temporary employees are generally hired on a short-term basis and can work either full-time and part-time, based on the museum’s requirements. These temporary employees are often funded through grants, project-specific gifts/donations, capital fundraising, or possibly the museum’s operating budget. Always identify your financial resources to determine how many temporary hires you can bring on at a time. HR best practices suggest that short-term hires should have the appropriate contract to outline their responsibilities. 

You may wonder how temporary employment differs from internships and fellowships. The Internships & Fellowships page provides helpful definitions for internships and fellowship. Essentially, temporary employees and contract employees are hired on a short term basis for their skills and expertise. Internships and fellowships are skill-building and learning opportunities. See the comparison chart below that outlines several employment types. 

Chart taken from Pamela S. Schwart's "Making It Count: Professional Standards and Best Practices in Building Museum Internship Programs" which outlines the differences between interns, volunteers, part-time and full-time employees, and consultants.
Chart taken from Pamela S. Schwartz, Making It Count: Professional Standards and Best Practices in Building Museum Internship Programs (2012)


Seasonal employees are usually hired based on the museum’s needs. They are often paid hourly and support increased workload or seasonal activities. Some examples include museum interpreters for summer or winter festivities; staff for a recurring program series.


“Contract” positions are usually project based and have a finite, short term. The title is somewhat misleading as all short-term hires should have a signed contract agreement. It might be best to identify these project-based hires as “consultants,” since they lend their expertise to the museum on a short-term basis. Consultants have beginning and end dates that are clearly defined, and their position usually has a specific budget. Unlike other employment types, there should be a signed contract detailing the project expectations and contractor expectations around timelines, deliverables, budget, etc. Guest curators commonly fall into the contractor type. 

The pay for contract employees depends on the institution and position. Some institutions pay per task completed, whereas others receive a sum for all work related to the project. 

Developing Contract Agreements
These contract examples are related to “creative” hires, which can help your museum develop contracts for social media managers, program managers, and educators outside the typical curatorial or artist realm.

Contract work is appealing to museum professionals because of its short-term nature and flexibility. It is also a great way to diversify your project portfolio and enhance your experience. Below are several resources to help someone find contract opportunities, complete the appropriate paperwork, and determine what status they need for a project. 

This Working with Independent Museum Professionals manual (2021) is a helpful resource for museums and people seeking contract work. The handbook emphasizes ethical contracting practices and encourages institutions and professionals to adhere to fair market rates. 

This U.S. federal pricing tool can also help you determine the competitiveness of an institution’s rate or a professional’s proposed compensation. 


A vendor can be an individual or company that offers goods or services for a profit. They are separated here due to the transactional nature of the employment relationship. Some institutions use the term “vendor” to refer to their contract workers, so it is important for your museum to define these terms within your HR strategy. To develop contracts with your vendors, this example Vendor Agreement from the Huntsville Museum of Art can help your museum create external contracts with vendors such as catering, linen supply, events and entertainment services. See the Smithsonian’s Supplier Diversity Program to see how you can extend your institution’s commitment to inclusion with vendors and contractors