Capacity Building

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.

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#MeToo is only one symptom of what is ailing the arts workplace

No one working in the Arts has failed to cheer the fresh air blowing in the window in the wake of the #MeToo movement but there is also a ripple of disquiet about what’s NOT being said about the atmosphere that has allowed abusive environments to flourish and the broader subject of abuse and bullying in the sector. 

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The Arts Consultant: planning for a useful consultancy

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.

Key Points:

  1. Strategic needs and long-term goals should drive the project, not shortterm opportunities or needs
  2. Select a consultant who matches the project, the organization and the work style of the team
  3. Provide clear oversight to the consultant and clear responsibilities/communication lines for the staff
  4. Get the necessary buy in from staff by sharing the project’s goals and likely outcomes
  5. Be thoughtful about information sharing making sure protections and permissions are clear
  6. Track the project regularly assuring reports are accurate
Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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Canada's new anti-spam law, should charities be panicking?

Here is a quote from the Government of Canada’s website:

Canada’s anti-spam legislation (CASL) does not apply to non-commercial activity. Political parties and charities that engage Canadians through email are not subject to CASL if these communications do not involve selling or promoting a product.

There are also further exemptions for situations where such organizations engage in commercial activities with people who have made a donation or gift in the last 18 months, volunteered or performed volunteer work in the last 18 months, or were a member of the organization in the last 18 months. These exceptions apply to registered charities, political parties and candidates in federal, provincial, territorial or municipal elections.*

So messaging your followers about your work is clearly exempt from the new legislation and soliciting donations from recent donors is also exempt. However, best practices always involve assuring you are reaching the people who want to hear from you and not annoying others.  Since there is so much publicity about the new anti-spam legislation, it is a perfect time to get in touch with your contacts, confirm their continued interest and demonstrate your organization’s commitment to effective, considerate communications.
If you have not practiced positive buy-in previously with your email contact lists, then the  high priority task should be confirming that donors and subscribers who fall outside of that 18 month window still want to remain on your lists.
 
* https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/ecic-ceac.nsf/eng/gv00521.html
 

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"Ends Justify the Means" Dilemmas in the Not-for-Profit Workplace

I have been thinking for some time about how we monitor and resolve ethical dilemmas in the non-profit workplace and how we could assure that public money is well-spent.

In the not-for-profit and arts world I believe we set ourselves up to be uniquely vulnerable to the pitfalls of ethical systems based on utilitarianism.  This is the ethical system in which the “good of the many” always outweighs the “good of the few”, a system that becomes challenged when the means are not ethical in and of themselves. In not-for-profit workplaces we think about “Ends” all the time.  Right on the top of all our literature and websites we spell out the “Mission”.  We are focused and passionate about the mission of our organizations, whether it is feeding the hungry, housing the homeless or assuring the survival of a classical orchestra.
Into all this passion and energy for achieving worthy goals comes a number of roadblocks that can make us, as non-profit staff and managers,  feel that government funders, sponsors, regulatory bodies, are treating us unfairly, stacking the deck against the success of our organization to achieve our mission.   Those challenges include: the preference for funding projects and program costs, over needed support for core operations; shifting priorities and programs from governments and foundation funders; narrow program objectives that don’t match the needs of the communities we serve. And some days we feel like if we hear the word “innovation” one more time, we’ll scream.  We twist our programs pretzel shaped to try to qualify for those innovation grants when, really, we think that the way we have always done things is probably pretty soundly based on best practices.

 

Between the passion to do good and the frustration about roadblocks that seem illogical, unpredictable and insurmountable there sneaks in a philosophy of the “end justifies the means”.

Whether we bend the truth a little bit in our funding application to make our planned activity seem like a better fit, or we move expenses in accounting lines to shift expense from administration to program and marketing, we are embarked on a slippery slope. Tensions mount in organizations when doing whatever it takes to get or keep funding pushes staff members beyond their comfort levels.

These are not victimless crimes.  Public dollars, the reputations and health of workers, the continuation of programs and services that the public counts on are jeopardized when organizations foster a culture of unethical expediency.  Staff members feel helpless in organizations where they are not just asked but required to do unethical things:  back-date mail machines to send in applications after funding deadlines, forge a signature because someone is unavailable, spend all their time working on one project that they are not funded to work on and neglect the work they are funded to do (a common way of shifting funds from one program to the other surreptitiously),  directly shift funds from one program to another without the funder’s knowledge, invent statistics,  report fundraising costs of a special event fundraiser as a “program” cost,  report expenses of one project as the expenses of another, double and triple raise project revenues for one pet project while reporting a reasonable budget in each request, over-spending ridiculously on one area. . . all things that have been sanctioned in organizations I have worked for in the past.   Yet there is little over-sight of non-profits and whistle-blowers at the staff level often have their careers ruined while they sometimes see the non-profit manager who forced the questionable or outright disgraceful practices be backed up by non-profit boards and even to be recognized with national awards.

Any solutions have to deal with both the problem and its causes.

 Adequate funding of basic operations of non-profits that are operating effectively in the public good will stop the need to fudge program costs to cover operations.

I could say that Boards should stop propping up corrupt leaders but . . . that’s not going to happen. The “friends of X” board is alive and well everywhere. I have come to the conclusion that there needs to be tougher regulatory bodies at the provincial and federal level that will investigate allegations of mismanagement of publicly funded non-profits. Working with very well-managed and ethical non-profits has given me  perspective on the insidious harm that unethical non-profits do to workers, funders and programs.

 

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Founder’s Syndrome

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. 

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Delegation # 1: Why managers are afraid of delegating.

The first in a small series on the management art of effective delegation.

When you talk to unhappy employees and ask them what is wrong with their jobs or their relationship with managers,  the leading issue is usually poor delegation techniques.  In the arts and non-profits we are often working as managers having no business training in supervisory management and as employees we are working with bosses who may be wonderful in their fields but don’t know the first thing about managing people.

Why do so many managers fear and avoid delegation?

# 1.  Fear of loss of control.The inexperienced and insecure manager is afraid that if they don’t do everything themselves things will spin out of control and they will lose authority to shape projects.  Let’s examine this fear:

  • If you recognize this as your own fear as a manager, remember that you have the power to require employees to check in with you, report progress, and you can set the schedule for completion of stages in a project to build in time for edits and tweaks you feel are needed.
  • Delegate from a sense of your own power and your fears will fade

# 2.  Fear/Dislike of employees stealing credit or sharing the limelight.  

Let’s look hard at this fear:

  • Just as your organizations failures ultimately reflect on you as a manager, so do the successes
  • A part of maturing as a manager and human being is learning to enjoy your new role as a mentor to a new crop of professionals.  Their successes are your successes.
  • If an employee truly tries to steal credit or becomes unduly competitive, that is a separate issue that you can deal with, ultimately you have the power to fire them so why be bothered by small expressions of ego?

#3.  Don’t feel you have time to teach employees how to do the delegated work or supervise them:

  • If you are feeling time crunched, only effective delegation will get work off your desk so a small hump of extra work will pay off in the long run
  • Part of delegating the task can be assigning the employee to job-shadow, read, take a course, do online tutorials to acquire skills.  You don’ t have to take on all the training yourself. 
  • While a lot of supervision might be needed the first time an employee takes on a job, it will decrease markedly the next time. 
  • Delegation and supervision IS your job as a manager.  Likely all the work on your desk is really not your job and needs to be delegated. 

 #4  Worry that your employees will make mistakes, use methods you don’t approve of, generally goof up something.

  • Employees will make mistakes and that is a part of learning.
  • Planning for training and supervision and scheduling to allow for error correction is part of your job as a manager and part of your effective delegation strategy.

 When you feel these fears coming on (and we all have them as managers) remember the gains that will come to you as an effective delegator.  You will develop happy, productive employees who not only think for themselves but regard you as an effective mentor and supervisor, someone they can go to for advice without fearing their project will be yanked away from them.  You will be enhancing your own reputation and chance of advancement.  You’ll free up time for your own innovative, non-routine tasks which require your unique expertise.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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Commonsense Social Media for Small Arts Orgs

A few Do’s and Don’t’s about Social Media for artists and small arts orgs

Do remember to include in your plan all your skills that are relevant to a successful social media campaign
You’ve been talking to your supporters, colleagues and audience for a long time and you know them and their interests better than anyone. You also are skilled at reaching out to them creatively and inexpensively. For pete’s sake, you are artists! Those skills will be key in making your social media campaign a success!

Don’t be phony in your social media voice
Social media is … well… social. It’s got a tone like talking to your neighbours about your work today. Your neighbours and friends will be delighted to hear your voice saying “here’s what we’ve been working at in the studio today” in your own voice. Having that voice delegated to someone outside your company will feel phony and insulting to them. If it feels like a trick in social media, people turn off.

Do have the confidence to run your own social media campaign
The best social media campaign is grass-roots, just like you started your arts organization.

Don’t feel you have to spend big bucks on a social marketing professional
No social media “guru” knows your art and your audience like you and your staff do. So what if they have 2,000 Twitter followers, are they relevant to you, or just other social media gurus all jabbering to each other with re-cycled tweets and links?

Do take the time to blog yourself
I know you don’t have the time, but you know the best blog-posts are short ones. Here’s some good tricks. A photo is worth 1,000 words. Snap photos with your cellphone or digital camera and post to your blog with a small comment. Tumblr is a great platform for quickie bloggers. If you are more of a talker than a writer, make brief voice recordings and ask someone to transpose them as blog posts. Or, make a time to sit down once a week with someone in your organization who does like to write and give him or her a list of things to interview you on. Or just have a chat and record it. A 30-60 minute meeting about what’s going on with the company right now should yield a week’s worth of blog posts that can be timed for daily release.

Don’t let a staff member turn the Artistic Director into a sock puppet
If a post is listed as being from the Music Director or AD, it really should be that person’s words. To charge a staff person to write on your behalf without input or approval isn’t fair to them or you.

Do make meaningful connections with colleagues and organizations with common-cause.
Guest write for your colleague’s blog and share your posts with organizations that will be interested for example your post on set-construction with an umbrella theatre organization or your post on financial planning with an arts administration website. Ask your colleagues to post to your sites. Include the news from other organizations in your tweets and Facebook updates.

Don’t be territorial in social media
If all you tout in your blog, facebook page or twitter stream is your own news, you will be preaching to the choir instead of reaching new audiences.

Do listen to your followers and engage with them
Social media is social, so a part of every social media campaign should be to spend a little time reading what your followers are saying: about you, about other arts organizations, and about things in general. Comment, re-tweet, and thank them for their favorable mentions of your organization.

Don’t be a broken record
You wouldn’t invite your neighbour to a party and then invite them again, and again, and again, using the same message, would you? So invite and follow-up in social media much as you would in other media.

Do use more than one social media that is relevant to your company
As a suggestion, pick one blog platform to share your news in greater length than a twitter post or Facebook update allows. Create a Facebook group for your followers to publicize events. Use a photo site like Flickr or Picasa to host photos & slideshows and a video site like YouTube for video snippets. You may or may not find the social aspect of the photo & video sites useful. But embedding photos in blogs and Facebook posts enlivens them. Finally use Twitter to connect followers in short news bursts to your content in blogs and Facebook. As you develop your social media campaign you will find other tools to use, but no one tool will make effective use of your social media time or effectively distribute your news.

Don’t get too enthusiastic about linking and automating your social media messages
As we’ve seen different social media platforms have different uses and formats. A 140 character twitter post sounds brief and possibly rude when repeated on Facebook, so be thoughtful about linking media. Auto welcoming followers used to be recommended but has become so prevalent that many people regard this as spam and will unfollow anyone who uses the tools. Services that spam followers with auto quotes are fairly universally despised and will lose you followers.

Do use buffer apps to time distribute your posts.
You may want to do all your social media posts at one time of day and all your blog posts one day a week, but many posts at one time will bore your audience and also not reach some potential followers. Twitter streams are one place where people only are likely to see the posts made in the last hour, so use a buffer to send your tweets over the day (twitter is probably the only social media where you can repeat a key message like an event reminder). Facebook posts can also be spaced through the day. (I use http://bufferapp.com ) and you can choose whether blog posts will be published now or at a future date.

Do remember that the message of your company is important
Probably only the artistic director and/or senior management can really articulate key messages about projects, mission and artistic direction of the company. Identify the person or people within your company who will craft the social media messages. Make sure everyone is comfortable with the plan and will follow-through.

Don’t give the social media job to the intern
The intern may be able to Facebook up a storm about their keg stand at the party last night but that doesn’t mean they know how to tell your story to your key audience. Interns can help but don’t leave them in charge of the process or be prepared to accept the results.

Do use your grassroots skills in building up your number of followers
Hey you built your mailing list & email list from 0 to thousands, right? How? By asking people who visited your website to join the mailing list right? By capturing Box Office data, by asking people to enter contests and by asking people to save money, save the trees by signing onto your email list instead. When you have events, that’s the time to ask pe
ople to join your Facebook group or follow you on twitter. Make it easy with slips of paper they can take away, inserted in programs or available in the lobby on info tables.

Don’t get greedy
Don’t try to build followers by following hundreds of random individuals. They won’t stay and aren’t relevant to your success. In the worst case scenario you could lose your account through being listed as a spammer. Having 100 followers who actually come to your events is better than having 3000 followers with only 25 actually coming to your events.

Do give incentives
You know how to do this! Give potential social media contacts incentives by running contests for free tickets or other goodies available only to Twitter followers or Facebook Friends (but don’t make these goodies valuable enough to annoy other contacts).

Do evaluate your social media plan
How are you doing? Did you sell out a show using just Facebook? Are you getting more re-tweets of your news? How many lists is your twitter stream on? How many mentions did you get on Twitter last month? How many blog visitors have you logged (Google analytics or site-tracker have good tools).

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results right away
A good social media campaign is not going to happen over-night for most of us. It is slogging work like building a mailing list. If you are not seeing results after a few months you may need to fine-tune your plan, discover why your blog posts and updates are not engaging & growing your audience.

Do remember the goal
You want to deepen the engagement of your existing audience with your company so that they will be more likely to support you by increased attendance and financial contribution. Plus, you want to reach new audiences– while spending less money on advertising and postage. You also want to be able to brag about how efficient and green your company is in achieving these goals.

That’s pretty hot stuff so it’s worth some work, right?

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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