Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Digitization is still relatively new. . . . We are not yet able to take a long-term view of the life cycle of a digitization project, hardly even a medium-term view.

National Institute for a Networked Cultural Heritage 2002

Most cultural heritage institutions1 are mission-driven; their primary purpose is to support and promote the public good. It is in this way that they distinguish themselves from for-profit organizations, for which creating shareholder value, measured in terms of profit, is a primary goal. Whether for-profit or not, all organizations must find funding, both in the long term and short term, that meets or exceeds their operating costs. In the educational, governmental, or other nonprofit world, self-sustaining often means relying on an acceptable level of funding, with any excess revenue over expenses being used to support mission-related activities or to weather hard times. Nonprofit organizations generally do not stray from their missions in order to generate additional revenue streams. However, none of this exempts or isolates these organizations from many of the same strategic or operational issues faced by for-profit organizations -and the consequent need to find effective mechanisms for dealing with them. What is different-—very different—are the issues nonprofit institutions, and in particular, cultural heritage institutions, face in considering sustainable approaches to the management of their intellectual assets, both digital and physical.

The purpose of this document is to present a framework and resource guide to help cultural heritage institutions plan sustainable access to their digital cultural assets and to do so by means that link their missions to planning modes and models.

“Sustainability . . . refers to all the considerations that go into maintaining the institutional context for creation and maintenance of digital objects and resources, and supporting . . . long-term viability” (NINCH 2002, XI). This guide assumes that a successful business strategy will be consonant with an organization’s goals and mission, while also enabling the organization, through sound business practices, to flourish in the community it serves.

A business strategy is unique to an organization, sometimes unique in time, and always shaped by the cultural values of the stakeholders, constituencies, and communities the organization serves and by marketplace considerations. The definition of business strategy as “the determination of the basic long-term goals and objectives of an enterprise, and the adoption of courses of action and the allocation of resources necessary for carrying out these goals” (Chandler 1966, 16) applies especially well in the nonprofit environment.

The literature on business planning for nonprofit organizations is extensive, although not as abundant as is the literature in the for-profit business-planning environment. There is a significant body of work that refers to organizational development, management, fund raising, legal, and accounting and financial management issues for nonprofit organizations. There is also a large body of work that focuses on strategic planning specifically for nonprofit organizations.2 In addition, both the library and museum communities have developed materials to guide professionals in strategic planning, general management, marketing, legal issues, fund raising, and financial management. These materials, when used in combination with the general nonprofit management resources, provide a rich set of resources to assist the library, archive, historical society, and museum manager. This report is not intended to duplicate these resources. It does, however, challenge certain types of thinking and behavior often encountered in the nonprofit sector, such as

  • the assumption that nonprofit enterprises do not need to be concerned with sound business practice
  • the tendency to base business-related projections on wishful thinking, assumptions, or professional opinion rather than on studies of the market and the competition
  • the tendency to engage in strategic-planning processes that lack a business-planning component

Each cultural heritage organization should be mindful of developing business-planning activities within the context of its mission, goals, audiences, and public-good programs. Without such a plan, no cultural heritage institution can be sustainable, no matter how compelling its mission or treasured its collections.

To aid cultural heritage organizations in the business-planning process, this resource will

  • provide a framework to demonstrate the role of business planning in the context of organizational planning
  • introduce traditional business-planning elements in the context of their relevance to cultural heritage organizations and their digital asset management programs
  • discuss trends in business planning and efforts to sustain programs in digital asset management that are based on survey research
  • provide a template to help cultural heritage organizations launch a business-planning process that addresses specific elements contributing to the sustainability of both the digital asset initiative and the overall organization. This template is illustrated with examples drawn from interviews conducted during survey research.


1 In this document, the term cultural heritage institutions refers to libraries, museums, historical societies, and archives.

2 Any academic library supporting a business degree program or any public library with a business development collection will have some of these resources. As a starting place, use the Library of Congress subject headings, Nonprofit Organizations, Strategic Planning, Marketing, or Business Planning, or refer to some of the works listed at the end of this document.

Skip to content