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Showing posts from May, 2009

Measuring Success for Transparent Action

Linda Norris' Uncataloged Museum blog post on transparency in museums is my impetus to knit together my recent post on measuring success with defining what those measures are. Linda points to the Indianapolis Museum of Art as the site of a great dashboard of measures that welcomes public scrutiny.  
In fact, it appears that the museum's dashboard might be the only public museum dashboard -- and it's almost two-and-a-half years old!  The common denominator in all this is museum director Maxwell Anderson, who developed a lexicon of measures to assess organizational health in 2005 -- transparency has been the by-product.
This isn't to say that museums and other cultural organizations haven't been tracking data for many years. It's the focus of the data and what's done with it that is different.  Let's talk about focus first. 
The Indianapolis Museum of Art tracks activities in 13 broad areas of museum operations.  The resulting data is often quite tightly foc…

Sending Out an S.O.S.

I won't soon forget getting that letter in the mail.  An 80-year old cultural organization was reaching out to members and friends to tell us that its survival was in jeopardy.  It asked for our advice and our financial support.  The first paragraph closed by stating, "Without an immediate and substantial infusion of funds, it appears that we will be required to close our doors while we work to implement a prudent fiscal strategy."
A day or two later the news hit the local papers.  And a week or so after that, the director of another cultural called to say that her board was debating the merits of "going public" with their own financial difficulties.  Some thought it might shake loose more support; others were wary of hanging out the dirty linen....or being perceived as the boy who cried wolf.
Contrast that with a third organization -- vastly smaller than the other two -- that routinely publishes lengthy pleas for assistance mixed with "the-sky-is-falling&qu…

A Different Way of Measuring Success

What's on your top ten list of success indicators for your organization?  I suspect for most of us success has a lot to do with the number of people served -- visitors, members, ticket holders, participants in after-school programs.  Would a balanced budget, meeting or exceeding goal in a fundraising campaign, or growing invested funds be on the list?  
As so many cultural nonprofits now struggle for financial and programmatic equilibrium, are the turnstile and the cash drawer alone sufficient -- or even accurate -- indicators of organizational health and future well-being?  What about the importance of an organization's holdings or its positive impact on society?  Would the quality of your organization's work be a success indicator?  How would you measure it?
Five years ago, Maxwell L. Anderson, the current Director and CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, took on the topic in his paper for the Getty Leadership Institute titled Metrics for Success in Art Museums.  Anderso…

Crisis and Realignment

There's nothing like a crisis to push an organization toward change.  As much as crisis can pull an organization apart, it can also provide opportunities for renewal, focus and healing.  In fact, crisis is a fairly predictable phenomenon that, as it turns out, is a key ingredient for organizational growth.  I have no doubt that, once we're on the other side of this economic crisis, we'll see many nonprofits emerge stronger, more responsive, and more keenly focused on the impact of their missions because they used this interregnum to realign and plan.   
There are hundreds of books and articles dedicated to coping with, managing or leading organizational change.  (I happen to be a fan of John Kotter's Leading Change, which is a straightforward prescription for creating an environment in which change is seen as a positive imperative.)  The change agent is usually identified as an individual or a small group of people who see the need for organizational course redirection …

A Woman's Work

I was one of about 100 women (and one man) in the audience for a presentation on Women in Leadership at this year's American Association of Museums' conference. Central to the discussion was the persistence of the glass ceiling in the museum field despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the museum workforce is female (and they're the majority of museum volunteers and visitors, too).

Can you believe that the expression 'the glass ceiling' dates back to 1986? (See below for more on that.)

Certainly among high profile museums in the US, the CEOs are male by a ratio of nearly three to one. The tables turn dramatically in mid-sized and small museums, where female directors are routinely found.

The session's panelists agreed that women at the top have a real impact on organizational performance. So far, it hasn't been enough to encourage mid-level women to move up. In fact, many women leave their positions within five years due to lack of career pat…

Getting Your Message Out

Lately, I've been knee-deep in thinking about newsletters.  I just spent an afternoon with a client who wants to start a newsletter, so we poured over samples as we contemplated who would receive it, what topics would be covered and how frequently it would be produced.  Less than 24-hours later, I overheard a colleague say that his organization wanted to do a newsletter, but if it couldn't be published quarterly there was no point in doing one.  
I've also got one to assemble for my association this week.

Judging from the number of hard-copy and electronic newsletters my association receives each month, it would not be an understatement to say that they continue to be the communications backbone of most nonprofits.  These little bundles offer insights about an organization's work, build cases for support, promote programs, and acknowledge the involvement of the community.  They are the prolific example of how organizations "reach out and touch someone", even as…

When Planning Won't Work

We've all read and heard about the importance of planning as a tool to harness focus and energy. We plan in our work lives and we plan in our private lives.  For some of us, the structure of a plan -- knowing the next steps and the next steps after that -- is comforting.  
Shortly after 9/11, I  had the opportunity to facilitate a number of discussions among arts organizations about the impact of that tragedy on their work.  Almost all of them were experiencing greater numbers of visitors to performances, gallery shows and exhibitions.  Many were overwhelmed with this new interest...this desire to replace fear with the transformative beauty of art and culture.
Those organizations that had rediscovered their footing said they did so because, just prior to 9/11, they had been engaged in planning.  They had been weighing various scenarios of their growth and development.  They developed responses that were helping them cope with audience demand and reconfigured funding.
Fast-forward to …

Board Recruitment Process Poll Results

The informal poll running on the blog lately asked readers to characterize their board recruitment processes.  The poll follows up on my posts about board recruitment herehere and here.

Here's the breakdown:
33%   Loosey-Goosey:  informal and sometimes unpredictable 25%   A Last-Minute Scramble:  could be anybody's game 41%   Targeted:  we know who we want and we work hard to get them 1%   Multi-layered or Rigorous:  a full-blown, vetted process
The good news is that 42% of respondents put their recruitment process at the structured end of the spectrum.  A structured process matches institutional criteria to individual skills, which, in turn, fulfill mission, values and vision.
Nearly 60% of respondents, though, put their recruitment efforts at the unstructured (or nearly so) end of the spectrum.   An unstructured process may seem the more user-friendly for some; it can be anxiety-producing for others.
I suspect that a larger polling sample would even out the percentages between str…