It’s easy to allow significant decisions to weigh us down. One museum leader I spoke with described it as decision paralysis. He said, “I sit at my desk and think through things for hours, but don’t feel like I make any progress. It just consumes me.” Decision paralysis saps both our energy and our ability to come up with the best possible solutions. It’s the old ‘can’t see the forest through the trees’ thing. There are no easy answers, but in today’s article, I’m going to discuss an easy to implement way to gain some valuable perspectives and peace of mind.

Museums and other nonprofits have asking rights that are not available to people in the for-profit sector for various reasons. In this scenario, I’m not talking the right to asking for money; I’m talking about asking for advice. Business leaders are often willing to help nonprofits even if they have no previous experience with the organization. People that feel the community has contributed to their success often also feel a responsibility to give back. This is especially true during this pandemic, as they know most nonprofits are struggling.

While most highly visible business leaders way too many requests for financial donations, they get significantly fewer requests for their advice. As these individuals usually possess expertise that can only come from decades of high-level business experience, their guidance is often more valuable than their money.

Here’s a simple project for getting in touch with community business leaders specifically to ask for advice.

  1. Make a list of the top 20-50 business leaders in your community.
  2. Give a copy of the list to your entire team and ask them if they have a connection with any of the people on the list.
  3. If a team member has a relationship, have that team member make the initial contact.
  4. If no one has a connection, have your director write a letter to each leader that should include the following elements:
    • Mention reason for the letter, for example, “In today’s tough times, our museum is dealing with difficult issues that require high-level business understanding.”
    • Specific Ask with timetable, for example, “I am writing to see if you would be willing to give me half an hour to ask your advice on a few specific business topics.”
    • Clarification of purpose, for example, “I will not ask you for a donation or any further involvement after this meeting, I simply want the benefit of your experience.”
  1. In some cases, it is beneficial to follow-up with a phone call to the business leader’s respective assistant, but I have found the need for this is predicated on the size of the city and the number of meetings you wish to have. If you don’t get the number of responses that you are happy with, consider this step.
  2. When you show up for a meeting, have 5 to 10 specific questions ready. This is not a ‘get to know you’ session; you want genuine advice on specific issues your museum is currently facing.

There are many benefits to doing this project. At a minimum, you will gain some valuable advice to inform your decision processes. In many cases, you end up with solutions you would never have thought possible. Even if some of the advice matches what you were already thinking about doing, the feedback from these experienced leaders will empower your decision.

Obviously, there are secondary benefits. You add influential local leaders to your Rolodex, and the business leaders and/or their organizations may become involved with the museum beyond the meeting. While it’s wonderful when this occurs, I always council organizations to consider any benefit beyond the wise counsel as a bonus. Your goal is to get genuine feedback from a highly qualified source.

Lastly, I know of one case in which individual ‘advice’ meetings similar to the outline above eventually turned into a three-person local informal museum ‘advisory’ group. The museum director asked three of the business leaders if he could email them from time to time and ask follow up questions. Two of the three business leaders have been serving in this informal ‘role’ for several years now. One of the organizations represented had their annual company holiday party at the museum last year.

Article by Frank Bennett, originally published at

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