Iowa History
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Iowa History

Preservation Takes Teamwork

The Johnson County Historic Preservation Commission, 2018.

If you serve on an historic preservation commission or the board of a museum, you know how hard it can be to get the whole board “on board” — to fully engage your fellow members and rally support from the community.

Laura Sadowsky, the State Historian for the State Historical Society of Iowa, travels statewide to help historic organizations thrive. And Paula Mohr has worked with all kinds of preservation commissions and nonprofit boards across the state in her capacity as the Certified Local Government coordinator for the State Historic Preservation Office. Together, Laura and Paula have seen what works — and what doesn’t — and have put together the following tips for those who’d like to make their boards more dynamic and effective.

The Spencer Historic Preservation Commission, 2018.

Invest in people and build partnerships. Do you have the right people on your board or serving on your commission? What skills can they offer and what might be missing? Allowing people to do what they love and what they are good at by aligning their interests and skills with specific goals spurs motivation and encourages personal investment. Also, if additional skills are needed, consider what potential partnerships you can build with others outside your organization.

Invest in education. Whether you are required to attend annual training as a part of the CLG program or simply want to become a better caretaker of local history, investing time in professional development and education increases the effectiveness of your organization and the potential to reach your goals.

One of the best ways to learn about preservation is through the Local History Network, a new program the State Historical Society of Iowa developed to share best practices among local historical societies, museums, libraries and other groups across the state.

Historic preservation commissions in Iowa have an annual training requirement that can be fulfilled through attending the annual Preserve Iowa Summit hosted in partnership with Preservation Iowa, preservation webinars and workshops, and other online training. Historical societies and museums can take advantage of many resources, including online classes with American Association of State and Local History, free webinars with Connecting to Collections, plus an array of conferences and workshops hosted by the Iowa Conservation and Preservation Consortium, Iowa Museum Association, and Silos and Smokestacks.

Keep the lines of communication open. Ensure all members of your commission or board are aware of developments and project details on a regular basis. This helps everyone to feel included and that their time and input is both needed and valued. Also, if you are working with outside partners, keep them in the loop when new developments arise. Reach out if there is a problem. The sooner you communicate issues, the sooner you can solve a problem and mitigate damage. Regular communication outside of the board or commission also increases your organization’s visibility.

Take the time to plan and then leap into action. What goals or milestones does your organization want to reach? Define projects and break them down into smaller, more easily achievable steps with a specific timeline. Divide responsibilities among members and be sure to coordinate efforts with external resources and opportunities, such as grant deadlines.

Always express gratitude. Say thanks often. Say it publicly, privately, loudly, and generously. Saying it with food always helps, too.

And don’t forget — always be sure your organization gets the credit it deserves.

The Oskaloosa Historic Preservation Commission, 2018.

Laura Sadowsky became the state historian and National Register coordinator for the State Historical Society of Iowa in 2017, after working at Living History Farmers, at Salisbury House & Gardens and independently as an architectural historian.

— Paula Mohr is an architectural historian and Certified Local Government coordinator for the State Historic Preservation Office of Iowa. She has held previous positions at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the White House, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Treasury, where she served as the curator from 1994 to 2000.




State Historical Society of Iowa. Preserving and providing access to Iowa History.

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