Saturday, August 30, 2008

Board Recruitment: More About the Future than the Now

I taught the first webinar in NYSArts’ board development series last week.  (There are two more webinars left in the series and you can sign up for them by going to  The focus of the conversation was on board recruitment and training. 

The lesson I hope I successfully transmitted was that bringing great talent to the boardroom is much more than that – it takes planning, skill identification, networking for the right person, lots of communication once that person is identified, followed by a support system that enables that person to do their best job should they agree to join the board.

Far too often, especially for smaller boards or boards that are simply disorganized, the new board member recruitment process is an afterthought, hurriedly undertaken just before elections are held.  This method may fill board seats, but does it facilitate the matching of talent to the changing needs of an organization?

It strikes me that board recruitment should be more about the future than the now.  If an organization is intent on building a board to meet its needs, doesn’t it make sense that it should look for the talent it will need for the next 3-6 years, which is a typical term of office for a board member?

That approach may also help some boards diversify – if nothing more than to get beyond the same or similar skill sets to a more complementary set of skills and talents.

Photo:  Illinois Arts Alliance board meeting, 6/25/2008.  Flickr

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ethics: Easy to Grasp -- Difficult to Interpret

I have had the good fortune to think about ethical questions from different standpoints and in a variety of contexts, as well as to grapple with actual situations that have arisen from time to time.  I certainly don't have all the answers, but what I do know is that standards of ethics sometimes differ among types of cultural institutions and are almost always evolutionary -- in other words, it's rare for a new institution to start out at square one with a full-blown understanding of its ethical responsibilities and a written policy to underscore them.

My career has allowed me to develop an awareness of ethical issues as I have developed as a museum professional.  I suppose that may sound obvious, but I do think that the longer you remain in a field, the more opportunities you'll have to discuss and ponder ethical issues - perhaps even act on one or two of them -- and they will all add to your body of knowledge and your understanding.

I think the topic of museum ethics is, in theory, relatively easy to grasp -- that is, there is a standard by which we conduct ourselves as professionals and by which we run our departments and institutions.  

That standard has evolved from and in response to, as Marie Malaro points out in her book, 
Museum Governance
, three fundamental concepts of not-for-profit corporations:  

1) not-for profit corporations foster diversity -- a plurality of ideas and people; 

2) not-for-profit corporations encourage greater quality of service or product; and

3) not-for-profit corporations encourage personal participation in the betterment of society.

By virtue of these three fundamental concepts, those of us who work in and with not-for-profit corporations are bound by a personal commitment of loyalty, honor and obedience to the mission and the public that corporation serves.

Many times, clear decisions can be made regarding ethical action.  But there are times when it is much more difficult to interpret the boundary lines of ethical conduct when we get down to specific situations, especially when dealing with people or institutions we know and care about.  

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Donor-Worthy Nonprofit

Non-profit organizations  are only as donor-worthy as the strength of their missions and the focus of their programs -- both have to be compelling, of high quality, serving a defined need, and measurable in their outcomes.  This requires an organizational commitment to building and enhancing internal capacity as well as to being responsive to members and other stakeholders, as well as to the community (including oversight/regulatory agencies and funders). 

The competition for dollars and audience is great, and getting greater.  There are more than 2000 arts organizations in New York State.  Think of all the nonprofits in your community or region -- schools, hospitals, religious organizations, museums, libraries, social service organizations. Each one has a mission, a need, and to greater or lesser degrees, each is seeking funding. 

Now think of all the fundraising material you personally receive each week or month.  What appeals came in the mail or over the telephone last week?  How many of them came from local or regional arts, cultural or educational organizations?  

How can your organization compete, and even flourish, in this type of environment?  Funding opportunities are more easily identified, and partnerships for funding more readily or appropriately created, when you know and understand the environment in which you operate and the niche your organization fills.

Photo: Visitors at the Guggenheim Museum, NYC by charmante