Tag Archives: greatness

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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Artists vs. Craftspeople – Nonprofit Arts Organizations Require the Former to Act as the Latter

hat

Artists produce work from their creative souls, nurtured by a series of cultural, environmental, and psychological motivations.  They create “a hat,” as Stephen Sondheim once wrote, “where there never was a hat.”  Talented artists create from their current state of mind, without boundary.

Craftspeople produce work to fill a need.  They possess a series of cultural, environmental, and psychological motivations which channel into art that produces a desired impact.  Craftspeople create hats because they’re the best answer to a question.

All craftspeople are artists at their core.  Many artists have no capacity to become craftspeople.

Nonprofit arts organizations require craftspeople.  If the organization is more important than any artist, and the mission is more important than the organization, then employees on the organizational chart need to be, by definition, craftspeople divining an impact, not artists divining inspiration.

Self-Absorbed Executive Search Firms: You’re Lovely, You’re Talented, You’re Dreamy. But Tact is Not Among Your Strengths.

patting-own-back

On behalf of all candidates, to executive search firms:

“Thank you so much for your 3 [hour-long] phone interviews.  I presented 8 tremendously qualified candidates to the client and unfortunately, you were not selected.  But your loss is [company’s] gain.  I’ll keep your info on file and contact you if something comes up.”

We may like you, but it’s not why we applied to that job you’re representing. Your client’s happiness with you means nothing to us.

One hour would have been plenty, not three.

A simple “no, thanks” is more palatable than “didn’t I do a good job?”

Please don’t insult us with passive-aggressive jibber-jabber – we know you’re not going to contact us unless we apply to another client of yours.

And please don’t tell us about other candidates.  If we’re not among them, we really don’t care.

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.

Happy Dependence Day – In the USA, the Arts Reflect Our Need for Each Other

wethepeople

The American Dream is built on dependence (Independence Day and elections notwithstanding).

The USA is Blanche DuBois and the “kindness of strangers.”  We’re Willy Loman.  We’re Fanfare for the Common Man. Revelations. Hamilton. Smoke Signals. Angels in America.  Our successes depend and are dependent on the joy, madness, and desires of others.

The monarchy doesn’t choose our art; we do.

American art depends not on individual brilliance, even though there are brilliant individuals.  Our best art provides impact.

Mavericks provide almost no impact. Collaborations do.

Patrons deign to “provide for.”  Supporters want to “identify with.”

True, there are Americans that call themselves mavericks and patrons.  Some folks prefer their terminology shrouded in cobwebs.

But for the rest of us, we know what we are.  Even better, we know why.  Our best arts nonprofits reflect “We, the People.”

Have Nonprofit Performing Arts Organizations Moved Beyond the Idea of Artistic Directors?

leader

Just read this article from an artistic director who wonders whether artistic directors should be their organization’s leader, whether the model is archaic.  Nonprofit performing arts organizations take note. The leader is the mission, not the AD.

Is your artistic director the custodian of your mission, passing that duty on to the next artistic director?  Or does the legacy of the organization reside in the legacy of the AD?  Is “artistic vision” really a thing, or is it theory?  Wouldn’t it make more sense for an executive director with an artistic sensibility to curate the company’s impact?

Maybe your leader ought to be the company’s leader, not merely the artistic leader.  With artistic personnel hired to support the mission (instead of supporting the artistic director), your institution will become far more flexible as tastes and impacts change.

Nonprofit Arts Organizations Without Flexibility Present a Disconnect When It Really Matters

Orlando

On September 12, 2001, we issued an internal memo at our nonprofit arts organization.  We proffered the notion that standing by our programming and “moving forward” was the best way to fight back.

We were wrong.  Putting on blinkers never helps.

On June 12, 2016, after one attack in Orlando and a foiled one in Santa Monica – key nonprofit arts organizations are right now readying memos rationalizing the same advice.

Move forward.  That’ll show ‘em.

At what tipping point do we scrap activities to reflect the damage inflicted on people?  Why must we wait for a year to see the first artistic responses?  Why not now?  Why worry about the production quality of said response?  As nonprofits, when do we sacrifice our comfort zone to provide leadership to our communities for some resolution?

Or should we just move forward?  Yet again?

Transformational Persuasion: Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Why It Matters – Especially When You’re Running an Arts Organization

ali

Muhammad Ali died last week.  A quote from a Zairian in “When We Were Kings.”

“George Foreman? We had heard he was a world champion.
We thought he was white, then we realized he was black, like Ali….
Ali said [about Foreman], you’re the out-of-towner here.”

Nonprofit leaders that manage organizations, programs, and people well can be quite successful.  But not transformational.  Transformational leaders effortlessly persuade with passion about the mission, not the statistics.  Their material requires no script, just practice to remove the “ums” and “uhs.”

Trump, for example, vigorously (and effortlessly) transforms experienced opponents into “out-of-towners.” Clinton relies on effective policy, experience, and “being right.”

Passion KOs policy every time.  Ask George Foreman.

Doesn’t your arts organization’s constituency deserve the most transformative experience you can offer?  Or do you settle for production excellence and competence?

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 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.

The Paradox of Simplicity: Success Begins with Better, Not More

einstein-counting-on-fingers

There’s a saying that every weapon that’s been invented has been used.  Or will be.

Similarly, every technological advance of the last 30 years has been used.  Or will be.

More avenues of communication. More personalized offers.  More database data.  More news.  More marketing.  More music.  More art.  More words.

Not “better.”  “More.”

This is not code for “I’m old and yearn for a simpler time.”  I’m not and I don’t.  What I yearn for is a better time.

Regardless of how many ways key information is dispersed, some folks just don’t consume it.  And that’s on you.

I should know.  You may be engaging with this post (and thank you), but others who could, don’t.  And that’s on me.

A blown basketball pass is the passer’s fault.   But a bad pass isn’t solved with throwing more basketballs.

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.

Arts Organizations: 137th Post, 137 Thanks, and 137 (of Other People’s) Words That Guide Inspiring Leaders

erasse2

“We must reject the idea — well-intentioned, but dead wrong – that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become “more like a business.” Most businesses…fall somewhere between mediocre and good.” (Collins)

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” (Thoreau)

“People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” (Sinek)

“When they say things like, we’re going to do this by the book, you have to ask, what book? Because it would make a big difference if it was Dostoevsky or, you know, ‘Ivanhoe.'” (Anderson)

“‘To be is to do.’ (Socrates)  ‘To do is to be.’ (Sartre)  ‘Do be do be do.’ (Sinatra)” [Vonnegut compilation]

Arts Boards: What to do When Your Arts Leader(s) No Longer Know the Difference Between Boredom and Discipline

Audience-clapping

Your theater produced a hit.  Tickets sold out for days.  Extended as far as you could.

Do it again next year?

No.  Your outward-facing mission execution is more important than the sales of any one play.  Gauge this particular play and its impact.  If it’s a fit (not just a hit), consider rescheduling the next production and run this play until its inevitable end.  Then close it forever.

If all your plays are mission-driven, every experience is predictable in its impact.  That’s called discipline, and it’s what makes arts organizations successful.

Too many artistic directors choose to produce vanity events instead.  That’s called boredom, and board chairs have to act on that kind of crisis in leadership.

Coke may make many products, but they still make Coke.  Remember what happened when they got bored with Coke’s taste?

How You Can Solve Diversity With Your Nonprofit Arts Organization!

race

You can’t.

Arts organizations challenge, reflect, and engage.  They don’t solve.

And remember, race is only one small bit of cultural diversity, not all of them.  Just as the opposite of love isn’t “hate,” but “indifference;” the opposite of diverse isn’t “white,” but “homogeneous.”

I read a political blog recently about the Democratic Party presidential race.  What troubled me were these words:

“What I’m crossing my fingers for is that in ten years or so we’ll get… a young,
charismatic democratic socialist who runs for president. (Preferably this
candidate would be a woman or a non-white person or, ideally, both.)”

Isn’t that parenthetical statement just as intolerant as one where “not” had been inserted after “would?”

Diversity isn’t only about race or gender or any of myriad other categories.  It’s about power, shared equally, with specific impact.

Ils pétent plus haut que leur cul. Marketing Intellectual Pursuits to an Anti-Intellectual Public, Right-Cheer In These You-Nited States of Murrica

Shakespeare Marx

In the arts, we want to attract more people. Or do we just want more us?

We’re asked to produce vision, impact, and engagement.  We embrace entertainment, but only if it’s at a 120+ IQ level.  Even abject silliness on stage is only acceptable if it’s “smart.”

Case in point:  the brilliantly entertaining, best-people-in-the-world-to-hang-out-with, fucking funny Reduced Shakespeare Company.

When another company produces an RSC script, they almost apologize in their marketing:

RSC: “it’s not the length of your history that matters – it’s what you’ve done with it!”

Other: “Between the rampant nationalism and the recent election, we think it more vital than ever for us to show we’re capable of laughing at ourselves. It, too, is part of the healing.”

Populism in the arts is an open path to success.  Risk being fucking funny, not drolly meaningful.

Growth – Please retire the following phrase…

next level

The following phrase should be banished, at least in nonprofit arts organizations:  “Taking Our Organization to the Next Level.”  To be blunt, it’s an empty goal, often undefined and misleading, and let’s face it, profoundly stupid.

Consider asking the next person who uses it, “Why would you?”

Then ask, “Are you planning on changing the way you do business?”  Then ask for a definition of “next level.”  Then ask what has kept the organization from achieving that already.

Are they rationalizing a way to do what they’ve always done, only harder, and somehow experiencing growth?

Growth is usually defined as increased depth or breadth (rarely both).  Forcefully choose goals with great specificity.  Make your choice obvious; don’t aim for subtlety.

When troubled potential constituents notice no change, they will offer no path to growth.

Why would they?

Nonprofit Arts Leaders: 137 Powerful Verbs for your Mission or Programs – Instead of Hyperbolic or Aspirational Adjectives. (Boring Headline, Yes?)

Verb

Accelerate

Achieve

Acquire

Advance

Advise

Advocate

Align

Amplify

Analyze

Arbitrate

Assemble

Assess

Attain

Audit

Award

Boost

Build

Calculate

Campaign

Capitalize

Chart

Clarify

Coach

Complete

Compose

Conserve

Consolidate

Consult

Convert

Convey

Convince

Coordinate

Correspond

Counsel

Create

Cultivate

Customize

Decrease

Deduct

Define

Delegate

Deliver

Demonstrate

Design

Develop

Devise

Diagnose

Discover

Document

Earn

Educate

Enable

Enforce

Engineer

Enhance

Ensure

Establish

Evaluate

Examine

Exceed

Execute

Explore

Facilitate

Forecast

Forge

Formulate

Foster

Further

Gain

Generate

Guide

Identify

Illustrate

Implement

Improve

Incorporate

Influence

Inform

Initiate

Inspect

Inspire

Integrate

Interpret

Introduce

Investigate

Launch

Lift

Lobby

Maximize

Measure

Mentor

Merge

Mobilize

Modify

Monitor

Motivate

Navigate

Negotiate

Orchestrate

Organize

Overhaul

Partner

Persuade

Pioneer

Plan

Produce

Program

Promote

Qualify

Quantify

Reconcile

Recruit

Reduce

Refine

Replace

Resolve

Revamp

Review

Scrutinize

Shape

Simplify

Stimulate

Strengthen

Succeed

Supervise

Surpass

Survey

Sustain

Target

Teach

Track

Train

Transform

Unite

Update

Verify

Yield

Arts Organizations: What is Your Art? Is it “It?” Is it a Picture of “It?” A Report of “It?” None of the Above?

headline earthquake 240z

45 years ago today, February 9, an earthquake happened. I was shaken out of bed and looked out the window just in time to see a brick chimney fall on Dr. Prince’s new 240Z. That’s what happened to me.

We turned on the television to see films about the Van Norman Dam — in danger of bursting.  I saw that through a lens.

The next day’s LA Times had the front-page story, “DAY OF DISASTER — Quake Leaves 42 Dead, 1,000 Hurt; Periled Dam Forces 40,000 to Flee.” I read that report.

The racing results, as always, were in the sports section.  A square box on the front page said so.  Horse racing is a popular entertainment.  I didn’t care.

Is your art happening to your constituents?  Is it through a filter?  Is it second-hand? Or is it entertainment?  Only one is personally meaningful.

 

Market Collusion: For Nonprofit Theater Organizations, It’s a Discipline That Works

chocolates

Many nonprofit theater board members feel isolated.  They’re told (or they conclude) that the only company that matters is the one for which they’ve chosen to spend their money, time, and expertise.  Board members don’t have the time to discuss extra-organizational collaboration when the basement is flooded and the auditorium is only half-full and, oh yes, they have careers and families and other interests.

Collude. Your market is begging you to collude.  Don’t guess what your competition is up to; collude and be part of the regional success.

Get together with other board members regularly.  Require artistic directors to openly discuss their programming with each other.  Oblige your organization to differentiate.

Think shopping mall, not stand-alone.

Chamber of commerce, not pop-ups.

Constellations, not stars.

Healthy arts communities are like boxes of chocolates, not bunches of grapes.  Collude.

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.

Differentiating Between What’s Great About the Arts and What’s Great About YOUR Arts Organization

economic impact argument again eecard

You can look anywhere to discover what’s important about the arts.  Try here, here, here, here, and here for starters.

The key to “sustainability” (which, as previously written, is not “survival”) is proof that your particular arts charity is achieving specific community goals.

Each social service and social justice charity measures its results toward the execution of their mission.  Those results have a direct link to funding and community support.  Your arts charity, then, must find results that apply specifically to your organization.

Charitable results cannot be measured by paid attendance or positive economic impact.  Those are commercial results and byproducts — data used by sports teams to get cities to build them stadiums or by entertainment conglomerates to allow regions to let them build casinos.

So what makes your arts charity charitable?  Answer that and you’re 99% there.

Confusing the Messenger with the Message: Artistic Direction Fulfills the Arts Organization (Not Vice-Versa)

chefs

Being a great director has little to do with being a great artistic director.

Directors direct projects.  Artistic directors use a collection of projects to fulfill a mission that serves a community.  These are completely separate skills.

ADs who direct some projects for their own company risk treating those projects as precious.  Too often, they break rules for their project (organizational mission, budget, marketing, etc.) that they would never allow an “outside” director to break.

And in too many cases, when the identity of a nonprofit arts organization is too closely entangled with the vision of an artistic director, the organization’s brand is that much more difficult to recuperate when inevitable leadership change occurs.

After all, succession is not merely an artistic director handpicking a successor, is it?  A company is greater than any individual leader, right?

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