I’m always struck by how much our small museum would improve if we could only get a few little things for free. Like, for example, about 80 folding chairs. We don’t need them forever, just for one Friday night for a couple of hours. There’s got to be a few organizations around us with caches of folding chairs…yet we can’t seem to get a hold of any of them.
There are other things. Our copier is literally 13 years old. When the repair people come (and that’s often), they’re shocked the thing still works. “Works” may be an exaggeration. It overheats after about 5 copies and then the paper wrinkles and gets jammed. It streaks. I know, copiers are expensive. But even if someone would donate some flier printing–just 400 copies or so, dammit!–boy, would that help us out.
Oh, and did I ever mention that we can’t get broadband Internet? Yeah, it’s a long story, but we physically can’t. Then again, what good would it do? We have a crappy computer that we’re afraid to turn off because it may never turn on again. Can someone get us some satellite?
Did I also mention that we don’t have air conditioning? Nope. It broke in the nineties, we didn’t have the money to fix it, and that’s about that. It’s great for the artifacts in the summer, as you can imagine.
There are other things. Do you know what port-o-potties cost? A ton. We need them for our events. Sometimes it’s our biggest expense.
These are the kinds of things I’m sure some organization or business would donate to us if we had the contacts. Somewhere out there is someone who could can either 1.) Just magically know everyone, be that “connected person” that marketers are always after who forms the hub of those theoretical social networks you see in Communication Studies textbook diagrams, make corporate gifts shower down upon us like monsoon rains, or 2.) Make those fabulous cold calls where they can charm the stranger on the other end and make them make some sort of tentative commitment, then follow up and actually close the deal.
Why can’t we get this magical person? Two reasons, and I have a strong suspicion they’re connected:
1.) We’re all-volunteer. These people are in heavy, heavy demand in today’s networked, service-oriented, information economy. Doing this sort of cold-call marketing requires some serious talent: You can’t just pick up a book called “How to be Social” and learn all you need to know–don’t think I haven’t tried. It’s a skill, like being a painter, a writer, or an engineer. It can be refined, but its skeleton is in the DNA. They know everyone’s desperate to recruit them. In a beggar’s economy, they can be choosers. They want to get paid–if they have a family or a mortgage, they HAVE to get paid. We understand, but we can’t hire you. If we could, we wouldn’t be desperate enough to need you.
2.) We have no connections. This is the paradox. To meet these well-connected marketing people, you usually have to be in their social networks. If we were in ANYBODY’S social network, we wouldn’t desperately need this well-connected person. It’s circular. And frustrating.
What’s even more frustrating is that these magical people often don’t realize just how little we actually need them to do for us, especially considering what they’re probably doing professionally e.g. for pay. Literally, we need you to know someone with chairs. We need you to call the printing company, be social, ask them about their kids, and get them to donate a few free fliers to us. Another characteristic of these magical people is that they often don’t understand why others can’t do what they do.
Well, guess what? I can’t. I spend all day labeling stone, for god’s sake, I can’t actually talk to people. Museum people aren’t always your most social group. I’m most tempted to muddy those waters (yet again) when, like today, I watch more money leave my pocket at the drugstore to buy curatorial supplies that someone besides me should really be donating. I don’t know how to do it. Yes, we’re that dumb.
I’m convinced that every thriving small museum has one of these magical people. If you don’t, you should make an immediate effort to find one. If you do find one, buy them chocolate. If you can’t afford chocolate, find a way to chain them up in your basement with a phone and the numbers of some local businesses. Do what you have to, but whatever you do, make sure to keep them around.