Sunday, June 24, 2012

Advice Off the Internet

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

There is a lot of advice available off the internet.  Some good, some silly.  Google is a good search engine, but it doesn't curate for you, and so finding things of value is often hit and miss.  Much of the good stuff that comes your way comes from someone you know directly or someone several degrees of separation - a kind of guerrilla curation I suppose.  Anyway, here's three pieces of advice I found recently on the web - or which came my way - which you might (or might not) find of interest:

1.  From my favorite site Brain Pickings - Mary Popova offers Five Things Every Presenter Should Know About People (so as to make more effective presentations) - Watch the animated video as she makes a very effective presenter herself:
1. "People learn best in 20-minute chunks. There must be a reason for the successful TED-sized talk format.
2.Multiple sensory channels compete. During a talk, you engage both the auditory and visual channels — because we’re visual creatures and the visual channel trumps the auditory, make sure your slides don’t require people to read much or otherwise distract from the talk.
3. What you say is only one part of your presentation. Paralinguistics explores how information is communicated beyond words — be aware the audience is responding to your body language and tone. Record yourself presenting to get a feel for those and adjust accordingly.
4.  If you want people to act, you have to call them to action. At the end of your presentation, be very specific about exactly what you would like your audience to do.
5.  People imitate your emotions and feel your feelings. If you’re passionate about your topic, this excitement will be contagious for the audience. Don’t hold back."

2.  From Katya Andresen's Nonprofit Blog:  Why you can’t have a huge, active community paying attention at all times.
"I’m often asked, “How do we scale our dedicated fan base?”
Here’s the challenge.
A lot of organizations (both nonprofit and for-profit) start with a dedicated following.  Then they try to grow their community bigger and bigger. Along they way, they keep talking to their audience as if it was one, homogeneous audience. But it’s not.  A lot of people lose interest, because they care about different things.  The audience starts disengaging and dwindling.  And you might end up with a small audience that isn’t dedicated at all.

That’s the rub.

As Clay Shirky said in his book, Cognitive Surplus, “People differ.  More people differ more…and intimacy doesn’t scale.”  He says everyone wants three things:

1. A large group of people
2. An active group of people.
3. A group paying attention to the same thing.

It would be nice and easy if you’re in nonprofit marketing to have that be possible.  But the problem is, you have to pick two.  You can’t have all three at the same time.

So decide.  As you grow and your audience diversifies, are you willing to segment that larger group into smaller groups?  And talk to each of those smaller groups in a different way, based on their interests? It’s what you need to keep growing. One message does not fit one mass."

"If you're missing the sense of achievement that comes from translating ideas into results-delivering reality, then chances are, it's because of one or more of these four reasons:

1. You have no idea how decisions are really made. Whether you manage a business, division, department, project, or team, you have to understand the path of information. How does information arrive into the group, how is it processed, and how is it turned into action? 
Once you understand the process, ask yourself: Does the information flow get snarled? Does a decision have to be run by three different people before being approved? Or does your accounting software fail to give you high-quality data in a timely fashion? These examples are gaps in the process--gaps that will come between the ability of your group to make a decision.
You may want to really map out this process. Trace the path of the last two or three decisions your team made that weren't effectively and efficiently executed. Map where the necessary information came from, the main communication lines and key decision points.
When you're done, if you can easily make sense of what you see, all is good. If it looks like a rat's nest of intertwined, overlapping, dead-end-reaching lines, then you need to simplify your group's decision-making process.

2. You're a micromanager (Yes, you!). The ability of a group to execute effectively can be crushed by just one micromanager.
Can you see the micromanager in your group? They're easy to spot. Find them and make them stop.
But if you can't find one, here's the thing: It's probably you. Micromanaging is so easy to see in others, but is much harder to see in ourselves.
Here's a full-proof test: Pick out the single most productive person in your group. Watch closely at how they get things done. If it includes finding multiple innovative ways to bypass you, then you're the problem.

3. You're rushing the decision. Remember when your business was small and life was simple? 
Now, life isn't that simple. Your business has grown and now has many more moving parts. And, chances are that the growth in complexity happened iteratively, over time, and like the proverbial frog in slowly heated water, you haven't noticed the effect on your decision-making.
Here's the difference: In the smaller, simpler business, you can make a decision fast, and implement it quickly. Now you have a larger, more complex business, making decisions fast actually slows down the implementation process--sometimes crippling it entirely.
Why? Because you made the decision so fast you didn't take into account all the variables (people, customers, systems) involved in your now more complex business.
Once a business has grown beyond infancy, speedy and effective implementation depends on slower decision-making. Not slow--you don't need to descend into to paralysis by analysis--just slower. Take a little longer to make the initial decision, and watch the rate of implementation rise. 

4. You've worn everyone out. You're a passionate, engaged leader. You're intellectually curious, innovative, and not afraid of risk. You're full of great ideas and keen to implement them. Your people respect and admire you... and they're exhausted.
Do your team members avoid you on Monday mornings? Do they look apprehensive when you return from a two-week vacation?
If so, it's because they know weekends and holidays are dangerous times because that's when you come back to the office with five brilliant, must-do projects--even though they haven't finished implementing last month's brilliant, must-do projects.
If you suspect this might be you, then do yourself and your team a favor. Keep a list of all current projects. When you have a blinding flash of creativity which produces a new project, instead of simply adding it to the list, make a conscious, explicit decision about which existing project to drop off the list in return.
You'll find that compared with your existing priorities, many of those 'brilliant must-do's' just aren't that important, and those that do make the list will stand much more chance of actually being implemented."
Food for Thought (from the Web):
  • PEW Report on the Rise of Asian Americans Overtaking Hispanics as the largest growing immigrant population.
  • Blue Avocado Nonprofit Newsletter considers the problem in Board composition of  our "focusing our attention on what people are, rather than on what the organization needs board members to do."
Have a great week.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Paternalism and the Emerging Leaders Movement

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

Emerging Leaders:
I am writing this on Father's Day, so Happy Father's Day to all.
We've made great progress over the past couple of years in beginning (and I stress beginning) to address the needs of the Emerging Leaders field.  This movement has resulted in new initiatives to recognize and acknowledge the contributions of that cohort.  And in the process we have learned more about how valuable these people's contributions are, how genuinely talented and smart they are, and what they have to offer (now, not somewhere down the line).  We've come far in giving that group a real voice, in providing them with increased networking opportunities and ways to cope with fundamental challenges they face - from career advancement to professional development.  We've provided increased mechanisms for them to grow and given them a seat at the table as it were. We still have a long, long way to go to truly address the issues they face - from the aforementioned professional development to real career advancement, increased decision making options, and a living wage, but we're farther along than we were.

On Father's Day, I'm wondering whether or not we are being too paternalistic in our approach to this field.  Specifically, I wonder whether or not we are isolating these people by relegating them to their own niche as "emerging", and whether or not by confining them to their own 'silo', we might be doing them, and ourselves - at least in part - a disservice.  I am wondering whether we need to more actively integrate them into the whole of our sector.  While I think it has been, and continues to be, essential to provide them with the opportunities, venues and mechanisms to realize their own needs, strengths, and the power of their numbers, I think it somewhat counter productive to continue to keep them separated by relegating them to their own special interest sub-section of the wider field. This seems particularly relevant to one of the biggest issues with which they must grapple - the question of succession and transition into positions of power and influence.   I think we need to do better at including them as our leaders - not just 'emerging', but in the process at least of becoming fully realized.  I think we need to figure out how to continue to focus on their concerns, but at the same time not distance them from the full measure of the rest of us.

I take some satisfaction in having been a part of the emergence of the Emerging Leaders movement with what turned out to be a ground breaking study of this group in the Youth in the Arts reports done several years ago for the Hewlett Foundation - which study was instrumental in the growth and development of the California Emerging Leadership field.  Now I wonder what can be done to move that energy and work forward to insure that we don't keep them too separate from the whole of the field.

I appreciate and continue to support the need for this group to have their own infrastructure and to be able to forge alliances among themselves to advance their interests, but I also hope we can avoid the existence of artificial walls between them and the wider field in that process.

I have heard from a number of those in this classification over the past few months and the opinions voiced to me underscore the feeling that there is a certain danger in putting these people in a silo and of that silo operating outside of the mainstream of our field.  Of course, the impetus to define and identify what should be done from this point forward ought to, and does, rest with these people themselves, and I sense the beginning of some critical thinking on their part to work towards avoiding the isolation that may come from being the beneficiaries (victims?) of a special designation.

I hope that we can begin in earnest to consider ways to continue to provide service to this cohort while simultaneously finding ways to integrate and more successfully involve them in the mainstream of who we are.  I don't think we can afford too vivisectionist an approach to any one sub-sector of the field - a field where are organizations are already divided into numerous classifications based on discipline, geography, and function.  I wouldn't want to see our leadership similarly divided.

NEA and Research:
Kudos to the Endowment for announcing its first ever grant awards for Arts research.  $250,000 went to 15 research projects exploring - according to the agency - three different areas:
  • the impact of the arts on local and/or national economic development,
  • the health and viability of arts and cultural organizations
  • the links between arts engagement and cognitive, social, civic, and behavioral outcomes.
The scope and depth of these projects is impressive as is the diversity of the sponsoring grantees.

This on top of last November's announcement that the Endowment had formed a Federal Interagency Task Force to Promote Research on the Arts and Human Development.  That new cooperative effort is designed to:

  • host a series of quarterly webinars on compelling research and practices;
  • coordinate the distribution of information about funding opportunities for researchers and providers of the arts, health, and education across the lifespan;
  • conduct or commission a gap-analysis and literature review of federally sponsored research on the arts and human development;
  • identify and leverage joint research funding opportunities across agencies;
  • host a convening with researchers and practitioners for professional development and capacity-building in the field of arts and human development
Sometime back I had called for a national summit meeting that would focus on development of a national policy on arts research.  Doubtless the efforts of the NEA were in the pipeline long before that clarion call, and I am very pleased that the agency is stepping forward to take a national leadership position in this critical arena.  I hope at some point they can meld their efforts, goals and policy thinking into a cohesive whole that will also encompass research undertaken by scores of arts organizations, consultants, municipalities  and foundations and we can end up with a written national policy in this area that can intelligently guide our efforts, methodologies, results and evaluations - subject, of course, to periodic changes and updating.  

An excellent beginning and, in my opinion, a major accomplishment for Rocco and the team.  Well done.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

NOTE:  Two Comments along with my reply to one were inadvertently deleted and including them here at the bottom of the original entry seems the only way I can reinstate them:

Posted by Charles:

I appreciate these thoughts on the Emerging Leader movement. As an emerging leader and member of the Emerging Leader Council, I agree that the movement can sometimes feel a little provincial and separate from the rest of the field, and this can be a disservice to emerging leaders. More integration with the field as a whole should be an essential part of the emerging leader ethos--and I think we're in agreement on this as a "both/and" scenario rather than an "either/or" model.

Too much separation of emerging leaders from--what would we call the others? "leaders"?--cultivates a sense of preciousness about my colleagues. I am eager for the moment when people stop expressing surprise or happiness that we are "smart," "talented," and "valuable." At the end of the day, whether we are "emerging" or "established," we are simply leaders. Yet no one lauds our established colleagues as "smart," "talented," or "valuable." The implication is, of course, that all established leaders are assumed to have these qualities and so they need no special mention.

While the emerging leader movement has provided an essential opportunity for national and local professional development, networking, and education for emerging leaders, I worry it also also reinforced the chasm that previously existed. I would welcome more discussion on how to bridge this gap together.

Posted Anonymously:
Perhaps part of your problem in feeling like the Emerging Leaders are “siloed” is that you don’t even seem clear on what the Emerging Leaders Network is. You refer to EL’s as “field”, a “niche”, a “movement”, and a “special interest sub-section of the wider field.”
EL’s are indeed already a part of the “field.” They work right alongside you and other established leaders. Yes, we have professional development and networking opportunities that cater to our own interests and needs, but usually in a way that helps us advance in the field, not as some sub-section of the field. For instance, last year, through the Emerging Leaders Network, I participated in a wonderful year-long mentoring program with a senior leader in the field. Next week I will be attending a panel discussion, led by top executives in our field, about what recruiters are looking for in senior leadership positions. Through the Emerging Leader Network, I have had the opportunity to network with and learn from my colleagues, whether they are senior leaders, or emerging ones like myself.
Or, perhaps you are confused about the Emerging Leaders Network because you think that it is occupied by “youth.” I am still confused by the title “Youth in the Arts” as a report about emerging leaders. While I might be youthful compared to some of my most senior colleagues, as a 30-something, I hardly qualify as a “youth.” I find these types of reports and discussions condescending at best.
While I agree with you that we have room for improving relationships between generations in our workplace, and we definitely need to still figure how to offer livable wages and advancement opportunities for entry to mid-career professionals in our field, I think that you have grossly misstated that the biggest problem facing the Emerging Leaders Network is their own silo. Perhaps you should volunteer as a panelist or mentor at a network in your area to see what’s really happening with this silo/niche/field/movement/special interest sub-section.

My response to Anonymous:

You seem angry.  You, of course, have every right to your ‘opinion’ as do I to mine, but this would seem to me less of an ad hominem attack were you to bear in mind that your point of view is simply an opinion - not fact, not the gospel, but what you think.  One would hope you would be open enough to allow other people to offer their opinion too. I would have more respect for your opinion were you to have submitted this comment under your name, rather than hiding behind the cloak of anonymity (and, dear readers, while I am publishing this comment as I wish to respond - in the future - as a policy - I will not publish anonymous comments.  If you have something to say - even if that something is highly critical of what I might say - I will always publish the comment, but only if you are willing to own it as your thinking.)  Moreover, charging me with having a “problem” is really quite offensive and doesn’t speak very highly as to your people or diplomatic skills.  Your problem is that you are an intellectual bully; you want to shout the opposition down - not with facts, but with yelling.  I would respectfully submit to you that if you really want to have a career in this field you ought to consider toning down your rhetoric and at least criticize in a civil manner.  That you find well reasoned and intentioned studies that essentially report what your peers say they need and want, and tell why - in their own words - as “condescending” is frankly ridiculous (btw have you ever even read the report?) Get over yourself already and lose the arrogant attitude.  No one is your enemy here - believe it or not, we are trying to help you.  

So to reply to your comment:  First I understand perfectly what the Emerging Leaders Network is all about.  I have long supported the effort of not only the Americans for the Arts version of that network, but countless local, state and regional efforts of scores of other groups within the wider nonprofit arts field.  I have sat on numerous panels and been involved in meetings and conferences on this subject.  I will defend my credentials as someone well versed in this area and as someone who has been completely supportive of the effort against yours or anyone else’s at any time.  Of course, not having any idea who you are makes it difficult to assess your background and qualifications.  This blog post was in no way intended as an attack on the Emerging Arts Leader Network, nor to disparage, or marginalize in any way the value and need for that effort or the hard work done by countless people - both young and old in moving it forward.

Whether you like it or not, the whole of that Emerging Arts Leaders effort is a niche, a sub-section of the larger sector, a special interest group.  There is nothing pejorative about that designation; it merely recognizes the reality that there is no one monolithic whole to the nonprofit arts industry.    We are an amalgam, an aggregate of various disparate parts of the whole.  Established boomer aged senior leaders are likewise a niche and special interest group - they are simply not organized formally as “Senior Leaders”.  The challenge is that the ‘emerging leaders’ sub-section of the wider arts field - while obviously part of that wider field - has not yet been fully assimilated into the mainstream of the field’s leadership, and it is (respectfully submitted) naive to think that because you work along side the more established leadership that they fully accept you and that you are not in your own niche.  There existed, and still exists, a generational problem within our field as to leadership (which problem bears on succession issues), and virtually every emerging leader I have ever met recognizes that challenge.  One of the purposes of the emerging leader effort (in addition to providing them with a platform, networking options, and a way to address issues they self-identify as important to them) is to help that cohort gain wider acceptance and appreciation from the more established leadership so that they may more quickly have decision making opportunities and increased chances to learn and advance.  The lack of those opportunities was a complaint voiced quite loudly in the focus groups done for my report on Youth in Art and echoed in numerous other studies (and btw when that study was undertaken it’s title was probably not the best choice for it may have inadvertently implied that only young people qualified for the emerging leader designation - my profound apologies.)

This blog was meant to ask whether or not relegating those leaders who are identified as “emerging” to a specifically entitled grouping is subverting, to some small extent, the stated goal of advancing the careers of those people.  It may not be the most important question to ask, but it is a legitimate question - despite your complaints to the contrary.  I am not sure why you find that question to be so offensive.  

Finally, I never stated that the ‘siloing’ of emerging leaders was the biggest problem facing the ELN - only that I wondered - out loud - whether or not the designation might be of a disservice to everyone as needless pigeon-holing of people. Perhaps YOU should read things more carefully before you make specious and unfounded charges.  And finally, again - do something to curb your anger.  

See the comment above for a different take by one of your peers.  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

You Aren't Special, or Are You? and The Kansas Reinstatement is a Victory - But Not Necessarily For Us.

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

You Are Not Special, Unless of course You Are:
A lot of media buzz this week about Boston high school teacher David McCullough Jr. who told graduates:
 "You are not special. You are not exceptional.  Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That's 37,000 valedictorians ... 37,000 class presidents ... 92,000 harmonizing altos ... 340,000 swaggering jocks ... 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs,"
You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. ... We have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.  The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life is an achievement.   Do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance." 
This raises an interesting conundrum for the nonprofit arts field.  Should we say the same thing to all the new organizations (and perhaps to more than just a few of our existing organizations)?:  you are not special, not exceptional.  Merely because you want to start your own organization doesn't mean you  automatically deserve and qualify for funding; it doesn't mean what you are doing adds anything of substance to the nonprofit arts landscape.

Clearly, public and institutional (foundation / corporate) private funding is not able to support the unbridled growth in the expansion of new arts organizations.  So should we (or are we already in fact) saying to all the new organizations:  you have to survive on your own until such time as you can demonstrably establish that you are unique?  There are no resources to support you in your embryonic stage.?


Are many (if not most or all) new arts organizations in fact unique, special and exceptional despite their growing numbers?  Do they not have something of value to offer by virtue of their very existence and should we not at least give voice to nurturing and supporting their growth and encourage them to try to make it?   Are they not fulfilling Mr. McCullough's dictum of the fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life by doing what they love and what they believe in?   How many potentially great companies, troupes, performing organizations and artists might be lost if we simply say no to every new incarnation of the arts?  The challenge is that in order to pay Paul, we have to rob Peter - and it gets sticky deciding who is Peter and who is Paul.

Kansas Victory or Loss?
The reinstatement of the now reformed Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission is being heralded as a victory for the sector.  I am sure that this welcome turn of events was the result of very hard work by countless people in Kansas and they should be acknowledged for their tenacity and dedication.  Still, I cannot help but think that this is yet another pyrrhic victory at best.

Richard Kooyman in a comment posted on Ian David Moss's site Createquity (posted June 4th) more eloquently and succinctly sums up part of my thinking than could I:
"What those in the arts should take note of, and not be so giddy about, is that the Kansas Arts Council has not been reinstated but rather replaced with a more conservative name and focus. This new name, the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission, reflects what is happening in many states with a quiet shifting in emphasis from “the arts” to ” arts industries”. This is a bad thing for the arts in general because it changes the focus from the intrinsic value of art to one of it being an economic stimulator. In this new focus Art only becomes valuable when it can be measured to provide jobs or stimulate the economy in some fashion. This is not a sustainable model in which real art and artistic development can move forward in."
I wonder whether or not Governor Brownback really paid any negative price for his original stance of wanting to eliminate the agency?  While I am one of Ian David Moss' biggest fans, I must respectfully disagree that the message this sends to politicians is: "you don’t want to mess with arts funding."  I suspect Brownback gained much with his core base from his arts opposition, and that his reversal now wins him friends who are arts supporters within that base and with pro arts independents.  Opposing the arts - then reversing one's position after recognizing the huge outcry against such a move is (especially for GOP candidates) often a win-win situation.  They appease the base then placate the opposition.  They look tough, then moderate.  And in the process the arts yet again spend valuable time, energy, money and soul defending their very existence and consider their survival a real victory.  Meanwhile as Richard suggested, they move the arts towards the private sector version of creativity, and valuable only as an economic stimulator. Yet it is a sort of victory for us - just a very expensive one that does nothing more than keep us a step or two back from where we started out.

I wonder what impact this might have, if any, on a Mitt Romney administration's position on arts funding?

As reported on the Hyperallergic website earlier:
"GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has penned an Op-Ed for the USA Today newspaper in which he says he would “eliminate every government program that is not absolutely essential.”
He then goes into specifics and takes aim at the battered National Endowment for the Arts:  'Enact deep reductions in the subsidies for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Legal Services Corporation.'
The Huffington Post provides some context for Romney’s proposed cuts to arts funding, and it appears he isn’t a shining example of an arts champion:
'Romney’s track record reveals many attempts to reduce cultural agency funding while governor of Massachusetts. In 2006, Romney tried to veto the creation of a Cultural Facilities Fund, which aids nonprofit arts, scientific and historical organization in construction costs. Legislature overrode the veto and $37 million has been granted by the state under the program. Although, Romney’s view remains in contrast with many of his GOP cohorts that would rather see the programs cut, but it still represents a step to the right for a man who was once known as a relatively moderate conservative.'"
So would the Kansas situation be a model for Romney to back down on this threat?  I suggest that Romney's opposition is a win-win for him too.  He appeals to the base by assuring them he will gut the left wing liberal arts funding, then holds out the olive branch to the arts supporters (many within his own party) by backtracking on the threat -- using as his excuse to his radical base for so doing that the arts do create jobs and economic activity, and that 40% goes direct to the states (a fact not lost on the GOP in each of those states).   Though - and I shudder to think it possible (and it is highly unlikely) - if elected he might make good his pledge to "enact deep reductions in the subsidies for the National Endowment for the Arts" - and keep only the 40% that goes to the states and regions.  Then what folks?

The victory in these exercises is mostly for all those who engage in the hypocritical game of opposing the arts.  We claim victory because they don't kill us.  Don't mess with the arts?  Au contraire  - messing with the arts makes perfect sense.

Now I wonder if an Arts PAC had given Brownback a $50,000 campaign contribution if he would have moved to eliminate the Kansas Arts Council in the first place.  And if the Arts gave Romney and / or Obama a $100,000 contribution, would Romney not be a sudden arts supporter, and might not Obama move to substantially, and meaningfully, increase the NEA budget?  (And by the way, both of those investments would have been / would be smart and cost effective).  Cynicism on my part.  You bet, and I'm willing to bet I am right.

Alas we are likely never to know are we?

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sloppy Budgets and Unrealistic Expectations

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

The Arts Organization Budget Process:
Last week, Diane Ragsdale posted a blog on Feasibility Studies in connection with  Capital Campaigns and questioned whether or not their fallibility constituted a "racket."  Her question - in her own words - was basically this:
"My hunch is that the large majority of feasibility studies conducted are irrationally exuberant and portray campaigns and the expansions that they support as being sustainable when, in fact, the large majority of them are not." 
I think the same observation can be made for a frightening number of arts organization's annual budgets.  I think far too many arts organizations take their previous year's budget, add in some additional expense items they would like to see (and which they doubtless fervently believe are absolutely essential for their continuing sustainability), and then basically project income that will balance the budget - whether or not there is any meaningful basis on which to base their income projections.

These organizations tend to overestimate their income from all sources.  They project additional grant revenue (public or private) that is highly problematic and which is, in many cases, pure speculative wishful thinking; they irrationally overestimate earned income (and for performing arts organizations -  given the past five years of data - such overly optimistic projections in terms of audience development reek of hubris gone wild); and they far too often have pie-in-the-sky projections as to the level of donor support they expect.

The process is often times (especially I would think in smaller and mid-sized organizations in which there is not some institutional review - department by department - that forces justification of both expense and income) very simplistic and even casual.  Much of the process is simply guesswork.  While some organizations are wisely conservative, too many others are sloppy in rushing to embrace what they want to happen as opposed to what is likely to happen.  And I would also guess that many Boards are not as involved as they ought to be in questioning the base assumptions on which such questionable budgets are based; they simply don't dig deep enough and rely too heavily on assurances from the senior leadership.  In times of economic prosperity this process, if not wise, may be passable.  But in current times, the results can be disastrous.

Not all, or even most, arts organizations are guilty of the charges I level herein.  But there are enough organizations that do engage in overly optimistic, and unjustifiable projections of income that I think there is a problem - and I think there is ample evidence over the past five years of organizations that have gotten into deep financial trouble because of the tendency to believe what they wanted to believe without any factual basis on which to base those beliefs.

There are two facets to this problem:  First, too many leaders have virtually no training or background in budget planning.  As a sector, we just 'assume' people know all the intricacies of the process; the steps involved, and the nuances in constructing viable budgets.  We offer little training in the process.  And second,  there are few checks on this lack of a systemic approach to the budgetary process.  Too often neither funders nor donors have any reliable ability to monitor the process and precious little insider awareness and data on which to question what is presented to them.  But to make cash awards and donations without this knowledge has the potential to compromise the intent of the giver.  To what extent do funders or donors vet the budgets of the organizations with which they are involved?  To what extent do they even have the tools to accurately make a determination as to a given organization's realistic appraisal of their financial situation?  Nonprofits do not have to respond in the same way as the private sector to market forces that look at, analyze and insist on some degree of accuracy in projecting income and expenses.  There are no independent financial analysts pouring over nonprofit books and numbers so as to advise clients whether or not to invest in companies; we have no mechanism to look over the shoulder of organizational finances.  And too often, (because of time and financial constraints) funders and donors accept what is presented to them without serious questioning as to the accuracy, reliability and realism of the numbers.

We need some standards and protocols for the whole budgetary process.  Some model that organizations can access and which will help to insure accuracy and accountability; a systemic process that has some degree of verifiable benchmarks that will provide reliability.

I liked Diane's suggestion of some kind of independent community assessment of feasibility studies (financed she suggests by local government) so as to provide a more accurate and realistic calculation of costs, future community support probability, and community impact.  I wonder if there might be a similar option designed to bring some scrutiny to the annual arts organization budget and whether or not such scrutiny might help to establish baseline standards in that budgetary process that would require reasonable justification of projected income.  That result would, I believe,  be good for both the organization and its funders.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit