Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Big Picture

Good morning
"And the beat goes on………………."



the black dot

 
the black dot

 
the black dot

 

the black dot


 
the black dot

 
the black dot

 
the black dot

 
the black dot

 
the black dot

 
the black dot


Organizations also often see only the black dot.  The problem
for individuals and organizations in focusing exclusively
on the black dot - on what is wrong - is often a drain on
the most important currency we have -- time. Focusing more 
on the whole picture might offer more possible solutions, for
in the white space lies solutions.
Though it often times seems that circumstances have dealt
us an impossible situation, we all have more going for us than
we sometimes realize.  

Have a good week.

Don't Quit
Barry





























Sunday, March 20, 2016

Communications Survey Report

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on…………………"

COMMUNICATIONS SURVEY PROJECT REPORT

How many hours a week do you spend dealing with email?  How many reports and studies do you get every month, and how many of those do you actually read?  Does your organization have a formal communications policy?  What is the impact of the increased information flow on your organization?  On your personnel?  How do your people manage communications?  These and other questions are critical for the nonprofit arts sector in managing their communications and information flow.

I spent considerable time last year investigating how the nonprofit arts use communications internally in their organizations and externally within the sector.  The purpose of the inquiry was to establish a baseline of information about our communications uses, habits, preferences and attitudes, as well as how we perceive the impact of our communications, and the flow of information, to and from others, on our personnel and organizations.  Communications is at the heart of vitally everything we do, and communications is one of the major occupiers of our time.  As time management is critical to our productivity, efficiency and our effectiveness, I strongly believe this effort ought to be the very beginning of a continuing inquiry into the subject - both at the organizational and sector levels.  I would hope organizations might ask themselves some of the questions asked in the survey and using that information assess their own communications, and the impact of information management on their work. 

Below is a brief Summary of Findings from the Communications Survey conducted this past fall.  I urge you to read the full report, and I think you will find the results informative.  Thank you to all 1601 survey respondents.  HERE is a link to the full report.

The Random Drawing Results:  Westaf conducted a random drawing of all those survey respondents who entered the pool.  Here are the names drawn:
Individual:  Lindsay Mauck - Philly Young Playwrights
Organization:  Viterbo University Fine Arts Center
Checks are being sent to each.


PREFACE:
Internet and digital technologies have increased not only the volume of information available in the world, but access to that information and ways to communicate it.  That volume and the tools available to communicate it continues to grow exponentially.  The nonprofit arts field, like the rest of society, seeks to keep abreast of knowledge germane to its work, and to communicate within its own sphere, and outside of it to its constituents, stakeholders, the public and governing authorities. Communications is at the very essence of everything the sector does - key to its mission, operations, and its success as an enterprise.  No sector today lives in a vacuum distinct or apart from the technology that has changed the world.

Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Instagram, Vine and scores of other communications platforms did not exist a decade or so ago.  Smart phones, tablets, mobile apps and even email are a relatively new reality.   All of these tools make it easier to both send and access information, data, thinking, opinions and ideas, and those twin abilities are both a boon to what the nonprofit arts community does, and an increasing challenge for it in managing how it communicates.

While available information is virtually infinite, the resources of the sector and its component organizations is not.  Chief among the scarce resources with which the nonprofit arts field contends, is time.  Limited funding streams impact the ability of arts organizations to employ personnel necessary to adequately identify, analyze and apply the volume of information available in some useful way to a typical arts organization’s business operations and other objectives.  The learning curves of new technologies themselves require an increasing investment of time to master.

While a perceived information overload, and the consequential implications of such a status, is nothing new, the nonprofit arts field has a dearth of information about which communications tools we use, how we are managing that usage, and the impact of that usage on organizations and personnel within those organizations.

This report seeks to begin to provide a baseline of knowledge about the communications tools being used by nonprofit arts organizations and personnel, and the management of its communications activities - within, and between, arts organizations.

A national representative survey instrument designed to ascertain arts organization and leadership communications perceptions, behavior, habits and usage was created to obtain that baseline information in an attempt to begin to understand how arts organizations are communicating.

Specifically, the inquiry sought to understand which communications tools arts organizations and personnel use and to what extent, which sources of information are valued and trusted, how arts administrators are managing the volume of available information and the impact of the increased available information on a variety of markers relating to productivity, job satisfaction, and organizational efficiency.

It also sought to determine whether or not the increased volume of available information is thought to constitute information overload (when the volume of information being dealt with exceeds the ability to make sensible decisions) for the field.

While the volume of available information is increasing, as are the ways to communicate that information, the capacity of human beings to process the increased information is not getting any faster.  Causes of the rise of available information and resultant overload include: i)  the ease and cost effectiveness of sending more information to more people, ii) the lack of filters to simplify and summarize information, iii) the chances of factual errors and inconsistencies in the available information, and iv) the failure of people who pass on information to first process it themselves.   Every communication, ours included, adds to the potential of overload.

The natural response to the paralysis of overload is for human beings to install filters that can make the inflow manageable.  Thus, for example, one response to too many emails in your inbox, is to simply not read a certain percentage of them.  If your email to someone to whom you want to communicate falls into this category, you haven’t communicated at all.  Effective communications increasingly must concern itself with getting past the filters installed by people to manage the overflow.

How we communicate, how we manage our communications strategies and tools, and the impact of our communications choices are complex subjects, and the project recognized early on that preliminary data is needed on which future research and inquiry, by both theorists and practitioners within our field, can build.  Drilling deeper into our preferences, perceptions and behaviors will be necessary in order to better enable our field to improve the effectiveness of its communications, minimize the negative aspects of the information onslaught and maximize the positive impacts of how we manage information going into the future.

The challenge to our organizations is twofold: First, to effectively and efficiently manage the flow of communications and information, and second, to translate the information we access into knowledge that will benefit our operations and advance our missions.  Given the time expended on managing communications and information, and the centrality of those efforts to almost everything we do, it is essential for organizations to proactively address the challenges faced in this arena.


SUMMARY OF FINDINGS:

A survey of a representative sampling of arts organizations finds that their internal and external communications includes a variety of traditional and technological methods, each varying in its preferred usage and perceived effectiveness.  While this study was intended to establish a baseline of communications perceptions, behaviors and impacts, the following conclusions may be reasonably drawn from the survey responses:

1.  Communications from arts administrators and organizations, and from others to them, is a major occupier of time.  Email in particular dominates average weekly time expenditures.

2.  The field’s perception of the value and impact of the increased information available to it, and the communications it sends and receives, indicates a struggle with that volume, with a large bloc believing the sheer volume is, or is becoming, unmanageable.

3.  While the increase in information being communicated and being received is perceived as having a positive impact on organization productivity, there is a majority bloc that believes it is a negative on a personal level.

4.   While the struggle with managing communications of all types and the pervasive feeling among the respondents that there are significant negative impacts on their time and abilities to do their jobs, most arts organizations do not have any formal plan to address these issues.

5.  Due to the limitations of this survey, it is unclear the extent to which arts organizations are aware of, and are dealing with, communications and information issues, including the challenges posed to staff personnel.

6.  Most arts organizations do not have the resources to engage a full time communications officer.
Administrators are challenged to relate the increased information to their specific needs.

7.  It may be a myth that the inclusion of an Executive Summary in reports is the preferred method of review by arts administrators.

8.  For many organizations, this respondent observation encapsulates their challenge:  “We have 20th century resources in a 21st century environment.”

INTERNAL:

Preferred methods of communication:  While a wide range of communications tools are employed by arts organizations, including traditional and technological, three principal means dominate - email, face to face meetings  (one-on-one, staff / department) and the telephone - all of which might today be considered “old school”.

Communications plans / staff officers:

  • More than three quarters of arts organizations do not have a formal communications plan for internal organization communications.
  • 65 % do not have a staff communications officer
  • Nearly 60% do not have a formal plan for external communications.

These figures suggest that a large bloc of arts organizations may not be dealing directly with communication issues within their organizations.  One can speculate on the reasons for the lack of communications plans: 1) a lack of resources - time, money; 2) the difficulty in creating organization wide plans due to differences in staff / generational preferences for the use of various communications tools; 3) a belief that such a plan is / would not be of sufficient value to justify its creation; 4) the possibility that such a plan would be essentially outdated on creation; and 5) unawareness of the challenges administrators are having in this area.

EXTERNAL:

Effectiveness of various external communications tools:  In order of perceived effectiveness, the top five tools are:

  • Email 
  • Website
  • Convenings / Events
  • Facebook
  • Telephone

Again, with the possible exception of Facebook, these tools are basically ‘traditional”.

Of those organizations that use Facebook, 34% post a few times a week, 22% post daily, 23% post 2 to 4 times per day, and 10% post once per week.

Preferred sources of incoming information:  Communications from sources outside the organization are most often read / reviewed from these sources - in order:

  • Colleagues / Peers
  • Constituents
  • Community leaders
  • Foundations
  • Other arts organizations within the discipline

Information from colleagues, peers, constituents and community leaders hold the most importance and sway to arts administrators.

Effectiveness of various communications:  The most effective communications tools for external communications are, in order:

  • Email
  • Convenings / events
  • Website
  • Facebook
  • Meetings

MANAGING COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION:

Coping with the increase:

  • 63% say the volume of information and communication is growing and becoming increasingly more difficult to keep pace with.
  • 15% said it was out of hand and they were feeling overwhelmed
  • 21% thought it a reasonable amount and had no trouble handling it.

Perhaps the single most important finding from the survey document is the number of arts administrators who view the increase in the volume of communication - to and from others - as a real or potential problem; one that is a threat / drain to their most important resource - time.

Perception of the value of the information available:

  • 38% think about 25% of the available information / received communications are of value to them.
  • 28% think about half of the available information / received communications are of value to them.
  • 18% think less than 10% of the available information / received communications are of value to them.

Challenges to managing communications:

  • Nearly 80% think that a lack of time is the biggest challenge in staying abreast of all the information available.
  • Nearly 40% think their biggest challenge in staying abreast is relating the information available to their needs.

Hours Spent Per Week Dealing with Various Communications Tools:

Email:

  • 23% spent 7 to 10 hours per week reading and responding to email
  • 22% spent 11 to 15 hours per week reading and responding to email
  • 18% spent 16 to 20 hours per week reading and responding to email
  • 16% spent more than 20 hours per week reading and responding to email

Over half the respondents spend 11 or more hours dealing with email each week - or one-quarter of a traditional 40 hour work week.

Conferring one-to-one with coworkers within the organization:

  • 33% spent 4 to 6 hours per week conferring one to one.
  • 22% spent 7 to 10 hours per week conferring one to one.
  • 13% spent 11 to 15 hours per week conferring one to one.

Other major time consuming activities:

  • 28% spent 4 to 6 hours talking on the telephone
  • 31% spent 4 to 6 hours searching the internet
  • 28% spent 4 to 6 hours attending staff / department meetings
  • 23% spent 4 to 6 hours on social networking sites.

Impact of the increased volume of communications:

  • 36% think the volume of communications / information positively impacts their productivity. 27% think it negatively impacts their productivity.
  • 44% think it negatively impacts their time to reflect and brainstorm.  28% think it positively impacts their time to reflect and brainstorm.
  • 43% think the volume negatively impacts their ability to effectively manage their time.
  • 46% think the volume positively impacts their organization’s success.
  • 58% think the volume positively impacts innovation.
  • 48% think the volume positively impacts organizational adaptability

There appears to be a split between the perceived value of increased communication / information to the organization on the one hand, and to the individual administrator on the other.  The balance of these two seemingly different conclusions poses a major challenge to organizations.

Other Findings:

REPORTS AND STUDIES:

Volume of reports received:

  • Nearly 40% receive 3 to 5 studies and / or reports each month.
  • 18% receive 6 to 10 per month
  • 10% receive 10 or more per month

Reports reviewed:

  • Nearly 60% read or scan 1 to 2 reports per month
  • 30% review 3 to 5 per month
  • Less than 5% review more than 10 per month

Preferred method of review:

  • 41% read select sections of the reports and studies they receive
  • 28% scan the whole report
  • 25% read or scan the Executive Summary section (and this relatively low number flies in the face of conventional wisdom that the Summary of Findings is the preferred method of report review. 

CROWDFUNDING:

  • 19% reported having engaged in a crowdfunding campaign in the past year; of that number, 18% reported having engaged in more than one such campaign.
  • 20% of those that engaged in a campaign reported raising $5000 to $10,000; 20% reported raising $10,000 to $20,000.

It is my hope that these preliminary findings on our habits, behaviors, and perceptions about the tools we use to communicate, our management of those tools, and the impact of the increase in available information on our organizations and personnel will encourage arts organizations to take a long look at their communications and information management.

As a preliminary study, the findings suggest more questions than they provide answers.  We ought to consider: 1) the effectiveness of our communications and how we can improve them; and 2) the implications of our behaviors and perceptions on our business practices and what alternatives to current practices exist.

Special thanks to WESTAF, the Knight Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation for their support of this project.


Have a good week.

Don't Quit
Barry


Friday, March 18, 2016

Election Update and What It Means for the Arts

Good morning
"And the beat goes on……………"

And the insanity that is this election continues.

We still don't know what Trump's position on the arts is.

We do, however, now know exactly what Ted Cruz's position on the arts is.  On his website he lists 25 federal agencies he would immediately eliminate on his ascendancy to the Presidency, including the National Endowments of the Arts and of the Humanities (and PBS funding too).  If Cruz is President, the Endowments are history.

The chance for an open (brokered) GOP Convention looms larger, and were that to happen, the chances that, if Trump were denied the nomination, his supporters would likely go ballistic.  Can it happen?  Yes.  If no candidate has the requisite number of pledged delegates on the first ballot, and that is a possibility, then all delegates are free to vote for anyone they choose on subsequent ballots.  Those are the rules, Trump's whining notwithstanding.  And his argument that if he has the most delegates, and he's close to the fifty percent plus one,  he should get the nomination is like a football team arguing that they were close to scoring a touchdown - within inches even, and so they should be given the points.  Absurd.  Would Trump delegates defect and vote for someone else on a second or later ballot?  Unlikely, but we won't know until it happens, if it happens.   A big problem for Republicans if their convention blows up.

Clearly, there are those in the Republican party who believe that were Trump to get the nomination that would so damage the brand of the party, that even a loss to the Democrats would be preferable to ceding the party to the Trump outliers.  There are also those who believe it more important to defeat the Democrats even if that means supporting a Trump or a Cruz, no matter how distasteful that might be.  Rock and a hard place for them.

But victory by the Republicans in their bid for the White House seems likely to be very bad news for federal arts funding.


Randy Cohen at Americans for the Arts recently announced new public opinion sampling that we might use in lobbying Congress or State legislatures or City municipal governments.  The study clearly indicates that 1) Americans support arts funding; and more noteworthy, 2) Americans would support elected officials who vote for that support.  (And, that likely voters, are even more likely to vote for an official who supported the arts than unlikely voters.)  That's a big deal.  That's very valuable information to make your local elected officials aware of, because it gives them cover for a positive vote.

According to the study:

  • "Americans support increasing federal arts funding: When asked about increasing federal government grants to arts organizations from a per capita rate of 45 cents up to $1—effectively doubling the NEA budget—more than half of Americans support the move (54 percent). Likely voters are significantly more likely to support this increase than unlikely voters (56 percent vs. 34 percent).
  • State and local government arts funding has high approval ratings: Twice as many Americans approve of their state and local governments awarding grants to artists and arts organizations than disapprove: local government (57 percent vs. 25 percent); state government (55 percent vs. 27 percent).
  • Community-oriented arts funding has high public value: When presented with specific types of arts funding opportunities, public support skyrockets. Respondents are especially likely to favor government arts funding for art in parks and public spaces (71 percent) and to aid returning military personnel in their transition to civilian life (69 percent). Sixty-eight percent favor using the arts to beautify blighted areas, create programs for the elderly, and promote pro-social behavior with at-risk youth.

Federal candidates can feel safe voting to increase support for the arts: This study sends a positive message from the public to their elected officials: “We will support you at the polls when you fund the arts.” All else being equal, Americans who are likely to vote in the 2016 presidential election are most likely to vote in favor (38 percent) than to vote against (19 percent) a candidate who wanted to increase federal spending on the arts to $1 per capita. Millennials are especially likely to vote in favor of this increase—(47 percent vs. 13 percent who oppose it.)"

Stay tuned.  This is going to be a very interesting next six months.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit
Barry






Wednesday, March 2, 2016

What The Election (So Far) Means for the Arts

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on…………………"

Have a little energy today, so thought I would attempt this.

What The Election (So Far) Means for the Arts:
The short answer is probably that we don't absolutely know for sure.

Except for this:

Background:
Who is elected President is important to the nonprofit arts for two principal reasons:  First, the President prepares the annual budget for Congress to consider.  If there is money in that budget for the arts, humanities, museums, arts education and in various government agencies like housing, veterans affairs, etc. etc. for arts support, it is easier for us to succeed in getting that budget (in some form) through Congress.  If there is no money for any of those things in the budget, it is axiomatically much more difficult to get it put in by Congress - especially a Congress where arts support may be in the minority.  And second, if the President champions the value of art and culture to American society, that imprimatur goes a  long way in our ability to leverage that support in other ways.  So who wins is important.

We are now well into the Democrat and Republican primary process.  The rules governing each are slightly different and important to understand.

The Democrats work under a system of proportional allocation of delegates to their convention at which they will select their nominee for the Presidency.  So (hypothetically) if Clinton wins 60% of the vote in a state with 10 delegates, and Sanders wins 40% - she gets 6 delegates and he gets 4 delegates.   In addition to the delegates available from each state, the Democrats also have what are called "super delegates" -- elected officials (Congress, City Mayors, Governors, State office holders and party officials).  There are about 750 of these super delegates.  To win the Democratic nomination a candidate has to have 1250+ votes, so the super delegate votes are a very powerful bloc.  These super delegates are free to vote for any candidate at the convention, but most pledge to support a candidate prior to the Convention (though they are free to change their minds).

The Republicans changed their rules for delegate allocation in 2014.  Now, the contests held prior to March 15 are awarded proportionately just like the Democrats.  After that, most of the states are "winner take all" meaning that if any of the candidates win a primary (though in most states they have to get over a threshold of 50% of the vote) they get all the delegates from that state.  The Republicans don't have the super delegate category.

So what is likely to happen?

Given Clinton's victories on Super Tuesday, coupled with her already pledged super delegates, it will be difficult for Sanders to amass the delegate count needed to win the nomination.  Her impressive showing among all the communities of color make her hard to beat.  She has to be considered the presumptive nominee.  That doesn't mean that Sanders is likely to drop out.  He did better than expected on Super Tuesday winning four states (Vermont, Oklahoma, Colorado and Minnesota), and, as importantly, he has money in his coffers.  For him, this whole campaign has been as much about his message as actually winning.  Of course, nothing is for certain until the actual convention vote, and as Yogi Berra use to quip: "It ain't over til it's over", but it's hard to see Sanders prevailing.

On the Republican side, given Trump's Super Tuesday wins, he is clearly the one with momentum and the ongoing front runner status.   If he beats Rubio in his home state of Florida (he's far ahead), and Kasich in Ohio (again Trump is ahead) mid-month - it very likely IS all over, Cruz's wins in his state of Texas and neighboring Oklahoma, and Rubio's one victory in Minnesota notwithstanding.   Trump continues to confound the pundits and the so called experts who have utterly failed to understand the anger and frustration in both parties with the dysfunctional government in Washington.  He has been as outrageous as anyone could have possibly imagined and yet  he continues to win.  People are fed up.  They want an outsider.

On the Republican side there is all kinds of jockeying and maneuvering both publicly and behind the scenes.  There is a sizable portion of the party who fear Trump will not be able to beat Hillary, and that he will otherwise damage the party  - including the fear that his being the head of the ticket will negatively impact all those other Republicans running for election and re-election - many in contested races, and with minority populations.  Trump is seen as not a true conservative, and more importantly, as damaging the brand over time.  After his third win, Cruz continues to argue that he is the one to stop Trump, and so the rest of the candidates should drop out and everybody should coalesce behind him.  The problem is a lot of the party stalwarts just don't like him, and many fear he is too conservative to prevail in a general election.  And he didn't do nearly as well in the Super Tuesday southern states where the Evangelical and Conservative cards ought to have played better for him.  Instead, Trump came out the victor.  Rubio continues to make much the same argument, though without the support of multiple victories.  He continues to enjoy much of the support of those who initially thought Jeb Bush was the one to lead a more moderate conservative Republican base, but having won only Minnesota, and his meltdown in the debate last month, the big money has yet to rally to his support.  Kasich continues to argue that he is the one best positioned to beat a democrat, but his loss to Trump in Massachusetts yesterday belie his argument.   All of them continue to insist they will stay in the race until the bitter end - though that end is likely to come sooner than later for at least a couple of them.  And all of them in the race helps Trump.

The "Stop Trump" movement has arguably come too little, too late.  The momentum remains with him.  If he beats Rubio in Florida and Kasich in Ohio, the bandwagon effect may come into play, and we very well may then see, if not a stampede to endorse Trump, at least a long and steady stream of such endorsements (as the party leadership wants to be in line for plumb appointments in a Trump administration.  Christie was just the first - angling for the Attorney General appointment perhaps?)  Nowhere is self interest more prevalent than in party politics, and politicians are not averse to making deals with the devil if it helps them personally.  A President has enormous power including the patronage of appointments, and beltway insiders always want to be in the game.  The Republicans have been "out" for eight years.  Just because they may not like Trump, is hardly any reason for them not to get behind him and (hopefully) share in the spoils.  Ditto for business interests.

Now it is possible, thought improbable, (and it may well be a strategy of some of those who are desperate to stop Trump from getting the nomination) that no candidate would have the requisite delegate numbers on the first ballot to secure the nomination - and we would have a so-called "brokered convention".  And after the first ballot, virtually all the delegates are then free to vote for anyone they want on subsequent ballots.   Then you have back room deals being made (read the ultimate self-interest).  The problem with this strategy is that millions of those who voted for say Trump, were he to be then denied the nomination, might very well bolt the party insuring a Democratic victory - something the Republicans want to avoid at any cost.  It would be great theatre though.

So what does that mean for the arts?

Can Trump win?  Can Cruz, or Rubio or Kasich?  Can Hillary?

All the candidates have high negatives, all have baggage.  But there is no question that (despite the handwringing and dumbfounded consternation on the part of lots of people) yes, any one of them can win.   Remember, the American voters are an odd bunch.  We elected JFK, Nixon twice, Reagan, then Clinton, Bush and Obama.   If that isn't all over the map, then I don't know what would be.  And there is the tendency for us to vote the other party in after one party has occupied the White House for two terms.  Give the other guy a turn.  And people are pissed off - in general - at everything.  All the people.  Ok, most of the people anyway.

The warnings by Rubio, Cruz, Bush and the GOP stalwarts that Trump can't win, that he doesn't represent the Republican party, that he's a liability are nonsense in that if he wins the delegate count, he will be the party nominee, and the party will (with some exceptions perhaps) get behind him.  That doesn't mean he won't stumble - and elections are often decided on people stumbling.  But so far, every seeming stumble hasn't hurt him.   Testimony to the anger of his supporters I think.

Assuming Trump is the presumptive nominee:  Trump's victory numbers are still less than 50% (though approaching that milestone in a couple of states), and he has alienated huge blocs of voters  - even in his own party.  The same is true for the other Republican candidates. But that may not mean much, and the Democrats will be making a fatal mistake if they count on it as their firewall. And after the convention, Trump, and the rest, are likely to tone down their incendiary rhetoric and try to move to the middle.  That may work, it may be a flawed approach and alienate their bases.   Hillary will be a formidable opponent, not likely as easy to derail as Rubio, Cruz and the rest of the GOP candidates were for Trump, and the Clinton machine is far more experienced than were the Republican candidates, and they can dish it out with the best of them - including Trump.  But Trump will be formidable too.  The email "problem" will continue to dog Hillary.  But Trump may have some (as yet undisclosed) skeletons in his closet too.  Lots of money will be spent, but it's doubtful either side will have a huge financial advantage.  I don't know how Bernie might fare, but if he were to get the nomination, I suspect he would fare better than many think.  One advantage the Democrats have is that the party, including the candidates, should have no trouble getting behind whomever wins the nomination.  Will the Republicans put on a happy public face?

Victory for the Democrats will likely hinge on their ability to mobilize the African American, Latino/a and Asian communities to get out and vote - reminding them of Trump's (assuming he is the nominee) extreme positions on issues important to them.  And motivating the Millennials that Bernie excited will also be key.  It's the ground game that will be critical to the Democrats.  It's all about "organization".  Trump and the Republicans need the disaffection and anger to continue (and would be helped enormously by a souring economy, or perceived slights to America by Russia, China or others, or a terrorist incident on U.S. soil - god forbid).  This election is likely to be close.

The fact is that most people will have likely sided with one of the two well before the vote in November.  There will be a small group of "undecideds", who will decide the election, and in a small number of states.  In fact, the election will again likely be determined by the voters in half dozen or so states (Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Iowa and perhaps Wisconsin, New Mexico and Nevada).  Some of Obama's victorious states like Michigan might be in play this cycle.  Few of the Romney won states will be.  It's no accident that the Republican convention is in Cleveland Ohio, and the Democrat convention is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - two "in play" states.  Most of the rest of the states are pretty solidly blue or red.

Ok, ok so………What does that mean for us - in the nonprofit arts sector?

On the Democratic side, both Sanders and Clinton can be expected to be arts supportive.  They may or may not actually get it, but both can pretty reliably be expected to support the NEA, Arts Education and the general proposition that arts and culture are important to the country.  I wouldn't look for any game changing support, but at least they will defend the status quo.  The arts stand to be better off under a Democratic President than a Republican one in this election IMHO.

We don't know much about the positions on the Arts and Arts Education of the Republicans - especially Trump.  Optimists will believe that as a New Yorker of substantial means, he understands the arts somewhat.  (Cruz and Rubio, having positioned themselves as strict conservatives for whom policy dogma is paramount, (including tax cuts, budget cuts, and increased military spending) would not (in my opinion) likely be arts supportive.  Cruz in particular would seem the least arts friendly.  Both Cruz and Rubio scored at the bottom in the Arts Action Fund Congressional Report Card.)  And even Kasich and the theoretical moderates cannot be considered as arts supportive.  A victory by any of these candidates might very well bode ill for arts support in Washington come 2017 and it is not inconceivable to me that any one of them might zero out federal government funding support.  Then again, Trump, or any of them, may confound people and move towards the moderate center after the election.  Or not.

Trump is the wild card - we have no idea where he really stands.

And we need to know.  We need to get to his people -- now -- not in November or December. and find out if he has a position, and try to get him to go on the record as at least ok with the NEA and arts education.  We don't want him to embrace the conservative dogma that funding for the arts ought to be a private matter, or that we simply cannot afford to support the arts.  How do we get to him?  I don't know.  Through Christie, or Giuliani or someone else in his circle I suppose.  But get to him we must.  The sooner the better.

What would happen if there were a serious challenge to funding the NEA?  What if, as President, Trump (or Cruz or Rubio) echoed the hardliner position that the government ought not to be in the business of funding the arts?  And what if our usual economic and other arguments fell on deaf ears?

One ace in the hole that we have is that 40% of the Endowment funding, by law, goes to the states and regional organizations, and we could mount considerable local constituency pressure on the White House and on Congress to make sure they don't get rid of money coming into their districts.  That's a lot of work.  It would be far better for us if Trump's position was to hold the status quo.

The worst case scenario  (and herein lies the real danger) of a successful attack on the full funding of the Endowment  - while only a $150 +/- million drop - might send a very bad message to state legislatures and even city councils that already have factions that want to defund their state and municipal arts agencies - and embolden many to emulate the feds and get rid of local funding.  Could that snowball?  That would compound the problem in the short term by removing even more funding from the table, and worse would set a precedent that would take a long, long time to overturn.  It might herald the beginning of the end of public support for the arts, and that, in my opinion, would be a disaster of epic proportions.  It could certainly create a have / have not situation for public funding depending on the politics of where you live.

A GOP White House victory this time around may involve an uphill battle to secure NEA support, or the support of a Trump (or any GOP) Administration championing of arts and culture as a primary societal value.  Not for sure, of course, but conventional wisdom suggests a likely lean to the right might put the arts in the crosshairs of those that believe (at best) that the arts should be private sector funded.  Ironically, Trump might actually be a better gamble for the arts than either Cruz or Rubio.

This is, for a huge sector of the public, a protest election.  Both Trump's and Sanders' base are those who are fed up with the system and see no hope for its functioning.  Indeed, they want to turn it on its head.  In a sense Trump and Sanders are opposite sides of the same disaffection and anger coin, and that is appealing to a large segment of the voting public.  They are "movement" candidates, and the fact that both are short on setting forth how they would make good on their promises, is irrelevant to their supporters.  They each speak a "truth" as their supporters hear it, and that seems all that counts.  Things that might logically matter in an election have come to be irrelevant and meaningless.  People don't care about details, or specifics or even their own logically best interests.  They are making a statement.  Don't expect things to fall into place as they usually do in this cycle - even after the election is over.  This time things may really be different.

Anything can, and probably will, happen over the nest two or three months.  Fortunes can dramatically change and voters are fickle.  But if I had to make a guess at this point, i would think it likely that Trump  and Clinton will win their party nominations and face each other in the general election.   Clearly there is a lot at stake - including for us.

What is very likely is that Congress itself will change very little.  It's possible, though not probable, that the Dems could regain control of the Senate.  The House will stay Republican.  We will, in January 2017, very likely have a Congress not much different than the one we have now - and that means entrenched positions, incivility, dogma, and gridlock making compromise impossible.  Red states and Blue states have lines in the sand.  Despite all the usual homage to healing the country, uniting the people, and reaching across the aisle to work together, building bridges not walls -- none of that is likely to happen.  Sounds nice, but it's a pipe dream at this moment in time.  Arts funding - or defunding - will depend, I believe, on White House leadership.  Not a pretty picture I fear if the GOP wins.  And I think it better to consider a worst case scenario as opposed to merely hoping for a better outcome.

The arts need to unify as they have never done before.  They need to organize to insure both party's candidates (but particularly the Republican nominee) are convinced that support for the arts will help them, and is the right thing to do.  It will take a tremendous effort to rally those on our side to make a convincing case - particularly as political players.  And I fear the usual advocacy and telling of our stories may simply not work this time around.  This is, I think, potentially the most serious threat to public arts funding in perhaps 40 years.  And I shudder to think of a new era wherein public funding for the arts is on its way out.  What, I wonder, will the arts in America look like if public funding largely dries up over the next eight years and beyond?

Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry







Sunday, February 21, 2016

Idea Block

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on………………."

Professional (and I suppose even amateur) writers often complain about "writer's block" - that frequent malaise whereby one sits staring at a blank page and is seemingly paralyzed by the inability to come up with anything to fill the space.  No ideas come, no profound thoughts or insights -- no thoughts really at all - and certainly no way to communicate in a way that makes the words come alive for the reader.  Those with a deadline for a report or other written document may be all too familiar with this ailment.

And, I think, the phenomenon isn't limited to writers.  There is a similar reality that often affects many when we are trying to come up with really good ideas about how to move forward in some area.  Idea block is pretty common I think.

What causes these (hopefully) temporary setbacks in thought processing?  I don't know.

What can you do?  There are a few things people try when faced with these challenges.

First, is to walk away and abandon the idea that you can overcome the empty warehouse of your mind by sheer will power.  Sometimes, you need to change your environment - mental and / or physical - so as to put distance between yourself and……….well, yourself.

Brainstorming - with other people - may help.  There may be ideas you seek, but you just can't get them out.  Sharing them might allow someone else to give them enough form for you to again have a breakthrough.  Often times a random thought will trigger the mental processes that allow you to again take command of getting your thinking back on track.

Riff off a small part of the idea you are working on, and maybe by flushing out that small part, the bigger picture will come into focus.  Songwriters use this approach sometimes,

Table the idea and come up with another one to work on that seems to have more life for you.

Float any idea that is even remotely related to the project or challenge and ask people to pick it apart.  In facing what is lacking, you might be able to again move towards something that will work.

I think everybody runs out of ideas at some point - at least temporarily.  Don't panic.  It seems to be a cyclical occurrence with dry periods, followed by fertile periods and probably back again.  


Have a good week.

Don't Quit
Barry








Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Life's A Pitch

Good morning
"And the beat goes on…………….."

Have a break from doctors this week, so am trying to get a couple of posts up.

Thoughts on the Pitch Meeting:
Hollywood long ago institutionalized the "pitch" meeting as a way of doing business.  Producers, writers and those with ideas for a project (movie or television) would get a brief (five / ten minute) opportunity with someone who could "green light" their idea.  Their job is to "pitch" their idea so convincingly - make it so attractive -  that they get a go-ahead.

While I'm sure today some tech guys could write an algorithm to enhance a "pitch", the Entertainment Industry relied pretty much on a pitch as an art form - just the right mix of excitement and temptation, an encapsulated plot, dropping a name or two of who might star in the vehicle (or at least a star "type" - "imagine, if you will, Meryl Streep in the part……."), all designed to appeal to the universal desire for box office success.  (The music industry version was a pitch accompanied by a "demo" tape - and so, while still selling a dream, had attached to it an actual example of the potential - both a plus and a huge minus in that it's sometimes easier to sell a dream if the particulars are left to the imagination).

The Hollywood version of the "pitch" was unlikely the first use of the tool, as "pitching" ideas or projects has probably forever been part of business, and really, of life itself. Today the idea of the "pitch meeting" was itself a "pitch" --  the result of which is the television program Shark Tank (which we in the arts have borrowed with the Art Tank concept done in Arizona - and more recently a version done in Silicon Valley).   The same concept of the Hollywood pitch is embodied in the idea of the "elevator pitch" - wherein you have a very limited time to get your idea and "ask" out.  

People have been "pitching" ideas, pleas for help, solicitation for support and participation for eons.  Twitter is largely built on one of the hallmarks of a pitch - expressing yourself and getting an idea across in a very brief period of time, with limited verbiage.

And pitches are hardly limited to ideas or projects.  We all pitch things both personal and professional all the time.  We're pitching when we apply for a job and when we try to recruit talent.  We're pitching when we invite people into our circles, and when we seek to be included in other's spheres.  We're pitching when we seek a raise or try to raise money - whatever the purpose.  In fact, while we don't necessarily think of it as "pitching", we are probably pitching things on a daily basis.  Recruiting a new board member is a pitch, courting donors is a pitch, negotiating an agreement on something is a pitch, selling audiences is a pitch, arguing for a marketing approach is a pitch..  Even your suggestion to your spouse of where to go to dinner, or what movie to see, is a pitch.  

Clearly, not all, and perhaps not even most, of our pitches are successful.  Sometimes that's because our pitch wasn't very good, or not good enough. As both art form and acquired skill, we can always improve our pitches. But more often than not, it has little to do with how artful the pitch itself was, or even, how we performed as pitchmen.  As often as not it's simply that what we are pitching isn't something aligned in a way that works for the person to whom we are pitching.  It isn't personal.  Rejection of pitches we make is just part of the reality of life - very likely the norm.

There are two simple rules of pitching I think.  One, where the pitch is unsuccessful, move on.  Time is the most precious commodity, and wasting time on a failed pitch makes no sense on any level.  Two, we can learn something from every pitch - large and small, successful and unsuccessful - and being aware of recognizing when we are pitching, and then learning from what worked and didn't work may well make us better pitchers in the long run.  

Because we are all pitching constantly, it might help if we pay attention to the phenomenon.  A good pitch has some identifiable threads:  1) Brevity - it gets the idea across quickly; 2) Substance - the idea has merit and legs and deserves consideration; 3) Realism - the idea is do-able on every level; 4) excitement - the pitch promises a valuable experience; and 5) Benefit - realization of the substance of the pitch is beneficial to both the pitcher and the pitchee.  But even if all the elements are top form, a pitch may fail. And as all pitches are, on many levels, personal - the benefit being pitched must be accepted as such by the person to whom it is being pitched.  

Even when we are not pitching something specific, thinking like a pitchman may have benefits.  Communicating with others in a concise, organized, and brief way is a good habit.  Making that communication interesting and appealing, as well as reasoned and realistic makes for increased success in getting across our thoughts.  A successful pitch is rarely an argument for or against something, it's rather a portrait of the benefits of embracing that which is being pitched.  That is usually the call of the person being pitched something.  Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we don't.  Such is life.  

Go through an entire day, and note how many pitches you make - small and large, intended and unintended.  And note too which ones were weak and why, and which ones worked better, and why.  And, at the same time, be aware of people pitching you.  Awareness ought to help you make better pitches, and thus more successful ones.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit
Barry

Monday, February 1, 2016

Awards / Rewards

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on……………"

Note:  I've been having problems with the blogger platform and email account.  It may have been hacked.  Working on a solution. 

Another post from the queue:

A lot of leadership comes down to two tasks: 1) Find and recruit the very best people you can to work with you, given your resources and circumstances; and then 2) motivate those people to do their best work.

There are numerous ways to motivate your people.  Finding fault is not one of them.  One of the easiest and most inexpensive ways is to acknowledge their contributions.  Everyone likes a pat on the back, particularly if public.  It's nice to be acknowledged and recognized for hard work done well.  While an occasional word of thanks is often enough, something more goes further.

An easy way to elevate those acknowledgments is to present people with a more formalized recognition of their contributions - in the form of some kind of award (be it a certificate, a plaque, a trophy or whatever).  I don't think we do nearly enough of this kind of thank you to our people.  Some might argue that such awards are diminished by giving them out too frequently, to too many people, but I disagree.  I don't think this kind of formal award is lessened, or in any way cheapened, by the fact that there are many within our organizations that deserve them - from our staff and board members, to our volunteers and donors / supporters.

When I first got to the California Arts Council and noted that many staff members had been serving for years and years - without any recognition at all - I arranged for small (but elegant) desktop, engraved lucite trophies to be given to staff that had been around for five, ten, fifteen, and even twenty years - acknowledging and thanking them for that service. I believe this simple (and long overdue) gesture was appreciated by the staff and that it helped forge a good relationship with me (being new), and most important, the recognition and simple thank-you relayed the message to the recipients that they were important to the organization, and that I knew it.  I think it helped in motivating them to continue to do the excellent work they had been doing.  It was relative inexpensive to do, and paid big dividends.  And it made the recipients feel good - and that is important.

I think more organizations should do just that.  And not only with their staffs, but with their Boards, their donors and supporters and even partners and government authorizing agencies (if applicable).

Of course, rewards are always appreciated.  Days off, special parking places, bonuses, salary increases,  increased decision making authority, and other tangible expressions of thanks go a long way, but I believe just the formalization of recognition and thanks is the key.

So, I would urge all of you to consider who within your organization you might be overdue in acknowledging and thanking for their past and ongoing contributions, and then do it.  Google "trophy / awards" and you will be surprised how inexpensive you can get engraved awards.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry