Tag Archives: audience

Successful Nonprofit Arts Organizations, Like Successful Buildings, Depend on Successful Hierarchies

Gaudi

Level One:

Bricklayers.  Carpenters.  Stagehands.  Electricians.  Actors.  Musicians.  Painters.  Singers.  Writers.

Easy to find hacks.  Difficult to find experts.  Project-based.

 

Level Two:

Foremen.  Department heads.  Designers.  Curators.  Musical directors.

Small universe of successful ones.  More skills required.  Still project-based.  Work toward a larger goal than Level One, namely a finished piece.  Excellent collaboration skills.

 

Level Three:

Contractors.  Directors.

Smaller universe still.  Hire and manage Level One and Two (no requirement to perform at their skill level).  Work toward a slightly larger picture, although still project based.

 

Level Four:

Architects.  Executive/Artistic/General/Producing Directors.

Scarce universe of specialists.  Determine “what.”  Hire Level Three – several Level Threes, in fact.  Understand projects, themes, and cohesion.

 

Level Five:

Owners.  Boards.

Tiny, zealous universe.  Hire Level Four.  Determine “how.” Has personal stake.

 

Level Six:

The Community.  The Mission.

Top of the hierarchy.  Determines “why.”

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Feedback from You (yes, you): 9 Words That Describe the Nonprofit Arts Issues That Are Placing You at the End of Your Rope

rope

This blog, as most are, is pretty much one-way.  I share experiences, advice, consultation, and observations; you read ’em.  I can discuss 1,000 issues that affect nonprofit arts organizations.

But that’s me.

What keeps you up at night?

What concrete issue (not just “there’s no funding for…”) is fraying your rope?  Or better, what issues are figuratively tying a noose around the end of your rope?

Here’s your assignment.  In 9 words (no more, no less), write that issue and send it to info@137words.com.  That’s it.  Beginning in August, we’ll periodically take each issue and I’ll give my take.  Then we’ll open up the discussion to everyone who reads 137 Words.  Let me know if you’d like your name in or if you’d like to be anonymous.  And if you’d like my help privately, let me know that, too.

Face-palms in the arts world: Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright; the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light

Head in Hands

Somewhere…

  • A managing director is face-palming because the budget draft is still a departmental wish list;
  • A marketing director is face-palming because the artistic director decided that he knew more about marketing than the marketing director;
  • A development director is face-palming because the board chair has fashioned a multi-million dollar “capital” campaign (actually, a “get-out-of-debt” campaign) with no feasibility study, no regard to the annual development campaign, and no accountability to anyone else;
  • An artistic director is face-palming because the plays she wants to do don’t jibe with the mission of the company;
  • A board member is face-palming because every meeting is about reporting, money, by-laws, and the gala;

And somewhere, performing arts audiences and constituents are collectively face-palming, hoping against hope that the arts folks in their region remember that for them, it’s about the art.

If You’re _____________, Then Your Nonprofit Arts Organization is Probably Unsustainable (with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy)

Single woman sitting lonely in an empty cinema or theatre

  • not paying your executive director because s/he is independently wealthy and actually donates 6 figures to the company;
  • working 70 hours/week every week and see nothing wrong with that;
  • hiring part-time employees and expecting them to work full-time free of charge;
  • of the belief that your employees are less important than your equipment or your building;
  • insisting that anyone besides your marketing director is the final word on your marketing;
  • keeping your artistic director away from donors because s/he doesn’t know how to interact with them;
  • in the mindset that any of your people are more important than any other of your people;
  • playing “Dialing for Dollars” to meet your payroll;
  • arguing that “keeping the base” is more important than expanding the audience, while…
  • thinking that you can do both;
  • sweating a little right now after reading this post.

Organizational Health Can Be Measured by the Number of Donors Who Don’t Have to Give to Your Arts Organization

sparse crowd

How many non-board (or non-ex-board) members give to your arts organization?

How many non-staff members?

How many non-parents (if you do activities that include children)?

How many people who don’t attend your gala or other special event?

How many people who refuse donor benefits?

In other words, how many people donate simply based on your mission, programming, and activities; or by trusting a stakeholder of your mission, programming, and activities without expectation of a return?

Count the households of donors who donated all on their own.  If the number is small, create a special campaign to draw them in, even if the donation is a simple $50.  And thank them – they’re giving for no reason at all, except for unconditional love.

Ultimately, the health of your organization is measured by the number of those who unconditionally support it.

Change Management and the Psychology of Surprise

bluefin-tuna-feeding

I’m continually surprised by surprise announcements.

Seattle does not tolerate surprise announcements well.  I’m not sure of a place where surprises go well, but in a city fomenting the crucible of passive-aggressive behavior (see this article for some fun), change without tortuous committee meetings is, well, gauche.

Recently, KUOW (Greater Seattle NPR news/talk licensed by the University of Washington) issued a surprising announcement that they’ve signed a deal to buy KPLU (Greater Seattle NPR news/jazz licensed by Pacific Lutheran University).  Evidently, Pacific Lutheran University’s broke.

FYI:  KUOW once purchased another non-commercial station, KXOT, to carry its KUOW2 programming.  That failed.

Listeners/Members hate the idea and said so at a meeting on November 23. KPLU kept soliciting memberships even after the deal was signed.

KUOW comes off as untrustworthy, KPLU as desperate.

Seattleites are pissed off.

Surprise!

Stay tuned.

The Christmas Arts Season is Almost Here: Time for Much Mooing and Missions Drifting Higher than the Plowed Snow Blocking your Driveway

cashcow

Once there was a theatre company that produced new plays.  However, during the holiday season, they produced “A Christmas Carol.”

Foundation leaders that supported this company asked one day, “Why do you produce ‘A Christmas Carol’ when it has nothing to do with your mission or the rest of your activities?”

“Because,” said a truthful board president, “it’s our ‘cash cow.’ And we need to milk it for all its worth to pay for everything else we do.”

“Oh,” said the foundation leaders.  “Does it?”

“Yes,” said the president.  “It’s a good thing, too.”

The leaders huddled together.

“That’s wonderful,” they said.  “It follows, then, that we can now fund companies whose mission aligns with ours.  With your ‘cash cow,’ you don’t need us.  Thank you!”

And then they cut funding to the theatre company to zero.

Don’t Be a Company with a Mission; Be a Mission with a Company

cart-before-the-horse

I’ve been reading a number of articles discussing arts charity marketing as a whole-company tool, not a ticket-sales tool.  Here’s one from TRG.

I was disappointed by Advancement Northwest’s Major Gifts Symposium keynote speakers’ idea of including donors within a charity’s mission.

I have been met with resistance from key artistic and production personnel who have been taught that “we do the art and everything else is a necessary evil.” (Actual quote.)

It’s just human nature for stakeholders to overvalue their contribution. Board members do it. Employees. Volunteers. Audience. Artists. Donors.

Here’s the thing: arts nonprofits that are created to solve a societal problem don’t have these issues.  These issues fester when the company is created prior to creating (and rationalizing) a mission.

Create your company as an answer and horses and carts will sort themselves out.

There’s Not An App for That

I want to donate to your theatre, not your CRM

There are an endless number of costly, effective CRM systems for the arts.  One costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and it’s superb at what it does.

One might say, “It had better be.”

Before that expensive, expansive piece of software, there were others.  Some great at some things, some at others.

Not one of these pieces of software ever raised a dime.  People do that.

Not one of these pieces of software ever performed, exhibited, or created a compelling artistic experience.  People do that.

Not one of these pieces of software ever governed, advocated, cajoled, or counseled. People do that.

Before CRMs that cost various ulnae, fibulae, and tibiae, there were inexpensive off-the-shelf database software solutions.

Before that, we did it all on paper.

Millions attended.  Millions still do.

And the best relationships are still person-to-person.

Stop Kibbitzing Your Nonprofit Arts Marketers — They’re the Experts at What They Do (And You’re Probably Not)

art of marketing

Jerry Yoshitomi wrote a brilliant article last October.  And in learning and unlearning of audience development skills, all too often marketing people are brutally disrespected by the other areas of the organization.  I’ve heard marketing departments referred to as “a necessary evil” dozens of times.

Compare the following sentences:


“Anyone can market your arts organization.”

“Anyone can market your arts organization SUCCESSFULLY.”

“Anyone can act, paint, sing, dance, sculpt, direct, and play the tuba.”

“Anyone can act, paint, sing, dance, sculpt, direct, and play the tuba SUCCESSFULLY.”


Don’t be caught in ancient thinking.  Just because all consumers react to marketing doesn’t make them good marketers.  Treat marketers as you would treat other artists, because that’s what they are.  They are the best interpreters of your product to the public.  Don’t stand between them and your organization’s success.

Leadership by Forcing Audiences to Follow: “This is How We’ve Always Done It” Didn’t Work in 1776 and It’s Not Working Now

RevWar_134 (475 x 315)

Overall, there are 28% fewer television viewers between 18 and 49 than there were 4 years ago.  The average television viewer is now 50.

They’re streaming and DVRing. “Appointment Television” is becoming increasingly obsolete, apart from the Super Bowl…so far.

Broadcasters are sweating bullets and taking golden parachutes.  It’s guerrilla consumer behavior and to them, it’s just not fair.

Just like the Colonial armies – they didn’t stand in neat, straight lines as the British did in the Revolutionary War.  They broke the rules of battle.  Not fair.

Just like younger people bolting from old-school arts organizations – those whose customs and rules work for the producer without working for the video streamer.  Not fair.

Predictable, season-oriented, excellently-produced but inadequately result-oriented programming has become today’s version of Artistic Redcoats.  Pretty, stubborn, old-fashioned, and easily destroyed by Artistic Neo-Colonials.

Guess who wins that battle?

“Here we go, Rembrandt, here we go!” – Fans (who cheer) or audiences (who hear)?

“HOLD THAT NOTE! HOLD THAT NOTE!”

“PUSH ‘EM BACK! PUSH ‘EM BACK! NOW STEP, TOUCH, JETÉ AND HOLD!”

“S-C-E-N-E, SCEE-EEENE, SCEE-EEENE!”

Years ago, I sat in the third-to-top row of an NFL stadium with an artistic director friend.  First game of the season. Even people behind us were screaming their heads off and waving their foam fingers.  And the experience was more personally meaningful to them than many arts experiences I’ve loved.

Sports fans no more control the action of a game than arts fans do a play or concert. But they’re encouraged to be blitheringly engaged. And all too often, arts fans are encouraged to sit back and relax. Or shut up and listen. Like a lecture at school.

We wondered, can arts organizations find ways to encourage blithering? Or are we too clubby for that?

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