Sunday, May 6, 2018

Does Your Organization Have a "Story" Bank?

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

Stories have long been part of our "case making" process.  Though anecdotal, our stories, particularly of our supporters, audiences, volunteers, and donors complement other kinds of data and evidence we use to make our case to funders, the media, the public and our own constituent base.  The stories are important because they play to the human side of the equation, often giving context and meaning to our other arguments as to our value.

In advocacy, for example, we are encouraged, in personal meetings with elected officials, to always have someone with us who can tell a personal story as to how what we do has personally impacted them in a positive way.  That impact can be anything from an education, health or even emotional  benefit.  Stories give our arguments a human component and thus make other arguments more understandable and meaningful.

A Story Bank is a way to collect stories from people involved in our organizations and to organize and make those stories more easily and readily available.  Rather than having to identify an appropriate story every time we might have use for one, a Story Bank is a readily available, ongoing catalog of those stories, which can be used for a myriad of purposes.

In a post by Wendy Levy, Executive Director at the Alliance for Media Arts and Culture, she notes:
"A storybank is a mechanism for capturing and sharing stories in a variety of mediums. If we don’t capture our stories and share them, they’ll disappear.
But stories are more than just currency. They are footprints, chronicles of our collective human experience, exchanges, lessons, memories and maps."

I would urge every organization to set up a Story Bank as a repository of stories relevant to the organization.  Those can chronicle personal impact and value, can preserve the organization's history and legacy, and can categorize beat practices and past mistakes.  While data and evidence based decision making is essential, stories can give data and evidence meaning, and enhance how we use data and evidence to make smart decisions.  It is our stories, particularly of impact and value, that support the argument of the preference for the intrinsic value of the arts.

There are all kinds of stories:  Stories that changed the direction of a young person's life; stories that gave meaning and helped the health care of a senior; stories that helped to bridge divides between people in a community; stories about the sheer joy of beholding something of beauty; stories about well spent afternoons or evenings in the company of friends.  Our stories are unlimited and endless.  And they need a place to live.  They can help us, inform us, and remind us of who we are and what we do. They can be used as evidence, in reports and even evaluations, in marketing and publicity and to help form our best decisions.  And over time, they lend perspective to where we've been and where we're going.

So how do you set up a Story Bank.  Start by surveying your own staff and Board and ask them for their stories as to how the organization and the arts have influenced and impacted their lives, and why they value the arts.  This doesn't have to be complicated, nor do the stories need to be epic tomes.  A paragraph of a personally told anecdotal story is often enough. Try to start your story database there, then when you have that foundation, move on to your supporters, donors, volunteers, and don't forget the kids - whose stories are often the most poignant and impactful.

Finally, move to your audiences.  Send out simple surveys.  Set up a table at your event to encourage people to include their stories. Give them examples.  Make it simple, and fun.  Ask people if you can call or email them to do a very quick interview, then create a template of two or three interview questions designed to get their story.  Figure out ways to reward your story tellers.  Generally, people like to tell their stories.

Over time you will have created a Bank of Stories that you, your staff and Board and others can tap into to make the case for your organizations on multiple levels.  That bank can help the organization for years.  If possible, you can create a separate website to house all the stories and make it accessible to the public, to the media etc. - or at least include a story section on your main website.

The folks at FamiliesUSA - a site devoted to family healthcare - have created an excellent Toolkit, including video instruction, on how how to create, collect and manage a Story Bank.  Excellent resource.

Stories are powerful.  But you need to organize and catalog them to make them accessible to you - and others - so as to make them easily available and to capture their power.  They do little good hidden away and forgotten.  Give them the light of day.  This needn't take away precious staff time; it's a perfect project for a volunteer to organize.

Good luck.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry



Monday, April 23, 2018

If Multi-Tasking Has Been Discredited as Not Working - Why Do We Continue to Embrace the Concept?

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

For a long time, the ability to simultaneously juggle multiple assignments - to multi-task - has been a required skill for arts administrators.  Our job announcements list it as necessary.

The reason we have embraced this concept is likely that our workloads have become ever more demanding and complex, while our time has grown ever scarcer.  We simply lack the financial resources to employ a sufficient number of people to get the work done, and so each of us must take on a greater and greater work load.  This is particularly true for smaller organizations with small staffs.  We juggle, we attempt to multi-task.  We try to do several things at once.

But the evidence is very strong that multi-tasking not only doesn't work - it is counter productive, and may slow us down rather than enabling us to get more done.

According to an article in Health:

"Contrary to popular belief, multitasking doesn’t save time. In fact, it will probably take you longer to finish two projects when you’re jumping back and forth than it would to finish each one separately.  
What you call multitasking is really task-switching, says Guy Winch, PhD, author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries. “When it comes to attention and productivity, our brains have a finite amount,” he says."

So multi-tasking is really a misnomer.  We constantly switch between tasks.  Too often we switch back and forth, and suffer the same negatives that are associated with multi-tasking.

In a Los Angeles Times piece reposted in Psychology Today, Steve Chawkins noted that Dr. Clifford Nass, a Stanford professor, who was the director of the Communication between Humans and Interactive Media (CHIMe) Lab, noted that multi-tackers:

"showed impaired cognitive processing, which is necessary for effective multitasking and deep thought. His research looked at three skills: filtering, working memory management, and task switching. Filtering is the ability to focus on the relevant and ignore the irrelevant. Working memory management is the ability to organize information and retrieve it efficiently. Task switching involves the speed at which someone is able to move from one task to another. In all three areas, Dr. Nass and his colleagues found that multitaskers performed quite poorly.
"In an NPR interview, Dr. Nass described multitaskers as "suckers for distraction and suckers for the irrelevant, and so the more irrelevant information they see, the more they're attracted to it." He also discovered that multitaskers tend to be worse at managing their working memory and slower at switchhng from one task to another."

As reported in the Psychology Today article, Chawkins's LA Times article noted that:

"Dr. Nass was especially concerned to find that "people who regularly jumped into four or more information streams had a tougher time concentrating on just one thing even when they weren’t multitasking "

The Health article noted a dozen reasons why multi-tasking may be a bad idea, including:


  1. "It's stressful," and that stress is not without consequences.
  2. "You're not actually good at it."  
  3. It wastes time.  "Psychiatrists and productivity experts often recommend OHIO: Only Handle It Once. It basically means if you take something on, don’t stop until you’ve finished it. The problem with multitasking, though, is that it makes Only Handling It Once a near impossibility—instead, you’re handling it five or six times, says Winch. “If you’re going to stick to this principle, you need to be disciplined and plan out your day so that when a distraction arises or a brilliant idea occurs to you, you know that there will be time for it later.”
  4. "It’s dampening your creativity.  Multitasking requires a lot of what’s known as "working memory," or temporary brain storage, in layman’s terms. And when working memory’s all used up, it can take away from our ability to think creatively, according to research from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Too much focus can actually harm performance on creative problem-solving tasks,” the authors wrote in their 2010 study. With so much already going on in their heads, they suggest, multitaskers often find it harder to daydream and generate spontaneous “a ha moments.”

Another online article authored by Simone Smith in 15Five, adds:


  1. "More Tasks = More Mistakes. This is a logical consequence of the lack of focus characteristic of multitasking. When doing several things at once, your mind is divided between them so it’s only natural that your mistakes will multiply. And according to the Stanford research, multitaskers are terrible at filtering out irrelevant information. That means that there is sure to be some mental cross-firing and overlap between tasks."
  2. "It affects your memory.  In 2011, the University of California, San Francisco published a research study showing how quickly shifting from one task to another impacts short term memory."
  3. It causes anxiety.

So why do we continue to believe multi-tasking is a positive attribute; one essential to our work?

Clearly, all of us have a lot on our plates.  Different tasks that have to get done every day; frequently too much really.  But the evidence suggests that trying to deal with all these things at the same time is counter productive and a poor use of our time.  Better to focus on one at a time, than to have several open at once.  

And just like when we were students, many of us likely procrastinate, and instead of starting work in earnest when an assignment first materializes, we postpone diving into it until it registers with us that the completion date is at hand. That's unfortunately a bad habit we need to unlearn. So the key may be prioritization, and getting an early start on new tasks -- though I know that is a luxury not always available to all of us.  Certainly reducing our workload isn't always possible.  Avoiding jumping back and forth, and focusing one one task at a time seems to work better.

We ought to delete the mythical skill of multi-tasking from our job posts.  Asking people to accept that the job entails doing the impossible is a mistake for people and organizations.  Focus is the skill we need, and the habits that make it possible.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit
Barry











Monday, April 16, 2018

Strategies for Increasing Age / Socio Economic Class Board Membership Diversity

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

Two weeks ago, I posted a blog suggesting that when we consider diversity on our Boards, we ought to include both age and socioeconomic status as considerations.  Specifically, we need more young people and people who are less economically, educationally and otherwise privileged.

Calling out the glaring omission of most of our Boards to have that kind of representation is, of course, the easy part.  Deconstructing the obstacles and barriers to achieving that goal and coming up with concrete ways to go about addressing the challenges is the hard part.  Action is always the hard part - knowing where to start, what to try, and, as often as not, just getting a handle on ideas is not always easy.

I got an email in response to the blog post from Sherry Wagner-Henry, Director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration in Wisconsin, informing me of a program to put students on Boards:


"We launched a nonprofit board leadership program through our home school--the Wisconsin School of Business--to provide opportunities for graduate students in business, nonprofit studies, environmental studies, education, law school, social work, and of course the arts, to both share the content we've developed around good practices for serving on a nonprofit board, and simultaneously, place them on a nonprofit board (in teams of two students per org) around Dane County.
Our motivation for launching this program was two-fold: I was most interested at first to make sure the the MBA arts administration students of the Bolz Center were getting board service and leadership opportunities before they started leading organizations. But the second motivator was more complex. My partner and I had read a report from BoardSource "Leading with Intent" where we noticed that all forms of diversity on nonprofit boards was not moving much--with the exception of gender diversity. While it is still not the case in For Profit boards, nonprofit boards have become much more gender balanced. But when it comes to ethnicity, age, socio-economic status and sexual identity/orientation, we are still leagues away from where we should be. This got us to thinking--the university is a microcosm of all these sorts of diversity--particularly age--so why not use this opportunity to direct a demographic that is much needed toward board service BEFORE they graduate and start becoming the leaders of industry, education, the environment and the social sector at large?"


Good idea this.  The University program is a natural pool of younger people; future leaders who will be, and are now, excellent candidates for Boards.  Both the students and the organizations benefit from the experience and opportunity.

Sherry added:


"The results have been phenomenal! We fill the class every year (looking to expand number of sections offered); we have partnerships with more than 40 organizations in Dane County, with a waiting list for others that want to participate. For profit and nonprofit companies are calling us, asking us to develop training programs for their organizations. The course runs for an entire academic year, with the first semester being about the matching/recruitment process, orientation, and on-boarding for the student teams into the culture and process of these boards. They get to know their organizations while they take coursework that help them understand how to best contribute to the work of their nonprofits. By the end of the fall term, they have developed a governance-based project with and for their board. Spring becomes case study work and implementation of said project.
By placing students in teams of two, they don't feel so isolated or alone, while they get to know their mentors and their executive directors. And the EDs have told us they are thrilled with this opportunity. Not only does it open up and help them consider recruitment and board development strategies for diversification and inclusion, but the unexpected result is that their boards have become MORE engaged than they ever have been--because they are modeling good behavior and practice for the students in the room!"


 I wondered if her success included a representative sample of our field.  So I asked her:
Did her organizational partners run the gamut of arts organizations in terms of budget size, Eurocentric v. multicultural, older more established organizations v. newer and smaller? 

Sherry responded:


"I think they are as broad as the spectrum actually is at the moment in Madison, Wisconsin--and for those who are willing to open up their boards to our program.  We've had very small organizations (under $150K) tell us they don't think they have the time to give the students the experience they feel they need.  Of course, many of those types of organizations are lucky to have one paid staff member, so we certainly understand their assumptions.
We have both small and large budget arts organizations--from that $150K level to our downtown PAC at $13M.  We've had an interesting development just today--a donor to a dance company in town wants to pay to give all the staff and board access to the course.  We actually make the class available to the EDs and any board members who wish to attend, but we rarely get any takers after the first night of pitching/matching happens.
As for ethnic diversity, what is interesting is that we are finding (like in many places) that some of our social services partners, who do bring more diversity in their staff and boards, are also most interested in leveraging the arts and arts programming as part of their programs, particularly for youth.  Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers, Big Sisters Goodman Community Center and the YWCA have all exhibited commitment to arts programming, and therefore, are interested in Bolz Center students being on their teams.
MMoCA (Madison Museum of Contemporary Art) is our oldest organization at around 130 years old, while Forward Theater Company at 9 years old, is our newest."


One of the challenges to recruiting younger people to our boards is identifying the pool of individuals who might potentially be a good fit, and from which to draw.  University programs, particularly those in arts administration, are a natural fit, and, best of all, they already exist and are easy to identify.  I think the Bolz program Sherry has instituted might be something that can be replicated elsewhere. It can be  both a source of immediate board member candidates, and a longer term build up of a pool of experienced board members as the student cohort enters the field and moves into the tenures of their service.

There are likely other extant pools of potential younger cohort candidates for our boards, in those arts organizations that specifically serve younger people as their target.  A program like the Bolz program that provided some training, mentorship and ongoing support could benefit the younger cohort and the organizations they might serve.  More difficult than the University setting where the whole experiment can be organized as part of the curriculum, but still potentially win win.

This kind of approach might be one way to address the absence of younger people on our Boards, but it doesn't solve, or even really address, the issue of the absence of representative socio-economic and class status on our Boards.  Certainly most younger people recruited to our Boards will not yet have had time to accumulate wealth, status and position,  and so they might theoretically qualify as yet privileged.  But it also likely many of them, in University programs, and even as beneficiaries of our programs targeting youth, are from the privileged class and / or on track to be such.  Those that might be accepted by our least socioeconomic diversified Boards are very well likely to mirror the socioeconomic composition of those Boards, if not now, then in time.  So while there is promise for the Bolz approach to address the age challenge, in all probability, it doesn't address the socioeconomic challenge.

The one element of the Bolz experiment that might be tried is in our growing relationship with other nonprofit organizations within our communities; organizations with which we may already be seeking to collaborate and partner on projects; organizations that more completely include lower socioeconomic classes and less privileged people.  Our outreach to those organizations to help us to diversify our boards, our outlooks and perspectives might be fertile ground for addressing the lack of any obvious pool of candidates into which we can tap.  As we increase our community involvement on other levels and for other purposes, it may become easier for us to identify ways to recruit more diversified people to out Boards.  And if we were to take that approach, we might be able to identify organizations and groups within our communities that could provide us with a pool of Board candidates even if there were not other mutual projects or programs for us to pursue.

People tend to cling to their own.  Familiarity breeds not contempt, but comfort.  Nonprofit Boards in general have been the province of people who have the luxury of time to devote to the enterprise.  And on high profile cultural organizations and foundations, the categorical composition of those Boards hasn't changed much in decades.  Even the recruitment of people of color, of women, and in some cases "out" gays - have tended to be limited to those who share socioeconomic status, educational level, working relationships and other vestiges of what we call privilege.  it's a good thing, but its not the solution of representative socio economic status.

I haven't come across a great program or strategy to increase the socioeconomic profile of our Boards, one that includes those who do not share the same trappings of privilege we can ascribe to those now in the positions.  If anybody has one, please let me know.  This is not an easy challenge to address.

Of course, the biggest challenge has to do with our 'will' to make inclusion of differing socio economic classes on our Boards.  Without wanting to make that inclusion, no available pool of potential candidates will matter much at all.  And it seems likely that while we may make attempts to increase diversity of age on our Boards, if only in token numbers, we are less likely to see socioeconomic status diversity hold the same priority.  Boards have their own legacies and cultures, and change is often difficult - particularly as the organization grows older.  That's just a given organizational dynamic.  I doubt attitudinal changes can be legislated or mandated.  Perhaps as the movement for organizations to be more involved in their local communities grows, change will come.  Time will tell.  In the meantime, organizations that seek to add the diversity of age and socioeconomic status to the perspectives of their Boards need to first identify potential pools of candidates.

Many thanks to Sherry at Bolz for sharing with me a great program.  Hopefully it can be launched by others.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry