Tag Archives: Development director

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.

Talk to Me Like I’m 10: a Lesson in Long-Term Planning for Artistic Directors and Board Chairs

talk to me like I'm 10.jpg

Does long-term planning cause a rift between your artistic director and those other people?

Does it cause discord between your board chair and those other people?

Seen all the time among arts charities:  carefully (and successfully) executed annual development plans reduced to rubble after the board institutes a high-priced capital campaign.  The capital campaign sucks up all in its path, causing 5 years of stakeholder repair.  Indispensable Chair happy.  Staff leaves.

Artistic directors substituting their taste for vision and their personal and professional relationships for core values.  Idiosyncrasy obviates mission.  Indispensable AD happy.  Board leaves.

Both cases: company imperiled, stakeholders leaving.

Time to create an action plan, written at a 5th grade level.  Make it about impact rather than income.  Test the theory that your arts nonprofit is indispensable.  Make sure that your most important stakeholders don’t leave.

Nonprofit Arts Board Members, Executive Directors, and Staffs: Has Your Board Been Assimilated? Have You?

BORG-CUBE

Board membership for a nonprofit arts organization is a privilege. It requires commitment of time and money.  It requires the urge to change things for the better.

It’s not for self-aggrandizement.  It is not about being thanked endlessly.  It’s not about banquets, galas, and being fed.

It’s a job.

Group thinking can be inspirational, but “groupthink” can poison your organization’s health.  When your board only votes unanimously, for example, or the newly-approved mission is just reverse-engineered to current activities and reduced to pabulum, you may no longer have a board.  You may instead have a Borg.

Borg members wait for orders.  They don’t debate.  Resistance is futile.

The Borg is powerful.  Borg Presidents lead by autocracy.  Borg Queens (often founders) drive staff away by insisting the organization’s activities revolve around them. Borg Drones atrophy.

Board or Borg?

Nonprofit Arts Executives: After the Ask (for anything, actually), It’s Fast “Yes,” Slow “No”… Try a Slow “Yes” Instead

nofrog

If you don’t hear right away, it’s probably “no.”

That goes for asks, offers, hiring, and anything else you require.

And that goes for you, too, when your stakeholders ask, offer, hire, and anything else they may require.

Reflection is the predictable path toward rationalization to the “no.”  This is why the phrase “upon reflection” is almost always followed by a version of “we’ve decided not to change.”  After all, as a rule, it’s easier not to change than to take a risk.

Many arts charity executives preach the glory of “managed risk” (an oxymoron, of sorts) and value fiscal responsibility above social impact.  To be clear, social impact is central to the success of the mission; fiscal responsibility is a valuable business practice.

If “yes” leads to greater impact, then stop saying “no”… especially upon reflection.

Artists and Non-Offensiveness: The Tyranny of Over-Sensitivity, Feelings, and Participation Trophies

safespaces

There’s a troubling trend.  There’s an absurd unwillingness to offend that seems pervasive among arts creators.

Not that creators are creating “Pleasant Art,” per se.  Writers and artists are creating lots of work that is designed to make audiences uncomfortable.  Which is good.  The work may be about single issues and not terribly complex, but it’s good.

However, there are too many artists raised in atmospheres where everyone wins, even when they lose.  In the name of inclusion and self-esteem, they live in a world where, like toddlers, “feeling bad” is simply unacceptable.

They believe they’re special.

To these artists:

  1. You are not special.
  2. You do not deserve success.
  3. Sometimes you lose.

It’s what you do with that information that defines you.

If you believe that nobody should ever have hurt feelings, you’re not doing your job.

Leadership Issues: Flop Sweat, Board Meetings, and When You Lose the Room

nixon_2051821c.jpg

Inevitably, there are moments where analysis disconnects with sentiment.  You plan by yourself and generate work for your staff.  Your staff objects.  You have misread the room and caused great resentment.  They think you’re a nut.

You’re in a big job interview.  The interviewers say they want to “have a conversation,” but instead read from a pre-chosen list of questions.  You try to converse.  They bridle, citing “fairness.”

Your meetings with the board leave you rolling your eyes…and leave them rolling their eyes as well.  You think they don’t understand the problem.  They’re sure you don’t.

When you lead by pronouncement rather than by consensus; when you define interviews as interrogations; when you perceive meetings with superiors as continual performance evaluations – these are your issues, not theirs.  That anxious sweat on your neck is on you.

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.

Life on the Unraveling Nonprofit Arts Fringe: Why Hiring Experience and Guile Trumps Everything Else

Actor Hugh O’Brian is said to have coined “The 5 Stages of an Actor’s Career;”

  1. Who is Hugh O’Brian?
  2. Get me Hugh O’Brian.
  3. Get me a Hugh O’Brian type.
  4. Get me a young Hugh O’Brian.
  5. Who is Hugh O’Brian?

We’re in contact with hundreds of highly-experienced, resilient people who have made a career in the arts – and they’re having difficulties getting back into the field.

Some of it is ageism. Boards use headhunters to find smart young guns to lead departments or organizations — only to find that instead, they’ve hired brilliant 2-year placeholders with few people skills, entitlement issues, little flexibility, and quick parachutes.

Studies show those >50 stay longer than those under <40, are more productive, have better improvisational skills and flexibility, and are likelier to bring success.

Forget headhunters.  Do your own search.  Hire someone better than you.

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.

What Donors Want to Know About Your Arts Charity…and You (137 Words’ Greatest Hits)

Why do you do what you do?

Donors are not stupid. They already know WHAT you do. When you can make a compelling case WHY you do it, you’re on your way to a good relationship.

How is your process better?

Show why you provide great services.  Don’t cheap out on those services just to serve more people.  Persuade donors that you provide better value than they can.

Why you?

Why are you more deserving than somebody else doing a similar thing? With malice toward none, distinguish yourself through contrast and differentiation.

What do I get out of it?

Learn what drives your donor before you ask them for money. Know if they want tangible recognition before giving it to them, for example.  And thank them personally whenever possible (not via mail merge – in your own handwriting).

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.

A Mailing from Your Charity, or An Over-Solicitor’s Rare Christmas Miracle

Xmas Mail

T’was the month before year’s-end; the devo department

Was sending appeals to all homes and apartments.

The director was sweating like Richard M. Nixon

For fear that a failure would cause crucifixion.

The ED was clueless and screaming for money

And the board chair was gone, yachting to Bimini.

The donors were asked to contribute all year.

Each month — no each week! — it’s all they could hear.

“Give now” and “Give now” and “Give now” once again.

They were tapped just for money and not for their ken.

When all of a sudden there arouse such a ruckus

A donor had given fifteen thousand buck-us.

The annual giving director said “WHEE!

We’ll hit all our goals!  And they’ll promote me!”

The year-end was saved and Christmas was merry,

Now it’s time to mail the appeal for January.

Quantifiable Outcomes and Social Impact Applies to All Nonprofits – Including Arts Organizations

if-quantifiable-outcomes-arent-important-then-i-can-fire-my-whole-development-team-and-just-do-what-i-want-yay-me-7dc56

Oh, I can hear it now.

“See?” they’ll say.  “People don’t care about outcomes when they make donations.  The Washington Post said so.  Ergo: we don’t need outcomes.”

To come to that conclusion is just whistling past the graveyard.

Remember these hard facts:

  • The arts are not mentioned in section 501 (c) (3) of the US tax code (you know…the law). The arts fall under “charitable organizations,” which require a measure of public good.
  • Using the arts as a cover for an individual’s vanity vision is fine, as long as it’s a commercial venture. Once you pull the taxpaying public into it, ethics demand an outcome.
  • The arts can be transformative, both on a commercial and nonprofit level. What differentiates the nonprofit is that a measurement of positive change of the human condition is necessary to rationalize funding.

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.

Raising money is not Begging, It’s Sharing Joy with Someone Who Might Benefit from Joy in Their Lives

Valentines-Day-couple

If you’ve ever dined out at a remarkable restaurant with a significant other, you know how to raise money.

You’ve tasted the Cabernet, the risotto, the chocolate soufflé.  Inevitably (unless you’re an ass), you’ve offered a taste to your partner.  You’ve chosen to have less of the valuable thing you love, but the increased joy of your partner provides impact to an outcome that shows that “spending” that taste was worth the return.

It’s a somewhat simplistic metaphor, but it’s awfully close.  Joy in the works of nonprofit arts organizations is not an outcome, but the impact that leads to that joy is.  And when you are able to catalyze your impact into a persuasive story – with quantifiable outcomes – then you’re raising money.

But if your partner hates chocolate, there’s nothing you can do.  Remember that, too.

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.

Omnibus Festa, Omni Tempore: Raising Money to Spend on the People Who are Raising Money to Spend on the People Who are Raising Money to Spend on the People Who are Raising Money…, etc.

Eating_money_large“You scrimp and save and beg and borrow and where does half the money go?  Down the throats of the organizing committee.”  — Athene Seyler, “Make Mine Mink”

The 1980s and 1990s were the golden years of galas for arts charities.  Mostly because there were fewer of them.  But also because high percentages of the money actually went to the organization.

Today, putting on massive galas to feed donors – netting scant revenue to the charity but plenty of “goodwill,” “friend-raising” and resume padding – are often construed as elitist, inefficient modes of raising income.

One annual gala, or perhaps groups of organizations sharing a larger gala and splitting the receipts, might thin out the calendar and make them more financially effective.  Hundreds of hours of employee and trustee resources might well be better spent on relationship-building, not napkin swans..

Ethics: “You can’t just ask people to behave ethically just like that.” -Sepp Blatter, Friday, May 29, 2015

blatterOne foundation makes a grant for a pet project and then gets other foundations to commit money to that same project. And then decreases its gift by the amount the other foundations contribute.

One nonprofit arts organization that sent its executive on an expenses-paid vacation to Europe, paying for it with tax-deductible donations.

One executive director that increased the YOY marketing budget of the organization by 50% based not on history or data, but on “that’s how much we’re spending, so that’s how much we have to make.”

One board of directors that undertakes an emergency “going-out-of-business” desperation fundraising campaign, but after raising the money, changes nothing about the way it does business. And then does it again.

Hundreds of nonprofits having to deal with trust issues from nervous donors because of unethical behavior from a disgusting few.

I’m baaaaa-aaaaack — “He who’s down one day can be up the next, unless he really wants to stay in bed, that is…”

Fallon

For 8 months, I’ve been temporarily working in Detroit, mixing Cervantes (above) with Kerouac (below). Detroit was fascinating.

Where to go next is the issue.

I’ve studied nonprofit arts cultures across the country and (so far) settled on regions surrounding Seattle, Portland, Chicago, and Washington, DC.

The house and TK are in Seattle. TG is in Detroit. I’ll give you a great deal on the house, but not the others.

Criterion #1: When a region’s arts community is comprised of a whole bunch of discrete mission-based organizations – rather than everybody doing everything – then that region’s organizations succeed.  That’s for me.

Criterion #2:  When a region’s arts community is comprised of a precious few large arts organizations, those organizations are doomed to irrelevance.  Not for me.

But my mind wanders…

“What’s in store for me in the direction I don’t take?”

Careers in the Arts: It’s Pretty Ugly Out There

keep-calm-and-hire-for-innovation-not-fit

Paul Begala said, “Politics is show business for ugly people.”

The converse, that show business is politics for pretty people, is equally true.

Pretty (young) people enter nonprofit arts leadership believing that they should land a high-paying managing director’s job within 3 years. Ginormous student debt is predicated on that prospect.

Ugly (old) people, therefore, had better vamoose, and decrease the surplus population, to paraphrase C-Dick.

Pretty people panic at red ink. They leave. No experience or belief in failure.

Ugly people see an opportunity. They know when to duck and when to charge.

Consider for your next important hire:

  • When hiring for “fit,” by definition, you’re hiring to appease. Don’t expect much change.
  • When hiring for “innovation,” you’re hiring to anticipate obstacles. And only someone who has experienced obstacles (and carried on) knows how to do that.

Good and Bad in Charity Funding

Milk, Nicolas Cage’s acting; mugs saving trees or cups saving wash water; bottled water — good or bad?

Good:

Unrestricted funding.

Ice Buckets/Challenges (unless you’re Charity:Water. Then bad.)

Matching gifts.

Nihil Pro Quo.

Public funding.

Multi-year gifts.

Endowments that cover >20% of the organization’s annual budget.

In-kind gifts that are already in the budget.

Thousands of low-level donors.

Dozens of high-level donors.

100% of trustees/board members donate.

100% of trustees/board members donate one of the 3 highest gifts they give all year.

100% of employees want to at least donate $1.

Bad:

Funding restricted to programs unsupported by the mission.

Funding restricted to vanity projects.

Quid pro quo.

Corporations choosing charities via popularity contests/computer click-offs.

Large donations that overly entitle either donor or recipient.

Endowments that cover <20% of the organization’s annual budget.

Panicky, deleterious “Going-Out-Of-Business-Unless-We-Raise-Millions-By-Tuesday” funding schemes.

Arts Charity Leaders: The Economic Impact Argument Has Become a Losing Proposition…Move On

money message

From ArtsFund, Seattle:

“Together the activity of nonprofit arts organizations [in our region]…generates close to $2 billion in the Central Puget Sound’s economy creating 32,520 jobs, $882 million in labor income and $83 million in taxes.”

From Viking Stadium (new NFL stadium), Minneapolis:

“Construction will support approximately 13,000 jobs…almost $300 million in wages…upon completion, 3,400 full and part-time jobs…the economic activity from a new stadium will generate over $26 million per year in tax revenue and over $145 million in direct spending by Vikings fans inside the State of Minnesota.”

From McDonald’s:

“McDonald’s provides tax revenue for local, state and national governments…$1.3 billion in United States national and state corporate taxes in 2011…McDonald’s spends hundreds of millions upgrading or building new locations.”

Let’s move on to quantifying our outcomes before we bury ourselves with more “economic impact” studies.  It’s just not a winning argument for the arts.

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