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Showing posts from February, 2009

One Committee Too Many?

The committee.  The workhorse of the nonprofit sector.  What would we do without it?  Today I'd like to ask, what do we do with it? The lifeblood of the nonprofit is the human capital that steers it, funds it, and implements the program that benefits the public. Nonprofits, by their very nature, are labor intensive -- people connecting with people to benefit people.   The organizational model of board-committees-volunteers-staff is as old as the nonprofit sector itself.  Although the internal and external environments of nonprofits are radically different from say, just twenty years ago, the basic organizational model has pretty much stayed the same.  As a result, I think that many organizations simply accept the model because that's the way it has always been whether or not it really facilitates work.  This is especially true with committees. Committees have been the tried and true mechanism for marshaling organizational work and the volunteers that do it.  And most of us know

The Quickening Drumbeat of Institutions in Trouble

I 've been involved with cultural institutions -- namely historic house museums and historical societies -- all my adult life. Most of these institutions, as most smaller nonprofits in general, live with an ebb and flow of income. Perhaps I should say that most live -- even thrive -- in spite of the ebb and flow of income that is peculiar to nonprofit life. The best nonprofit leadership is always thinking about tomorrow and how it will be paid for. Building reserves, expanding or fine-tuning income streams, balancing the level of debt or deficit with potential for growth -- these are stock in trade of the nonprofit executive and governing board. So, now we find ourselves in an environment where the global economic crisis has settled into our communities and found its way to the doorstep of our nonprofits. And it's starting to expose or magnify pre-existing weaknesses in organizational infrastructures. Crises have a way of doing that, whether it's in business or privat

Obama Signs Stimulus Bill at Denver Museum

I'm amused by news this morning that President Obama will be signing the stimulus package at a Denver museum. After having been voted out of the Senate version of the bill, museums, arts centers and theaters were reinstated to the list of institutions eligible to compete for stimulus funding.   In a move that has left the museum community shaking its head in disbelief, zoos and aquariums were specifically excluded in all versions of the bill right from the start. Apparently, Washington understands living collections as more akin to entertainment than to scientific research and education.  I guess our lawmakers think that living, breathing animals, fish and plants are too "fun" (like the also excluded swimming pools and casinos) and therefore not worthy of a hefty dose of taxpayer stimulus dollars.    Ironically, Obama is signing this bill at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, but the animals he'll see there will be of the serious and not fun stuffed variety.  

A Few Basics for Board Recruitment

Like many of you, I'm responsible for working with a board of directors to identify and recruit candidates to board service.  Armed with a dynamic strategic plan, a strong board already in place, and a track record of activity, recruitment to this particular board has never been difficult.  (Tip: you must have these three elements (at least) in place to attract bright, thoughtful people who want to be engaged with your organization.) Identification of candidates is proving to be especially challenging, though, and it's due largely to some very straightforward discussions the nominating committee is having about what our board needs to look like if it is to support our vision, mission and plan.  We typically recruit for gender, racial/ethnic, discipline and geographic diversity.  We're now also talking about folding additional criteria into the mix to create a balance of emerging-mid-career-veteran voices, specific expertise (finance, marketing, etc.), and leadership attrib

We Can't Give Up - We Can't Give In

It's been a very long time between posts.  I'm not off to a rousing start on my own New Year's resolution to write more, am I?  Part of the reason is that my optimism and resulting clear-headed-ness of the new year and a new president have been overshadowed by the quickening drumbeat of cultural institutions in trouble and their attempts to get themselves out of it.   Add to that the latest decisions in New York State and nationally to cut museums, art centers, theaters, etc. out of current year's arts funding and the federal stimulus package (at least for now) and it feels like one giant wallop to the side of the head.  One museum advocate said last week in regard to the stimulus language exempting arts and cultural organizations from funding that museums are misunderstood -- we haven't made the case for their economic and educational importance. Is this really true?  Since part of my life is spent trying to make that case, I find it difficult to believe that we --