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Showing posts from February, 2010

Audience Development: Not Just a Marketing Issue

THERE ARE TWO COMPETING REALITIES IN PLAY for arts and cultural organizations that don't seem to be destined for resolution any time soon, and they both have to do with audience.  The first is the fact that for many traditional cultural activities, audiences and volunteerism are declining.  The second has to do with a perpetual lack of resources most arts and cultural organizations dedicate to ongoing audience development, retention and loyalty-building. 


The American Association of Museums' reports in its Museum Financial Information 2009 that museums with separate marketing budgets dedicate anywhere from 2 percent to 8 percent of annual expenses, depending on total organizational budget, to promoting attendance, memberships or products.  The lower end of the range likely doesn't include personnel.  Bottom line:  museums spend on balance $1.29 per visitor per year to get them in the door, on the membership rolls or purchasing from the shop.  
The Theater Communications Grou…

What the Health Care Summit Was Not: Four Tips for Holding Difficult Meetings

I GOT SUCH A BAD VIBE from watching snippets of President Obama's Health Care Summit that I almost had to avert my eyes.  This was a train wreck in more ways than one and I'd like to take up some blog real estate to focus in on some very practical aspects of the meeting that, frankly, occur a lot in nonprofit board and staff rooms all across the country.
1.  Room set-up:  I immediately focused in on the fact that all 37 participants were seated around a hollow square configuration of tables.  This way, everyone could see everybody else.  Name tags were prominently displayed on the tables in front of everyone's place.  Certainly, when you're trying to encourage discussion, everybody needs to be facing each other.  Yet, the group was large enough that the folks on the ends would not have been able to see the face of a speaker in the middle of a their row.  A really big round table would have been much better.
The meeting room at Blair House seemed exceedingly small and th…

Presidents' Day: Leadership Lessons for Nonprofits

IT'S SNOWING LIGHTLY IN THE NORTHEAST THIS Presidents' Day morning and I'm hoping that many of you have the day off to enjoy - what else? - cherry pie, a visit to a presidential home, library or gravesite; or settling in to watch Abe Lincoln in Illinois, the 1940 flick starring Raymond Massey. Twice in the last ten years, the folks at C-SPAN have asked presidential historians to rate the effectiveness of our commanders in chief in ten critical leadership areas. The most recent of these rankings was released last Presidents' Day (2009). If you'll forgive the fact that I'm a year late, I think you'll find this list of leadership qualities one worthy of incorporating into your recruitment strategies for nonprofit board and staff leaders. So, help yourself to another piece of pie and enjoy.
C-SPAN developed, presumably with the help of their presidential scholars, a list of ten key attributes of presidential leadership:
Public Persuasion: Here's a skill …

My Top Tips for Working For and With Boards

I'VE WRITTEN THESE TIPS FROM AN EXECUTIVE'S POINT OF VIEW.  I do believe that the executive wears three hats when dealing with her board:  a leadership hat, a facilitative hat, and an implementation hat.  I think that most of these tips would fall predominantly in the first two hats.
Your Board is Your Team:  your board may not be the most sophisticated, the wealthiest or the smartest, but this is not an “us” vs. “them” rivalry.  Your nonprofit is the enterprise in which you are all vested.  If you’re not, maybe this isn’t the team to be on (that goes for staff and board members, too).
Communicate:  be the first to pick up the phone.  Try to spend 20% of your time engaging individual and small groups of board members in meaningful conversations about the mission of the organization, your needs as the staff leader, and your staff’s needs.  Strategize with them; use each one as your personal brain trust. Don’t Hold Back on the Bad News:  trusting and mutually respectf…

Are We Asking the Right Question When We Start a Cultural Nonprofit?

AN ONGOING DISCUSSION IN THE HISTORY MUSEUM COMMUNITY (and I suspect in other cultural communities) has to do with its saturation of organizations.  Practically every county or parish in the United States has at least one history museum, historic house or historic site.  At least one.  In some areas of the country, it's impossible to travel ten miles without landing on the doorstep of a local history museum.
Almost all of them are nonprofit entities, which means they are organized around a board of trustees, committees and legions of volunteers.  They rely on philanthropy and perhaps some government, foundation and corporate funding.  They own property that runs the gamut from one-room schoolhouses to whole historic districts, recreated villages, airplane hangars and everything in between.  And then there are the multiple millions of collection items in their care.
Nonprofit cultural institutions, whether they're a storefront theater workshop or a major symphony, are heavily res…

The Dollar and a Dream Syndrome

IT'S THE "DOLLAR AND A DREAM SYNDROME" -- someone thinks getting up a community theater would be lots of fun or starting a museum about local history or gathering artists together to open an arts center. Great ideas, all. But how workable for the long run?
As with most small businesses, new cultural nonprofits can be pretty fragile, partly because they develop from personal desire that, ultimately must be shared by many people. As a result, they can live on the edge for long periods of time, surviving on the friendship and handouts of devotees. But one can hardly call that sustainable, right? Yet, new groups are forming -- getting legal -- all the time. In New York State alone, 20-30 new museums are green-lighted by state authorities every year (by the way, only a fraction of them legally go out of business each year).
If you were to create a checklist of what a group of people needed to have in hand before they got that piece of paper from the government making them …

Five Guiding Trends to Help Your Organization Reshape Its Future

Thanks to a comment on one of the many listservs I read, I’ve just started reading Convergence:  How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector, published last November by the James Irving Foundation.  Right off the bat I’m encouraged that there are many avenues cultural nonprofits can explore right now based on the report’s findings.
These avenues stem from five trends the report discusses: 
• Demographic Shifts Redefine Participation • Technological Advances Abound • Networks Enable Work to Be Organized in New Ways • Interest in Civic Engagement and Volunteerism Is Rising • Sector Boundaries Are Blurring The future will bring a wider array of structural options and a greater willingness to experiment, as well as a heightened demand for accountability and compelling measures of social value.  The driving question will be, “What do we want to accomplish?” Successful organizations will quickly move beyond traditional assumptions about how those goals are attempted and think creatively about …