HR Strategies


Whether your institution is small, large, or somewhere in between, Human Resources (HR) are an essential part of your museum. Integrating HR into your museum operations will benefit the strategic direction of the institution by establishing clear guidelines and processes for running your organization and creating fair, equitable work environments for your employees. The American Alliance of Museums’s 2016 article “The Role of Human Resources in Museums” offers several topics where HR can be helpful. 

Depending on the size of your museum, HR responsibilities might be assigned to the executive director or a board committee or member. In larger institutions, there may be a designated HR staff person or department. This section provides some resources and strategies for HR best practices. 

Developing an HR Strategy

Institutions need to ensure they have enough human resources to achieve their goals. Developing a human resources strategy will ensure that your museum won’t be playing ‘catch-up’ to staff certain projects or plans.

The first step in developing an HR strategy is to determine your current resources and identify your needs. This requires you to assess the various positions and employment types that the museum currently has, and then to consider them against your strategic plan. 

Here are some questions to help you gather an accurate count:

  • How many current employees work for your organization? What are their positions? What are their tasks (and are all their tasks related to their position)?
  • What and how many positions are full-time?
  • What and how many positions are part-time?
  • What and how many positions are volunteer?
  • What and how many positions are internships?
  • How many volunteers? How many are active, and what kinds of roles do they fill?

These questions and steps will help you determine if the various functions in your institution are appropriately staffed. Looking at volunteer and internship positions will also help you determine how projects and responsibilities are assigned and distributed. Next, make an organizational chart to identify how all your positions relate to one another in the museum’s management structure.

Now that you have a clear headcount, you can start to determine whether your museum is appropriately staffed to accomplish your institutions’ goals. With your strategic plan, mission statement, and your organizational chart in hand, you should compare these numbers and work responsibilities to your mission and strategic goals. The strategic plan and mission statement help you align the HR strategy to the institution’s mission. The organizational chart allows you to assess whether your human resources are distributed appropriately across the institution. As you consider the projects and responsibilities, you want to ensure that your employees are adequately assigned to cover the various projects at your museum.

Several questions will help guide your thinking and observations:

  • Is your staff doing the work necessary to achieve your goals? How so and how not?
  • What skill sets do current staff bring to the organization?
    • It might be helpful to identify and attach these skills to the museum’s goals, projects, and strategies.
  • How long does it take to accomplish tasks, both large and small?
    • Is the current organizational structure leading to breakdowns in communication or bottlenecks in project management?
  • Can current positions be rescoped to better align with the institution’s priorities, mission, and strategic plan?
  • Would adding new positions help to address any gaps in responsibilities?
    • If your museum is unable to add new employees, it might help to revisit your mission and strategic plan to ensure that the work you want to do is achievable with the human resources you have.
Resources For Developing Job Descriptions

Succession Planning

According to the 2017 Leading with Intent Survey, only 27 percent of nonprofit organizations have a written succession plan! Succession Planning is a strategic process involving an HR representative or team that helps the museum plan for maintaining operations during employee or board transition. This process is done by evaluating your leadership’s valuable skills, identifying potential successors (within and outside the museum), and outlining professional development and training for successors to assume leadership responsibilities. The plan should be developed in tandem with the institution’s strategic plan and revisited annually to ensure succession steps are running smoothly.

Succession planning does not happen overnight. Most plans account for leadership changes years in advance. Other succession plans are best suited for unexpected transitions or rotating positions. Succession planning is a great opportunity for your museum to create sustainable, inclusive recruitment practices by outlining processes for generating a diverse pipeline of professionals. By connecting with diverse communities proactively, these candidates can learn about your organization and apply when an opportunity arises.

Smartsheet, a software service that offers tools for collaborative work management practices, has several free templates that can help your museum keep track of the succession plan processes. The long-term, non profit, and emergency plans might be most helpful. The Career Succession Plan template offers more detailed planning and tracking that you can use for your employees. 

Personnel Policy

The success of a museum or historic site largely depends on the people working there. Clearly defined roles, expectations, policies help institutions run smoothly and manage conflicts effectively. Personnel policies are a centralized resource for outlining these parameters and procedures.and These policy handbooks often cover topics and issues related to employment, compensation, performance management and evaluations, conflict-of-interests, termination, resolving grievances, and sexual harassment. Depending on the size of your institution and make up of your human resources, the personnel policy may complement or replace the employee handbook. 

The Nonprofit Leadership Center provides several key policies to include in your nonprofit HR plan and employee handbook. These four guidelines are essential for setting clear expectations and guidelines within your institution and offering transparent processes for processes and conflict management.


Compensation is a huge issue in the museum field. Some museum organizations are requiring salary transparency in order to advertise job descriptions on their websites. As you consider which positions are necessary for your institution, the resources below will help you develop comparable and fair compensations for your employees. These resources are helpful for hiring new employees or adjusting compensation for existing workers. 

The American Alliance of Museums has a detailed National Museum Salary Survey (2017). Using data from 1,000+ museums across the United States and Puerto Rico, the survey outlines current salary benchmarks that can help your institution set salaries. Cost of living indexes and living wage calculators can be used with national salary benchmarks to ensure your compensation includes local or regional economic factors. 

Check out these additional salary surveys for more comparisons across museums.


Social Security, Medicare, federal and state unemployment tax, workers’ compensation, and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protections are legally required benefits for paid workers only at nonprofit and for-profit organizations. 

There are several non-mandated employee benefits left to the discretion of the organization. Some of these offerings include paid vacation time, retirement contribution plans, work flexibility, and education/professional development assistance. According to the Affordable Care Act, organizations with 50+ employees are required to provide adequate healthcare coverage to at least 95% of its staff, or risk penalties. Smaller organizations are not required to meet the employer mandate. However, providing healthcare coverage may qualify your institution for the Small Business Healthcare Tax Credit

Regardless of government incentive programs, offering comprehensive benefits packages to your employees allows your institution to remain competitive in recruiting employees and retaining your workforce.