Gather Information to Inform the Museum Budget

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

September 20, 2023

In this series thus far, we’ve explored how a museum budget communicates what is valued by the museum, how to evaluate the current budget components, and how the DEAI principles can be applied to help inform a more value-aligned budget.

Today’s post will review the data needed to help inform our budget creation, critiques, and questions. Even if you’re not directly involved with creating the annual budget for the museum, it’s important to understand why a museum budget is in its current form and proactively figure out how you want it to look in an evolved form. By actively participating in the financial operations of the museum we can positively impact (and better fund) critical programs and projects. This is an area that has a direct impact on everyone – including you!

Information to Gather

When creating, reviewing, critiquing, or asking questions of the budget, there are universally useful points of information to gather:

  • Mission statement (current)
  • Strategic plan (current)
  • A sample of past budget (within the last 5-10 years)
  • A sample of past “slush fund” allocation (within the last 3-5 years)
  • Fundraising efforts (grants, donations, memberships over the last 2-3 years)
  • Budgets of peer museums (current)

The Meaning Behind the Data

Here’s what each of these pieces of data have to contribute informationally:

Mission statement: public statement of what the museum values. 

Strategic plan: specifics on what the museum values and how it intends to get there (high-level programs or projects).

A sample of past budget: evidence of what the museum has valued in the past as indicated by how much money was allocated.

A sample of past “slush fund” allocation: additional evidence on what is funded when the museum has “extra” resources.

Fundraising: all fundraising efforts, amounts, and allocations will list known funding gaps and reveal where the gaps and museum values overlap.

Budgets of peer museums: provides alternative allocations to consider that can be paired with anecdotal knowledge on well the funding appears to match with the peer museum’s stated values.

Use the Data to Inform the Museum Budget

Regardless of whether you actually create the museum budget or not, performing the exercise provides a profound edification in what resources and restrictions exist for the museum. There may be several areas of value the museum wishes to invest in, but can’t fully do so in all areas. Do we fund all areas but only partially? Do we pick only a few to receive full funding? It’s not an easy equation and there are no truly right answers. However, the act of budgeting should still be approached intentionally.

Using Information to Create Your Version of the Museum Budget

Here’s how to begin the information-to-budget activity:

  1. List all values stated by the museum (via mission and strategic plan).
  2. For each stated value area list all the departments, programs, and projects that support that value area.
  3. How much money was received by each department, program, and project (listed in step #2) in the past? 
  4. Did the allocation meet the need? If not, how much more money is needed?
  5. Which value areas appear to be repeatedly underfunded unless external funding or slush funding is received? 
  6. How does peer museum allocation compare to your home institution? 
  7. How would you adjust the allocations based on stated museum values and available funds?
  8. Which departments, programs, or projects are left unfunded or underfunded. Which are optional and can be paused until more funded is received?


Now that we’ve explored the information needed to help review, critique, or inform a budget, and how to begin creating your own version of the budget, we’ll next dive into how you can influence the next museum budget.

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

To learn more, please join us for How to Create a Value-Informed Budget, presented by Rachael Woody on Wednesday, September 27, 2023 at 11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern. (Can’t make it? Register anyway and we will send you a link to the recording and slides afterwards). Register now or call 604-278-6717.

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