In the non-profit and arts sector we use the term “capacity-building” a lot but we seldom stop to compare notes about what we mean by the term. To many non-profit staff and volunteers, it is all about the money and certainly more dollars builds our capacity. . . as long as those dollars are not wasted. But there are other considerations in capacity building that can help us do more with what we have and position us to grow.Continue reading
So you and/or your Board of Directors is planning a project that will involve the use of an outside consultant or consulting firm. We’ve all seen consulting projects that have been irrelevant and even terribly disruptive. We’ve also seen projects that have bootstrapped organizations to the next level or supplied one small key piece of the puzzle that allowed an organization to maximize existing resources.
How do you plan a consulting project and provide oversight to the workplan to get the most out of a time-limited relationship? It will be as good or as bad as your organization makes it!
Develop a project that is relevant to the organizational needs:
- successful consulting projects are driven by and responsive to the organizational strategic plan
- successful consulting projects are responsive to organizational strengths and needs.
- successful consulting projects have a draft plan in place before potential consultants are approached
- successful consulting projects are rarely driven by “friend of the board” consulting opportunities, to address shortterm needs due to staffing/funding shortfalls, nor projects proposed by the consultants themselves
Choosing the consultant. Find someone with strong relevancy to your organization’s needs.
- Talk to colleagues, funders, professional organizations
- Look at the past experience of the consultant for indications that they know your sector and how to work with organizations of your size, especially when sectoral knowledge is very key to the project.
- Be sure the skills and expertise of your consultant is a match for the specific focus of the project, e.g. “social media marketing” and not just “marketing” if they are charged with a social media marketing plan.
- Be sure that the consultant you are in conversation with is able to be as hands-on and present in the organization or as independent as your project needs them to be. Be frank with the consultant about what you need and don’t need.
- Discuss the draft plan with the consultant as well as the opportunities, strengths and limitations of your organization. Be receptive to suggestions that enhance your plan but wary of someone who wants to make huge changes to the plan. They may not be a fit for what the organization needs.
Assure everyone involved in the project is clear about lines of authority, responsibilities and reporting.
- In successful consulting projects there is organizational oversight. Who directs the consultant’s work? Who intervenes if a consultant’s work is not being done, goes off-course or is being disruptive of operations?
- Is there a staff member(s) assigned to assist the consultant? If so are those staff members aware of how they will be expected to assist? This needs to be spelled out, “You will be required to occasionally assist X by research and assembling information. This is not to take precedence over your regular work, should not involve more than 1-3 hours work per week.”
- In successful consulting projects, staff understand the scope of the project and how it integrates with their own work and what they might be asked to do to assist with the project
- Do staff know what information is permissible to share? Be thoughtful about privacy legislation and your own valuable contact lists.
- Do staff understand the likely outcomes of the project? “The information you give us on information flow and ‘who does what’ in your department will guide an HR reorganization that could change reporting structure and job descriptions”. Understanding the importance of the project will elicit buy-in.
Why consulting projects fail?
- Irrelevant projects: A marketing plan for an organization without the staff or finances to support the plan. A “think outside of the box” innovational strategy that is not sustainable due to known factors.
- Choosing the wrong consultant: You picked someone with a knowledge of foundations and government funders to plan and pioneer an individuals and corporate donor campaign.
- Absentee or “in your hair” consultants: lack of clarity about workplan and style leads to a consultant that no one can connect with, (“I’m sorry but I am in Abu Dhabi for 6 months and I need to get my cellphone unlocked before I can call you back”) or a consultant who is disruptive of daily work with a barrage of phone calls, emails and drop ins
- Lack of oversight: Consulting project takes on a life of its own due to lack of oversight. Results unlikely to reflect original goals and project either becomes irrelevant or disruptive. Results become hard to assess when it is unclear what the consultant actually did. Staff resent a consultant taking on roles that is in their job description.
- Lack of clarity about reporting structure/staff roles; Due to busyness and lack of information staff are uncooperative, stalling the project or the opposite, staff unduly priorize consulting project to the detriment of higher priority work. Consultant, unclear of how to get needed help, goes to anyone who answers the phone for help sometimes causing duplication and confusion. Consultant unclear of boundaries, contacts staff at home, via personal email etc. Staff who have no mechanism to refuse to put in extra hours for consultancy project ask for huge overtime payments or time in lieu due to work heaped on them by the consultant.
- Lack of clarity/process and ethical considerations in information sharing. Wary staff refuse to share information needed for the consultancy. Staff fail to priorize information sharing because they don’t know how it will be used. Staff who misunderstand Consultant’s scope share privileged information. Consultant offers the organization contact information that is not supposed to be shared. Our contact list is shared against our wishes and our contacts complain. Individuals added to our contact list complain about spam. We see a decline in funding results from known sources the following year and discover our list of funding contacts is being used by a competitor who has hired our former consultant.
- Strategic needs and long-term goals should drive the project, not shortterm opportunities or needs
- Select a consultant who matches the project, the organization and the work style of the team
- Provide clear oversight to the consultant and clear responsibilities/communication lines for the staff
- Get the necessary buy in from staff by sharing the project’s goals and likely outcomes
- Be thoughtful about information sharing making sure protections and permissions are clear
- Track the project regularly assuring reports are accurate
What is founder’s syndrome and why does it affect so many smaller arts and non-profit organizations?
Founder’s syndrome occurs when a founder of an organization is not able to transition leadership style as the organization matures and grows. The founder continues to operate in the same manner as he/she did in founding the organization, seeking to personally manage every aspect of a growing organization.
The strong entrepreneurial personality that developed a new organization may be unskilled at or unwilling to delegate. The tireless worker that was willing to pull all-nighters to get in last-minute grant applications may be unable to schedule work or effectively manage their time. The genius that came up with spontaneous project ideas may not be willing to work on long-range plans or within budget guidelines. All of the affects of founder’s syndrome results in limiting the growth and effectiveness of organizations and often creates toxic environments for workers, artists, clients.
We naturally see more of this in smaller organizations because it is such a strong factor in limiting growth. It is more prevalent in the non-profit sector because while for-profit organizations can be affected by founder’s syndrome, market forces exert limiting pressures on poor leadership. The for-profit company that cannot grow and change often fails while others are forced to change their ways or leadership to remain competitive. By contrast non-profits are less subject to market forces and may have difficulty discerning reasons for organizational stagnation or failures. Non-profits are governed by unpaid community volunteers who may feel unable to pass judgment on the workings of an organization that is outside their area of expertise and where evaluation may be more qualitative than quantitative. Volunteer Board Members customarily spend little or no time observing the day-to-day workings of the organization. They may also be friends of the Founder and so not impartial. They may have been convinced by the Founder that any inquiries about management is “meddling”. Staff and volunteers in the arts and non-profits tend to be very high-minded and mission-driven. This results sometimes in a willingness to tolerate a sick work environment in a mis-guided idea that it is “for the good of the cause”.
How does Founder’s Syndrome develop in organizations?
Founders alone cannot create an organization with Founder’s Syndrome. It takes a step-by-step, person by person tacit agreement to cede power to the Founder by Board Members who should be providing governance to the organization. It also requires funders, volunteers, staff, colleagues and other stakeholders to decide to continue to support the sick organization or to leave silently. Over the years it there may be numerous loud and clear signals that there is something terribly wrong in the organization but no effective action is taken to address the problem or to provide help to the Founder to assist them in developing a more effective leadership style before they stifle or bring ruin to the organization they founded.
What are the symptoms of founder’s syndrome?
1. There’s a “friends of the founder” Board of Directors. The founder has recruited the Board of Directors him or herself (normal in the initial stage of an organization) and the Board has never taken over authority for recruiting new members themselves based on the needs of the organization. Board members are vetted by the founder and Board Members that try to counter the Founder’s wishes are quickly ejected. The Board sees their role as supporting the work of the founder rather than stewardship of the organization’s Mission and sound governance of the organization’s work and resources.
2. Decision-making within the organization is all controlled by the founder. Staff either don’t know what’s going on or plans suddenly get de-railed by a decision of the founder. Ideas that come from elsewhere than the Founder don’t go very far. Staff become discouraged about offering innovative ideas, stop being pro-active and may even be afraid of the founder.
3. Organizational information such as newsletters and brochures contain a lot of information about the founder: personal letters from the founder to supporters, news of the founder’s awards, achievements, pet projects. Board members and staff seem oddly uninformed about the details of project plans, budgets, and any results or evaluation. Staff cannot articulate processes, statistics or evaluation methods.
4. The founder often talks about “my vision, my program, my goals” rather than “our goals”. When asked about rationale for methods it is not unusual to hear, “we have always done X” or “I believe it is best to do Y”. There is no process for new ideas and methods to be introduced.
5. There is a resistance to any changes that might create a real or perceived loss of control, e.g. a founder that is uncomfortable with technology will resist the implementation of a user-friendly website that a staff member might be able to create and manage because she/he will feel unable to control the content.
6. Information hording can occur because information is power. The more threatened a founder is by a staff member, the less likely the founder will be in sharing information with that staff member.
What are the options for an organization That Identifies having a Founder’s Syndrome problem?
1. If the Founder recognizes the problem, get them help through professional leadership counselling.
2. If the Founder does not recognize the problem you’ll need buy-in from more than one organizational level to effect change. Without support from Board, Staff, and Funders you will not be likely to succeed. Staff driven efforts alone result in Board backed firings that can ruin careers and even the health of staff members summarily dismissed for the efforts to alert the Board to the dysfunction. Board-driven change processes that lack staff and funder buy-in can result in funding cuts, and/or sabotage at the staff level and ultimately Board fatigue, resignations, replacements. Funder led calls for reform without organizational support can result in financial hits for the organization but no real change. The organization will find new funding partners or fail, but will be unlikely to effect real change to suit a funder unless there is recognition of a problem.
What are the implications for staff employed in an organization with Founder’s Syndrome?
1. Recognize that you are in a very challenging environment and you may not be able to effect change. Go easy on yourself.
2. Consider your options and prepare your exit strategy even before it’s necessary.
3. It is unwise to try to effect change in the organization unless there is a Board initiated effort for organizational change.
4. If you elect to stay in the organization focus on small goals or achievements within your area of responsibility with minimal opportunities for friction with the Founder.
5. If you choose to whistle-blow, be prepared for a very difficult time and possibly lasting career damage. It might be personally advantageous to simply resign.
6. Work within the non-profit sector to promote awareness of this problem and protections for workers.
for Classical Direction
a director training program with emphasis on classical text
Michael Langham – Artistic Director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, 1956·1967
“Michael Langham was a cherished mentor and leacher, the intellectual architect of the
Stratford Shakespeare Festival and a master of his art. His visionary approach to
Shakespeare laid the foundation for the Festival’s creative practice. The Michael
Langham Workshop for Classical Direction works to ensure that future generations of
artists have access to the same tools that Michael himself used to create rich and resonant
theatre; I am honoured that we can pass on his gifts to our country’s finest emerging
Des McAnuff, Artistic Director and Antoni Cimolino. General Director announce that the
Stratford Shakespeare Festival will continue to offer The Michael Langham Workshop
for Classical Direction in 20 12. The program is overseen by David Latham, Theatre
Training Consultant and Dean Gabourie, Assistant Artistic Director. The program’s
inaugural year was 2010. Participants in 201 1 were:
- Eric Benson (Halifax) -1st yr
- Sharon Bajer (Winnipeg) – 2nd yr
- Dian Marie Bridge (Toronto) – 2nd yr
- Heather Davies (London) – 1 st yr
- Alan Dilworth (Toronto) – 1 st yr
- Varrick Grimes (Stratford) _1 st yr
- Thomas Morgan Jones (Toronto) – 2nd yr
- Rachel Peake (Vancouver) – lst yr
- Andrew Shaver (Montreal) – 1st yr
- Ral.:hel Slaven (Brooklyn) – 2nd yr
- Lezlie Wade (Niagara-on-thc-Lake) – 2nd yr
This call for submissions is for theatre directors, from emerging to mid-stages of careerbuilding,
who have some experience working with the classics, but not at a theatre of the
complexity and scope of the Festival. Their primary task will be assistant directing.
The Festival ‘s playbill includes a broad range of work from classics, musicals, contemporary
Canadian, British and American plays. Participants will be matched to one of these works. The
2012 season begins in February and ends in October. Assistant directors are usually required for 8- 16 weeks within that timeframe. See the 2012 press release:http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/education/training.aspx?id=5767
Selected participants will be given the opportunity to choose 12 minutes of classical text
presented over two Directors’ Workshop Presentation evenings in the Studio Theatre in
October of 20 12. Resources include actors, rehearsal space, venue, costumes and set pieces from our warehouse, product ion support and formal feedback plus travel and an honorarium.
Participants will join in existing classes in text, voice, movement and other disciplines regularly
held by the Festival ‘s Theatre Training Department as well as specialized classes taught by the
Theatre Training Consultant, Festival coaches and invited instructors exploring specific text,
vocal and physical skills for use in the rehearsal process of a classical play.
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival is an institution rich in resources and hi story and this
program will include, as part of the networking component: tours, complimentary ti ckets to
shows, invitations to special events, access to archives and libraries, chats/dinners both formal
and informal with senior staff and guest directors.
Workshop participants will be paid a fee plus a travel and accommodation subsidy.
Please submit a resume, a letter of recommendation and a personal letter highlighting why
you would like to participate. Final matching of Assistant Directors to plays is entirely at the
discretion of the Festival creative team.
Please send your package by mail or email to:
Stratford Shakespeare Festival
Box 520, 55 Queen St
Stratford, ON Canada N5A 6V2
519-27 1-4040 ex 2290
Submissions must be postmarked or emailed by August 15,2011 but we appreciate
receiving your submission ASAP.
Final decisions for 2012 will be made no later than December of2011.
This program is partially funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage.
2. Contract of Services
Most difficulties that occur, happen when the type of contract is misunderstood or all aspects of the arrangement are not defined and signed off on by both parties.
If my arts organization is “self-presenting”, we are responsible for the artistic content, all the costs, raising the money for the project, marketing, and all the ticket revenues are ours. We may be presenting in a venue we own or we might be renting a venue. In a rental venue we might be subject to some house rules and we might have access to some inhouse marketing vehicles (a lobby lightbox or an e-newsletter). We need to sign a contract for the rental agreement but at no time should our self-presented concert be represented by the venue as a part of their series. If they wish to change the nature of the relationship to a co-presentation agreement, you should be looking for concessions on rent, etc.
Contract of services:
Your organization, company, church, or event is hiring the services of my arts organization. For example your church wishes my orchestra for an Easter concert. You can request specific repertoire if you are willing to pay the costs of the orchestra learning new repertoire or save money by taking our suggestions. You set the time of the concert, are responsible for all ticket sales, all revenue is yours if the event is ticketed. The orchestra is paid a flat fee that we have determined will cover our costs for the event. We will have to assure in our contract that we don’t incur extra costs. The things we will need to assure in the contract are: the repertoire, start and finish times for the concert, where the orchestra can warm up and securely leave their belongings during the performance, when the orchestra can take the stage, meal arrangements for the orchestra (if applicable) and orchestra name/logo recognition on advertising and materials.
My orchestra and your choir decides to co-present an Easter concert . We will have to determine:
1. Who determines the repertoire and who pays for the rental sheet music?
2. Who pays for the hall?
3. Who is going to pay for and supervise the marketing campaign and what sign-off will be needed by the other organization?
4. How will ticket sales be divided? What about series subscribers? Are their seats included? Where will they sit?
5. How are we each going to make money? Split the sales 50/50 or some other arrangement that is equitable balanced against the cost sharing arrangement?
6. Who is responsible for rehearsal costs?
7. What spaces will each organization use in the hall and for what periods of time?
Is it really necessary to spell these things out in a contract? In my experience it is, especially in the complex arrangements of Co-presentation agreements. I have seen the following problems occur in co-presentations that were uncontracted or with a very vaguely worded agreement:
1. Misunderstandings about the amount of tickets available for sale by each organization.
2. Unhappy subscribers who thought the concert was included in their subscription but no seats for them had been negotiated.
3. One partner representing the concert as though it was theirs alone. (no agreement on sign off on marketing)
4. One partner holding up marketing with lengthy tweaks and changes, jeopardizing sales. (no time-lines for approval of marketing).
5. Last minute demands for one organization to pay the rehearsal costs of the other organization. (not clear that each was responsible for their own costs).
6. One organization changing the repertoire and/or time of concert without consultation, confusing artists, public, and rendering promotional campaign invalid. (repertoire and time of concert was not spelled out in contract, nor that such would be by mutual agreement only)
7. And frequent disputes about smaller issues: sheet music rental costs, lobby sales, sponsor signage.
While it is hard to think of everything, I hope this gets any new arts manager asking the right questions about presentation contracts. If you spell out all the obvious issues and finish with a clause that suggests how any new issues will be handled, “at the discretion of X” or “by mutual agreement” you should minimize conflict.
The worst situations have occurred when the parties totally fail to understand the nature of the contract. I once inherited a rather vague co-presentation agreement with a choir. Not too far into the process of planning the concert I discovered that the choir thought the contract was a “contract of services”in relation to what money they expected from us (all their rehearsal costs and music costs covered) and was a “self-present” in terms of their marketing and ticket sales. They had put the concert on their subscription season (exhausting most of their share of the tickets with no additional revenue for them) and had gone on to sell more tickets, double-dipping their ticket share and cutting into our potential revenues. Basically they wanted it both ways, and that’s not how the world works.
If the fundamental nature of the agreement is clear, and the large issues are settled, it is not hard to negotiate solutions to smaller issues as they arise.
Kaiser says that the quality of art matters, be bold, be brave be revolutionary. Know your Mission and stay on Mission, and spend the money it takes to do it right and market it correctly. You cannot save your way to financial health. He says that the arts are remarkably efficiently run and do not have a spending problem, the arts instead have a revenue problem. Nor can arts organizations win by compromising the art by trying to vie with popular entertainment biz by watering down their season with pop and shlock. Any pickup at the box office will be equalled by loss of donations and funder support.
It makes me tired –as it did Jodi– to hear this touted as new advice. The question in my mind is, “why does arts management common-sense so often fail to be implemented?” And the answer, I believe, is that there is a flaw in a structure which gives governance of our cultural assets to mostly untrained groups of volunteers, with little or no oversight or accountability. I have seen Boards do amazing things from time to time–saving and revitalizing arts organizations. But too often competent arts managers stagger and fail under the weight of dysfunctional boards that– while perhaps composed of well-educated and competent individuals— cannot seem as a group to acquire the knowledge or retain the organizational memory to plan well for their organization’s success, or to carry good plans forward into future years of implementation.
If public funds were invested in building a bridge, and the bridge collapsed, people would ask questions, folks would be held accountable, fault would be found and those at fault would pay real costs. I wonder why we are prepared to invest dollars in arts organizations (and non-profits in general) and yet feel we don’t have the right to hold Boards accountable?
I agree. Arts organizations that depend upon their founding energy and original creative mission as the only continuing energy in their engine will eventually meet the law of entropy and run down, engine sputtering and eventually failing.
What makes for a resilient arts organization that can recover from challenges and find new momentum?
I think of organizations as having some similarities to mechanical engines. They are propelled by the forces of varying numbers of cylinders and work at peak performance when all cylinders are firing with equal force. They can limp along when one weakens, if the opposite/complimentary cylinder is strong. Certain configurations of failures cause the engine to seize up and fail dramatically, while others just cause slow oil leaks that take years to grind the engine to a halt. In no small part I am drawing my analogy from the classic, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” , a book that talks about how the attention to the small details of systems, ensure that the whole runs trouble-free.
What propels a healthy arts organization?
- Artistic Vision/Leadership–a compelling artistic vision from artist(s) that is at the centre of everything the organization does. The heart of the organization.
- A community that is connected to and responsive to the artistic vision, supporting it as audience, donors and through word of mouth
- A Board of Directors that is engaged through buy-in to the artistic and educational vision of the artistic leadership and provides the direction and resources to realize that vision.
- Management-volunteer or paid that reports to the Board of Directors and carried forward their strategic plan in partnership with artists and community board members
- Staff & volunteers as needed who are selected for the best fit with strategic goals within the living organism of your arts organization.
ARTISTIC LEADERSHIP: It all has to start with the Art.
Artistic Visioning is not something that gets done when the organization has some down time, or as a make-work project funded by OAC’s COMPASS program or Canada Council’s Flying Squad (as is too often the attitude in organizations already in trouble). If there isn’t an Artistic reason for your organization to exist, then quit, get out of the way, give up, fold, you are wasting the audience’s time and scarce resources. There are scores of artists and artists collectives out there filled with creative projects crying out for funding so, “I don’t know, we’ve been presenting concerts for 37 years so we are just trying to keep on doing what we’ve done for those years” just isn’t going to be a compelling battle cry for anyone. If you are parched with thirst for real art, go back to the well, consult with arts visionaries and re-connect with an inspiration to carry you forward again. If your artistic leadership is not inspiring your musicians, your actors, your company, then you have a problem. You are not going to solve that problem by band-aid solutions (programming committees, artistic guidelines, etc.) although those things might help in the short-term. You need to find out what the obstacles (if any) are to the artistic process, help the leader(s) re-charge their batteries, and be prepared to replace the vision or abandon the organization. There is no point to an arts organization without an artistic voice. Does this mean you must be professional? Absolutely not. An arts organization can have at its core a mission to empower and present local amateurs, artistic creation of children and youth.
When do you know when there is a problem in Artistic Leadership?
- Do reasonably informed stakeholders give radically different answers to the question, “What is X arts organization about?
- Do Board members frequently feel that the organization has lost focus, is on the wrong track artistically (because so many discordant visions co-exist)?
- Is programming more often reactive to fundraising, marketing, educational programming rather than being a starting point for those processes.
- Do marketing and fundraising staff often have difficulty in constructing clear, convincing descriptions of artistic programming for brochures and grantwriting
- When Artistic Statements are written for grants & brochures: Do they vary wildly from year to year? Are they so generic that they say nothing about the artistic priorities of the organization?
- Is Artistic vision identified as a problem by major funding bodies?
- Are peer organizations reluctant to collaborate with you because they view your Artistic Leadership as problematic or lacking in vision?
- When you perform formal or informal exit interviews with departing contributing artists/musicians or staff, is lack of artistic vision a recurring theme?
COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS: Art has a purpose and that purpose is how it is transformative in the lives and culture of our practicing artists and the community that the arts organization serves. Finding the balance between artistic vision, serving the community and working transformative magic within the community is the ongoing role of community engagement that the arts organization must undertake as a constant. Communities change constantly and so arts organizations must change also in order to serve new constituency and/or move programs and services to areas craving their programming. A mentor of mine was fond of saying “if people don’t want to come, you can’t stop them”.
Think of two scenarios for a family that has recently arrived in a community. In the first the family gets a brochure for a subscription series to the local orchestra. One child has had an orchestra ensemble visit their school and brought home a study guide. The family saw the orchestra playing in the park during the summer, and mom attended a program at the library on music appreciation led by the orchestra’s artistic director. In the second scenario, the family gets a brochure out of the blue and has never heard of the orchestra. Which brochure will go straight in the re-cycle bin and which one will get a second look?
In two organizations that I worked in during times of economic problems for (respectively) an orchestra and an opera company, their communities were alarmed and outraged at any thought that the organizations would fail. Individuals, corporations, area businesses and civic politicians helped to find ways to restore the organizations to financial health. It is interesting to note that neither communities were terribly wealthy nor noted for culture. But in yet another organization I served in, the organization had decided to pare its programming down to cut all community outreach, made an alienating name change, and disenfranchised community participation … all in the same year. Recovery of community trust was a huge challenge for that organization despite its existence in a privileged community.
ENGAGED BOARD OF DIRECTORS: Without #1 Clear Artistic Vision and #2 Community Engagement, an organization will find it difficult to recruit and motivate a volunteer board.
Boards typically go through a development cycle as organizations grow. Take the example of a community theatre. At first the Board does eve
rything from hanging lights, sewing costumes, selling tickets and holding fundraisers. As staff is hired to take care of production and ticket sales, the Board becomes more engaged in fundraising and community liaison. As the organization is able to afford professional grantwriting and fund-development staff, the Board role will shift to stewardship and making connections to major sponsors and donors for staff to follow-up on.
Board Executive and Nominating Committees have to set clear expectations of Board Members and recruit appropriately. When Board Members expect to be part of a “doer” Board and find that the expectation is mainly fundraising and oversight, they may feel sidelined. When Board Members expect to set policy and direction only and join the Board of a small arts organization, they may be surprised or even offended to be asked to roll up their sleeves and help with the nitty gritty. It is important that Board Members understand that their role is to help fund resources, find resources for the artistic work of the organization and work in ways that support the artistic mission of the organization. I have seen Board Members who behaved as though the arts organization was there to provide opera singers for their private parties, buy services from their clients, and that staff should shelve all artistic production work to assist Board Members with the running of gala balls or golf tournaments. While we all have to work together in arts organizations to raise funds, pulling staffing from accomplishing the core Mission, in order to facillitate Board fundraising initiatives cannibalizes artistic resources and is not sustainable.
MANAGEMENT: The role of the arts manager is to take the artistic program and the resources supplied by Board & funders and to implement the program objectives. Through expert knowledge of the industry, the manager employs best practices, allocating resources as carefully as possible to achieve optimum results.
The manager that is both under-resourced and without a clear and well-ariticulated artistic mission & strong community connections is unlikely to be able to achieve good results. If the organization also is burdened with an unfocused, non-contributing Board, the manager alone will not have the power to turn the engine of the organization single-handedly. In order to write grants, appeal to foundations or seek sponsorships, the manager will need a compelling story to tell about artistic & community arts education plans and the support that exists in the community, demonstrated by results, photos, endorsements. She or he needs the community connections of an engaged Board to gain new funding and connect with local industrial and business leaders. If there is a lack of money for marketing artistic programs, the manager will need the Board’s community connection and legwork to promote artistic programs through grassroots initiatives.
Arts managers are there because they really love the arts and they have a tragic tendency to burn out as they try to prop up failing arts organizations.
WHY DO ORGANIZATIONS FAIL? We always hear of arts organizations failing for lack of money, but I have yet to see an organization fail purely from lack of money. An organization that has less money than is needed to fulfill all it’s programming has to be flexible enough to be responsive to the reality and scale back or make economies to live within its means and simultaneously work on seeking more funds. A healthy arts organization with a clear Mission, valued by the community, with an engaged Board and adequate staffing will survive financial setbacks.
When organizations insist on not changing despite annual deficits, money becomes an issue. When artistic mission is muddy, community connections are lost, fundraising becomes extremely difficult. When Board Members are unclear on their roles, unfocused and non-contributing and sometimes caught up in their own politics, an important driving force in the organization siezes up. When managers and staff are called upon to deliver/sell/find funds programs that have no coherence, artistic energy or community connections, it is no surprise that they fail.
It was my privilege to present to people at the Technology in the Arts conference at the University of Waterloo May 9-10 on the subject of classical music in virtual reality.
But the magic really happened when Alessandro Marangoni, stepped up to the real piano in Italy and the virtual piano as Benito Flores and charmed the participants across oceans and media.
In the wake of exposes by the Toronto Star of fundraising practices by some charities that have resulted in as much as 90% of funds raised going to fundraising and administrative costs rather than charitable work, the charitable sector has announced the implementation of a self-policing code, reported in the October 22/07 Toronto Star story, “Charities Launch self-policing code” by Kevin Donovan. (note that link is time sensitive)
Is it enough?
The public is worried about donating wisely and–on the other hand– those of us that work in the non-profit, charitable sector understand that the problem of getting the most bang for the charitable buck is deeper and more complex than the simple solutions suggested as first steps. We have some idea of where the bodies are buried.
The frustrating thing for those of us working in the sector is when we see a great program working very effectively in a sector fail to gain support, while a noisy charity that really does very little beyond generate hoopla and organize fundraising events, gets media attention, celebrity support and commands public dollars.
Through Imagine Canada, charities are being asked to sign a voluntary code. One of the first provisions of the new code is that signators will not use commission fundraisers as this practice can lead to both aggressive marketing and the use of charitable funds to simply pay fundraisers. The information that is missing in this recent announcement is that the Association of Fundraising Professionals has included this rule in their code of ethics originally adopted in 1964! Using commissioned fundraisers has been regarded as both sleazy and ineffective by non-profit managers for at least a decade. So it is shocking to hear large charities like Sick Kids and World Vision only swearing off the practice in 2007.
The next provision of the code mentioned in the October 22/07 article is that charities will adhere to a code of honesty in reporting to their donors. Imagine Canada is said to be cracking down on “wild claims of success by the charitable sector.” Good idea but very vaguely worded.
Nowhere in the report is there a clear criteria how “wild claims” will be detected nor how the sector will amend the practice. While some issues are more complex, there eally there are a number of ways that some charities deceive the public that could be identified, a test of accuracy applied and the practice cleared up fairly easily. One example is the use of self-aggrandizing and confusing titles for organizations and programs. Many organizations have “International”, “World” and “Canada” or “Canadian” in their titles. The public can be expected to presume that an organization with “International” or “World” in the title has directly-administered programs in a number of countries around the world. The sector should/could agree that having directly-administered programs in less than a set number of nations, (7, 5, … 3?) and using “International” or “World” in the charity’s name or program title, is deceptive. By the same token, charities that describe themselves as the X organization of Canada, lead the public to believe that they offer programs and services to Canadians in a number of provinces. Imagine Canada should include benchmarks for the use of these common attributions.
Another way that “wild claims” could be curtailed is by adopting a strictly enforced standard for reporting on statistics for programs. This is straightforward for programs that are solely and directly administered. It becomes more difficult in jointly-run programs. Sometimes charities give small donations to programs and then claim the entire program and its activities as part of the work of the charity. Real collaborations between agencies in the charitable sector is to be encouraged, but the public should be able to tell clearly who is responsible.
Here is an example of the way this numbers dodge can work in the charitable sector. Charity X raises money to run a cross-country literacy program that involves authors in doing readings in remote communities for the purpose of both literacy awareness and also to promote local literacy programs. Then charity X contacts grass-roots organizations and gets them to do all the work, undertake the lion’s share of the work and all the marketing expense in organizing the events. Perhaps a small “how to run your event” manual is written by Charity X from freely available material found on the internet, providing a token organizing effort. Another token support is given to the event in the form of subsidizing author airfare for example—transferring a small amount of funds raised to actual program costs. Meanwhile there is virtually no work or expense by charity X other than the transfer of that small portion of funds raised and yet Charity X takes credit for a national series of literacy awareness events, and furthermore enhance their reputation as a national organization while potentially running no real programs in Canada and keeping the lion’s share of money raised for their administrative and fundraising operations. A staff salary is paid to a “program coordinator” but that person’s daily work assignments relate to fundraising and general administration. A report to donors on the project includes the information that X people attended events in 15 locations across Canada and X dollars were expended on program costs, however the report on program costs includes the salary paid to someone for administration and a pro-rated portion of administrative costs such as photo-copies, office suppliers… even if none of these were used for program materials. About 80 % of funds raised is claimed as being used in “program costs” with a modest 20 % being accorded to administrative support of the program. However a hard forensic accounting look at the program might show that only 10% to 20% of the money donated to the program was transferred to direct program costs in the form of low hassle airfare subsidies to grassroots groups organizing their own events.
This is the complex face of garden-variety “wild claims” in the charitable sector. This type of practice is damaging to the climate of giving in Canada. It also hurts legitimate charitable organizations, and is poisoning the working climate in the non-profit sector– both within “bad apple” organizations and within the good organizations who struggle to compete with the “bad apples” who misreport activities, results and proportion of money spent on administration and fundraising.
While Imagine Canada is to be commended on this first step of a self-governing code of ethics, it is a very, very small step. Much more work is needed and it is not clear that this can be accomplished by the sector itself. In my next article I will attempt to write about what I see as a sickness in the heart of some charities and non-profits and some thoughts on how to tackle those difficulties.