Modernizing the JMM: Behind the Scenes

Posted on October 14th, 2016 by

At the Jewish Museum of Maryland we are dedicated to preserving the past.  We have a great appreciation for classic artifacts.  But we are drawing the line on “antiques” when it comes to our electronic infrastructure.

Because we have grown steadily but slowly from our early days as the Jewish Historical Society, our business operations were patched together as needs arose (and budgets allowed). When we needed software to track memberships, we found one (actually, it was a module of the software we were already using to track our collections). When we wanted better software to track donations, we bought the best we could afford. When we wanted to be able to offer online ticketing, we found yet another third party software. We needed a way to process transactions at the front desk. We owned a cash register already. We made do.  As recently as a year ago, if a visitor wanted to buy their admission with a credit card, we had to send them into the Gift Shop to complete their transaction.

The net result of this patchwork process was that the Museum found itself in a situation where we had a host of solutions which all worked, but didn’t work together. When we wanted to learn more about a member or donor—so that we could make sure we were inviting them to engage in the most appropriate ways—we had to look them up in multiple places to get a full picture. In order to report on attendance data or fundraising progress or basic metrics like average revenue per visitor, JMM staff were spending a great deal of energy tabulating, calculating and second-guessing manual reports.

The new "daily sales screen"

The new “daily sales screen”

About a year ago, I began the search for a new Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system that would allow us to maintain a single “database of record.” My goal was to find a system would allow us to see an individual’s membership history, giving history, and event attendance all in the same place. I wanted to find a software that would allow us to create reports both at regular intervals and on the fly so that the management and the Board can make informed decisions about strategy and business operations.

I interviewed a number of systems. Some did a great job at tracking donations, but had weak front desk and ticketing solutions. Others were amazing ticketing solutions, but didn’t serve the membership needs. Still others did both fundraising and membership, but couldn’t help with some of our other revenue sources, such as facility rental and group sales. In the end, we found a product called Altru, produced by Blackbaud, the same company that built the CRM used by our colleagues at the Associated.

At the end of last month, Altru went live.

Altru does (almost) everything that we need, including:

– a robust system of membership tracking that will allow us to create a nuanced renewal process that provides members with opportunities to renew online;

– a comprehensive (if slightly slower) front desk operation that accommodates all of our various admissions fees, member discounts, special programs and tours;

– an e-commerce solution for tickets, memberships and gifts that integrates with our website, and for which Blackbaud maintains the security, ensuring that our customers are as safe as possible;

– a module for group sales that will allow us to track reservations, special requests, amounts owed, and even contracts;

– a point-of-sale solution for Esther’s Place that will allow members and other special categories to receive their discounts automatically (or to renew their memberships right there in the gift shop!); and

– the capability to export data in a very report-friendly way. This will allow us to overlay external data (e.g. weather or Ravens home games) with data on our admissions, membership or fundraising.

The daily events calendar

The daily events calendar

What’s more, because Altru is cloud-based, we are able to take it on the road to events where we might want to sell merchandise (e.g. the annual JCC Block Party or the upcoming Strathmore Shop Around where we’ll be selling merchandise from Esther’s Place). (Sadly, one thing it doesn’t do is online merchandise sales. We are investigating other options to allow you to browse and select Esther’s Place merchandise from home.)

We began the implementation back in May as members of a cohort of four museums and/or cultural institutions who were adopting the software at the same time. We started processing transactions through Altru in the second week of September. During those nearly five months, there were regular webinar calls and lots of homework for JMM staff. We needed to articulate our business rules and then configure the software to match those rules. The implementation required between five and fifteen staff hours per week, and we’re not done. We are still ironing out kinks, and discovering new scenarios we didn’t anticipate.

All of this time investment will pay off over the coming months and years as the JMM develops more and more (accurate) data about our extended family (members, donors, visitors).

As we continue to ferret out the bugs in the new system, we hope you’ll be patient with us—it will get so much better! If you have any questions about how Altru works, why we went with the solution we chose, or what it will allow us to do, please feel free to reach out to me about it.

Front desk volunteer Betsey Kahn poses with the new touch screen system!

Front desk volunteer Betsey Kahn poses with the new touch screen system!

In the meantime, I hope I’ll see you at the new touchscreen at our front desk!

A blog post by Associate Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

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Performance Counts: Ten Years of the Summer Teachers Institute

Posted on September 16th, 2016 by

If you ask the education department at the JMM, they will tell you that the end of the summer is officially over after the Summer Teachers Institute (STI) takes place in early August.  For the past 10 years, the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the Baltimore Jewish Council have partnered in planning this annual event. We just finished up another successful program, Holocaust Remembrance Through the Arts, the 10th Annual Summer Teachers Institute in early August.

A lot of planning goes into this program each year.  While initially conceived in 2006 as a two day program, our annual Summer Teachers Institute has expanded to encompass three full days. The planning staff from the JMM and BJC meets throughout the year to conceptualize and develop the program.  It takes quite a bit of phone calls and meetings to organize this event. This year the program took place at Beth El Congregation, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the JMM.

Summer Teachers Institute 2016

This year’s program with 43 people in attendance was one of our largest in recent years.  While we did engage repeat participants, the majority of registrants (29) were first time attendees. We appreciated having the opportunity to introduce the JMM to so many educators, many of whom indicated an interest in returning with their students.

The following is a breakdown of attendance:

19 public schools (14 Baltimore City, 3 Baltimore County, 1 Harford County, 1 Frederick County)

7 Catholic school

1 Independent school

3 college professors (Towson)

2 retired Baltimore City teachers

1 homeschool teacher

4 Jewish congregational school

2 students (1 college, 1 middle school who attended with her mother)

4 community leaders (including two JMM volunteers)

Total: 43 participants

The Summer Teacher’s Institute has been such an important education initiative and professional development opportunity for educators over the past 10 years and it is interesting to see just how this program has impacted teachers and the community over the past ten years.

Total Number of Teachers Participating in STI for the past 10 years – 429

Total Number of Presenters Participating in STI for the past 10 years – 86

Total Number of Teachers Teaching in Public School Programs over the span 10 years – 220

Total number of Teachers who Teach in Parochial Schools over the span of 10 years – 64 (50- archdiocese; 14-Jewish)

Total Number of non-k-12 educators who attended the program in the past 10 years – 145  (Including university professionals, agencies, funders, private schools, homeschools etc.)

Summer Teachers Institute 2010

A further breakdown of teachers by district:

Archdiocese – 50

Jewish Schools – 14

Baltimore City – 102

Baltimore County – 46
Harford County – 21

Howard County – 10

Frederick County – 8

Carroll County -15

Garrett County -1

Cecil – 2

Prince Georges County 7

Montgomery – 2

Calvert County – 1

Anne Arundel County -5

Summer Teachers Institute 2006

A closer look over the past 10 years indicates that we have partnered with many agencies and organizations to ensure the success of this important program including:

Claims Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany


Robert H. & Ryda Levi Center for Community Relations

Center for Jewish Education

Jewish Community Center

Red Cross of Central Maryland

Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University 

Baltimore Hebrew Congregation  

Chizuk Amuno

Beth Tfiloh


Anti-Defamation League

Hillel at Goucher College

The Shoah Foundation

Beth El Congregation

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Maryland State Department of Education

Echoes & Reflections

The Jan Karski Foundation

We are especially grateful to our program sponsors, Judy and Jerry Macks and the Klein Sandler Family Fund for their sustained generosity and support of this important education initiative.Evaluation of the Summer Teacher’s Institute is crucial and every year we ask teachers for their feedback.Many teachers receive continuing education credits through MSDE through written reflections outlining how they will incorporate workshop content into their lessons. A review of these reflections provides a window for understanding its impact on participants in terms of increasing their confidence in teaching the Holocaust and other challenging topics as well as on their own personal growth. In the words of one participant:

“So many stories go untold. We have such a responsibility to share these stories, these people, with this generation. I am so grateful for the work done to restore these memories and tireless effort to prevent future genocide. I only hope my effort of partnership through education helps that cause.”

Summer Teachers Institute 2015

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Performance Counts: Intern Round Up 2016

Posted on August 12th, 2016 by

I’m so pleased to announce another successful summer of interns! The Museum welcomed ten new interns into our intense, ten-week internship program this year, spread across multiple Museum departments.

By the Numbers

10 interns from 10 different schools, half representing Maryland institutions like Salisbury University, Hood College, Johns Hopkins University, Towson University, and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. But we also had interns from Brown University, University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, University of Rochester and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.  This year the majority (8) of our interns grew up in Maryland!

Interns in DC

Interns in DC

Interns participated in a combined 3,500 hours of work and learning over the course of their internships.

33 Blog Posts – In addition to the 2 individual blog posts we ask each intern to write over the course of the summer, this year we introduced the “Intern Thoughts: A Weekly Response” series. Each week (with one extra to cover our Summer Teachers Institute) interns were presented with a prompt, readings, or a set of questions to consider and respond to. You can check out all the entries in this series HERE. And to see all entries by (and about) our interns on the blog, check out the “intern” tag!

Workshopping with Karen

Workshopping with Karen

Staff donated their time and expertise, along with a few outside professionals, to offer 10 professional workshops throughout the summer!

Object Handling with collections manager Joanna Church

Introduction to Exhibitions and Oral History Training with curator Karen Falk

Exhibit Evaluation with Marianna Adams of Audience Focus, Inc

Holocaust Memory Art Workshop training with artist Lori Shocket

Grant Proposal Writing with deputy director Deborah Cardin

Museum Management with executive director Marvin Pinkert

Visitor Services with visitor services coordinator Graham Humphrey

Project Management with associate director Tracie Guy-Decker

Resumes & Cover Letters with development & marketing manager Rachel Kassman and Joanna Church

20 hours of museum shop inventory – The assistance of our summer interns meant we were able to complete this humble but incredibly important job in only a week!

Enjoying Flag Day festivities

Enjoying Flag Day festivities

Interns were able to participate in 4 fieldtrips over the course of the summer. On Flag Day they visited the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House & Museum – director Amanda Davis was kind enough to follow up their visit with a visit of her own to JMM, spending a brown-bag lunch with the interns and sharing the joys and challenges of her role at the Flag House. Interns were treated to an intimate tour of the Library of Congress, with a special stop at the Hebraic Collections reading room; they also got to meet the education staff of the Walters Art Museum and learn about their specialty “touch tours” for the visually impaired. Finally, interns were also able to visit the United States Holocaust Museum & Memorial during the Summer Teachers Institute.

A Quick Summary

Saralynn and Sheldon Glass Education Interns:
David Agronin, Anna Balfanz, Rachel Morin, Benjamin Snyder

This summer saw are largest class of education interns ever.  Education director Ilene Dackman-Alon and programs manager Trillion Attwood worked with four interns this summer. All four worked together to create audio tours of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, staff the front desk, research our newest living history character, Henrietta Szold, and organize the Summer Teachers Institute. The education interns were instrumental in working with four summer school classes from Baltimore City Public schools and facilitated education programs in connection with Voices of Lombard Street: A Century of Change in Baltimore; and Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews & Medicine in America.

Anna and Ben had the opportunity to work with students who have visual impairments from the National Foundation for the Blind- Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning Camp. Anna also planned a special Lloyd Street Synagogue Rosh Hashanah display, which we can’t wait for you to come see!

Rachel got to put her graphic designs skills to work and created a new interpretive brochure for the Lloyd Street Synagogue as well as fliers and even a program postcard for the Museum’s public events.

David, in addition to his education-related tasks, worked with executive director Marvin Pinkert on research for our upcoming exhibit American Alchemy, an exploration of the scrap and recycling industries.

Exploring Voices of Lombard Street

Exploring Voices of Lombard Street

Saul L. Ewing, LLC in Memory of Robert L. Weinberg Collections and Exhibitions Interns:

Gina Crosby, Emilia Halvorsen, Becky Miller, Tamara Schlossenberg, Alice Wynd

Curator Karen Falk oversaw three interns this year: Alice, Becky, and Emilia. These three young women worked on a variety of tasks related to Belonging, the new core exhibit JMM is developing. They surveyed the collections for objects, images and ephemera that will illustrate a range of stories about being Jewish in Maryland.

In preparation for a grant proposal to be completed this winter, they reviewed the academic literature on Jewish identity and Jewish community, and contributed to the exhibit team’s thinking on themes and narratives for the exhibition. Since the exhibit is expected to include an interactive game as a major element, Becky reviewed the literature on the use of games in museum exhibitions. Emilia researched core exhibitions in other identity museums, in both America and abroad. All three interns worked on evaluating visitor response to the Beyond Chicken Soup exhibition, and all three also did some very valuable oral history transcription. When the summer began, Karen didn’t think they would even be able to complete a review of the collection, much less contribute to the museum in so many other ways – she is truly impressed!

Collections manager Joanna Chuch supervised two interns this year: Gina and Tamara. Together these interns assisted with turning the pages of the National Library of Israel manuscripts in Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America. They also worked together on processing a large collection of blueprints.

Tamara has continued the semi-annual collections inventory begun last summer, including a thorough inventory and cataloging effort of 32 large flat file drawers, and inventories of both Voices of Lombard Street and Synagogue Speaks. She also created a finding aid for our large archaeological collections, both the material culture and the related paperwork, with details on the dates, locations, and work done – making this material much easier to use.  She has also assisted with a few research requests and donation offers.

Gina has done intensive research into our oral history and memoir collections looking for information and stories relevant to next year’s Just Married! exhibition; many of these oral histories had not been transcribed or digitized previously.  She has also worked with Joanna on formulating the overall narrative of the exhibit, and has attended meetings of the exhibit team as the planning process begins.

Visiting the Library of Congress

Visiting the Library of Congress

Jewish Museum of Maryland Digital Projects Intern: O. Cade Simon

This was an experimental internship I introduced this summer and Cade was a great candidate. He was flexible and game for whatever I wanted to try. Cade’s projects ranged from researching various geo-cached data applications to creating a stop-motion video to promote our upcoming Great Chicken Soup Cook-Off! Cade also photographed all the collages created during our Holocaust Remembrance workshops, so they can be turned into their final forms as “Holocaust Memory Reconstruction: A Sacred Culture Rebuilt,” which will be displayed as part of our Remembering Auschwitz: History, Holocaust, Humanity exhibition opening in March 2017.
This post is by Rachel Kassman, Development & Marketing Coordinator and JMM Intern Wrangler.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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