NTA for Arts: Britannia Mine Museum

  • 15 full-time staff plus 8 seasonal or part-time
  • 19 board members
  • $1.7 Million annual budget

With a recent $14.7 million redevelopment project completed in 2010, the Britannia Mine Museum is undergoing tremendous growth. Established in 1971 to preserve the history of and educate the public about mining in British Columbia, the museum encourages visitors to explore their individual and societal connections to the past, present, and future regional mining industry.

The multi-phased redevelopment gave the museum a new visitor center, exhibit hall, and a restored a 20-story gravity-fed concentrator mill, used to process the valuable mineral from rock and one of the last remaining such mills in North America. Not surprisingly the changes have led to significant increases in museum visitors, from 30,000 in 2009 to 67,000 in 2012, and an estimated 75,000 in 2013.

“A lot of the systems we had were quite adequate for visitation levels three years ago, but not now,” said Kirstin Clausen, executive director. Figuring out what kinds of software the organization needed was a priority for Clausen when she participated in the NTEN Nonprofit Tech Academy, as was “building more robustness around managing donations and sponsorships.”

With those objectives, one of the most resonant sessions for Clausen focused on databases and the importance of identifying goals and understanding the data your organization needs to reach them. “That helped us realize we should stop putting a lot of energy and effort into finding the one magic bullet, that one perfectly integrated system at this point, because there really isn’t one,” she said.

With only about 6,000 database records, Clausen realized it was more important to focus on obtaining the right data in the right format than worrying about having to enter it two or three times, something she previously thought an integrated system would eliminate.

Clausen also began to see that maybe the museum could collect less demographic data and instead try to home in on data that addressed one of the organization’s most important questions: “Have we changed people’s minds about something that’s important to us? If not, we’re likely more exposed in terms of future funding and connectedness,” she said. “We have a nice database of donors, but we currently don’t have a strong sense of why they’re coming back, and we certainly don’t show them the love enough,” Clausen added.

In addition, much of the qualitative information about donors resides with Clausen herself, who has been with the museum and served as director for 12 years. “We need to have others in the organization, too, who understand the intelligence behind this group of relationships,” she said.

With such growth in visits, Clausen also has identified the need for a new admissions point of sale system. The current system, which connects six tills, was designed for retail operations and managing inventory, and therefore doesn’t supply reporting that is as useful as she and her team would like. But with an already stretched staff, “it’s easy to go back to the old ways of doing things. The system we have is paid for and working, so I’ve been holding off [selecting and implementing] something new. We’re not sure exactly how to do it yet, and it will become a big — and costly — project.”

Through the Nonprofit Tech Academy, Clausen feels better able to identify and prioritize technology needs. She also now discusses those needs with staff in new ways. “We used to rush for the sliced bread, to find the one solution. Now I’m more likely to bring the discussion back to, What is it we’re trying to solve here? It gets tiresome for staff to hear you can’t afford new software, but to say we’re putting off a purchase so we can explore the end goals further, that makes a lot of sense to everyone,” she said.

Staff have since backed away from several products they had been proposing, and the ones the museum has implemented have had better results.

The conversations Clausen has with the museum’s board of directors have changed as well. She now emphasizes the organization’s focus on a few key priorities at any given time as well as the virtues of patience. “So much of technology is about integration, changing the siloes, and finding ways to make it work across departments and disciplines. That takes patience; the solutions are not quick,” she said.

Today, Clausen is more confident in her abilities to bring appropriate technology to the museum. “I don’t have all the answers by any means, but I’m not so daunted by it.”

[This case study is part of a series documenting the challenges and successes of arts-related organizations learning to apply technology to achieving their mission. The Nonprofit Tech Academy is a 9-week course hosted by NTEN. This case study and this organization’s participation in the NTA were generously supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.]

Kim Roth