Tag Archives: outcomes

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.

Nonprofit Arts Strategic Plan Consulting: What You Say and What They Hear

money

Consultant:  A strategic plan should generally include the following sections:  mission statement; outline of goals, objectives, and activities; assessment of current resources; and strategic analysis.

  1. All nonprofits are mission-driven; take care to define your mission clearly.
  2. Having activities or programs clearly defined will help your nonprofit communicate with the public.  Remember that activities and programs flow from your mission.
  3. Assess all of your resources — including money, people, expertise, skills, and other intangibles.
  4. “Strategies” are practical ideas about how to make the best use of your resources to achieve your goals.

Them:  Blah-blah-blah MONEY, blah-blah-blah GOALS.

Result:  A “strategic plan” proclaiming the need for more money with no action plan (except, of course, to raise money) and no justification (except, of course, to raise money).

In answer to your next questions:

  1. Way too often.
  2. They blame the consultant.

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?

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.

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?

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.

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

Playing Chicken – For Arts Charities, Not a Game for the Faint of Heart, Because, Well, It’s Impossible and Doesn’t Make a Compelling Case

I read an article recently called A Day Without Art. Stephanie Milling suggests scenarios in which the arts hypothetically disappear for a day. But hypothetical threats are terrible tools of advocacy.

We can’t not have art. Look at your coffee cup, even if it’s paper. It has form, function, and looky there, art on it.

Here’s the ant at this particular picnic:

If art is ubiquitous, does it have value?  Why pay for it?

Rather than forecasting the impossible – a day without art – could we better spend our energies measuring our specific organization’s specific outcomes and advocate by trumpeting those to the world?

No one responds well to this particular game of chicken.  It’s akin to the idea of eating your kids – it may solve the messy bathroom problem, but it’s neither realistic nor sustainable.

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