Starting a museum. How we did it.

With all the resources out there, one would think that starting an organization would be so straight forward.There are no nitty-gritty-getting-hands-dirty Buzzfeed styled step-by-step instructions. It really is trial by error experience.

I’m no expert, nor do I have all the answers, but here is how I did it.

  1. Connect with people.
  • Friends and family. These may be the first people you begin sharing ideas with. My good friend Malia and I used to lay on living floor and dream up the entry way of the Hmong Museum. She was going to be an architecture and I was going to open a museum. And now we’re both elbow deep in the careers we dreamed of.
  • Directors of other non-profits in a similar industry. I cold-emailed groups and organizations and eventually connected with Lee Pao Xiong from the Center for Hmong Studies. He was gracious enough to meet with me and give me time to do a presentation of my vision. He also then connected me to other individuals what he thought would be interested.
  • Individuals who have the same interests. Lee Pao was a great start. I really didn’t have a connection to the Hmong community in Saint Paul, so I turned to Facebook. I started a group and invited every one of my friends. Friends of friends of friends started responding. There weren’t people lined up for blocks wanting to do this with me, but there were messages from about a dozen solid leads who sounded seemed really interested. (A few of them are now on the Board!)
  • Ask potential mentors (individuals in the field, industry, or leaders of your community) to coffee. Notice how I didn’t say lunch or dinner. If you were like me a freshly minted [insert passionate occupation], there isn’t a lot of green going around. The 30 minute conversations will help you vocalize your vision and make it feel more real. This step is very important. Without a relationship with people, it will be difficult to get them to jump on your cause. Before I did this, I was sitting in an empty room with markers, papers, and RSVPs but with 100% no-shows. The more people know who you are and what you are doing, the more likely they will to show up or support your cause.
  1. Have a vision and a rough plan. Not a perfect plan, just an idea of where you see yourself so that you can verbalize it.
  2. Keep a few cheerleaders around. Your family or friends are perfect for this. Especially when you’re not seeing the kinds of results you hope for.

    98% want to see a hmong museum
    Survey results were used on this postcard. The backside was a nice historic photo.
  3. Research, research, research. ORGANIZATIONS: What organizations are out there that similar to one you want to create? How is your organization going to be different? Where is the gap? Can you join another group? Starting with this will help you see what’s out there and how successful (or not) they really are and how you can fill in a gap that they are not meeting. Plus when you find them, you can ask them a million questions to help you with your rough plan. THE COMMUNITY: Research the community. Who are you going to serve? Do they even want what you are offering? I did a short survey and gave it to strangers at the Hmong Sports Tournament where I knew I would have a large group of people in the demographic that I wanted to target. Plus I created a similar survey on Survey Monkey to get more responses.
  4. Do the ask. Imagine yourself as a development officer. Someone who is going out there to ask virtually complete strangers to give you something. In this case, it is time. You are asking people to join your cause (probably voluntarily). Maybe you want to start a club, a board, or a committee. This is going to be the group that will create the structure of the organization through strategic planning, complete all the hoops to incorporate and get 501(c)3 status, develop and run programs. Basically starting the non-profit.

Now you can start. This is the point at which resources become useful: board development, fundraising workshops, non-profit management classes, Starting Right: A Basic Guide to Museum Planning just to name a few things that are out there. Below is a list of resources that I used to get started.

Minnesota Council of Nonprofits
Springboard for the Arts
Map for Nonprofits

Starting Right: A Basic Guide to Museum Planning
Running a Museum.pdf
American Association for State and Local History

Good luck!

2 thoughts on “Starting a museum. How we did it.

    1. Dear Txiabneeb, thank you. We have just started a mailing list where we can keep you updated on our progress so you will receive an e-blast in the next few weeks. We didn’t have anything to report until just this past month! Thanks for supporting! Mai

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