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Showing posts from June, 2009

Innovation + Value

The museum sector would do well to move away from a sense of its own importance to demonstrating the true value it can bring to lives. As cultural networks proliferate, the museum is ideally placed to lead discussion and debate, to create participatory media and develop the role of the active cultural participant. -- Angelina Russo commenting on Ross Dawson’s blog post , Thinking About the Future of Museums: Fourteen Key Issues , May 22, 2008 This quote really struck me, because it’s where many culturals – not just museums – seem to be stuck. And we’ve been stuck here for a long time, with some noteworthy exceptions. It may have a lot to do with the fact that we excel at great ideas, but drop the ball when it comes to their execution. I relate to that. The Management Centre recently released an international compilation of studies on innovation in the nonprofit sector. Using a Harvard-developed research model that identifies seven stages of innovation

Resource Roundup

Here are a few resources I've been tapping into lately. (Unlike the photo, these -- mercifully -- are all available electronically!) From the Nonprofits Assistance Fund : Recession Risk and Preparedness Assessment This tool asks you to rank statements in four areas: financial health, financial information, organizational change, and leadership engagement. Here’s an example of a statement: Significant changes in program or strategic direction have been implemented in the past two years. Each ranking option is weighted with points, which you total up for a quick diagnosis. Transparency Fuels Competition Video At you can view short videos on a variety of topics. This one on the lack of business rigor in the nonprofit world features Debra Dunn from Hewlett Packard making the argument that transparency fuels competition and the significant lack of it in the nonprofit sector is the underlying reason why nonprofits are not more sharply focused and succ

Success Happens Here

An article in the May 11th issue of Crain's New York Business (" Made in New York ") explores why some manufacturing businesses are surviving despite the economy. It offers up five lessons, which I think have direct application for cultural nonprofits: 1. Be High-End As the article states, "If you want your company to last, you need a lasting reputation for quality." Cultural nonprofits strive for this -- many say so in their missions; it's time to take stock of your Quality Factor and take steps to burnish it or boost it starting at the front door. 2. Be Local "It pays to focus on the big, in your own backyard." Nurturing your local audience, however you might define that, returns dividends in the forms of membership retention, event attendance, and volunteerism, to name a few. Locals are here whether times are good or bad. 3. Be Networked "It's crucial to surviving recession," the article states. Think of your

Tooting my Horn for Tutelary

You just never know what you'll run into during a morning of blog and newspaper reading. How about 's Word of the Day ? And wouldn't you know that today's word is quite coincidentally " tutelary ", and apt word for the kind of blog I'm trying to create here. tutelary \TOO-tuh-lair-ee; TYOO-\ , adjective : Having the guardianship or charge of protecting a person or a thing; guardian; protecting; as, "tutelary goddesses." My thoughts immediately ran to the nature of trusteeship -- and leadership -- when I read the definition. Even the strongest nonprofits need their fair share of protectors...maybe even a goddess or two. That's what trustees and staff leaders do. The word "fiduciary" gets bandied about when talking about trustees -- meant in a lot of contexts as SHOULD BE RAISING (MORE) MONEY. You'll see from the definition that the money bit is, at most, implied: fi⋅du⋅ci⋅ar⋅y     [ fi- doo -shee-er-ee , - d


Two seemingly unrelated news items landed in my e-mailbox this month, each describing a decision by a cultural nonprofit to sell all or a portion of its assets. One is on the west coast; the other here in New York state. Both are the victims of their (and their communities’) inability to adequately steward what had been given to them for the benefit of others. These are not isolated events – indeed, we read about them every month and the pace is quickening as more nonprofits search for financial stability in a time when philanthropy seems stretched beyond capacity. Historic preservation colleague, Donna Ann Harris , sent me this Reuters article about Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House going on the auction block: The 6,000-square-foot Los Angeles estate is being sold by the Ennis House Foundation, which recently completed the initial phase of a stabilization and restoration project after years of decay and damage from earthquakes and torrential rains. In March 2005, it was pl

Cultural Entrepreneurship and the Culture of Bright Ideas

Imagine spending a day thinking and talking about cultural entrepreneurship and what makes a cultural entrepreneur. I got to do that yesterday as part of a grant-funded project to design a new professional development opportunity for mid-career museum professionals. The discussion was wide-ranging and energetic as veteran cultural entrepreneurs questioned, debated and explained their own and each other's approaches to teaching and living entrepreneurship. One fundamental characteristic that all agreed upon was that entrepreneurs -- whether in the cultural, social or business sector -- are always looking for opportunities to capitalize on and to solve problems in ways that will meet and extend mission. As one participant said, "It's about opening doors and windows in the box that is our organization. It's our job to open a window, then open another window, then another." This conversation touched upon some interesting "opening windows" resources tha

Free the Nonprofits

I come to a lot of new information and ideas late. And so it is with Dan Pallotta, the author of Uncharitable : How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential , a book that takes a hard look at how society constrains the work of nonprofits and how the people who work and volunteer for nonprofits constrain themselves. Pallotta's got an interesting story of his own -- I'll leave you to discover it -- that has undoubtedly refined his perspective. In any case, I find it refreshing, particularly now. He's also the author of the blog Free the Nonprofits and he's a keynote speaker at the October 2009 Arts Council of Indianapolis' Next Audiences Summit . Here's an excerpt from his May 11th blog post entitled Re-Thinking Charity : We have two rulebooks — one for charity, one for the rest of the economic world. We let the for-profit sector pay competitive wages based on value, but have a visceral reaction to anyone making a great deal of money in charity. We l

On the Brink - One Nonprofit's Story (Right Now)

My conversation with the director of a small museum was disheartening. The institution is staring at closure before year's end. The director continues to explore all possible options -- from fundraising to merger to closure -- but admits any option other than closure will take longer to accomplish than there is time on the clock. Most disheartening of all is the apparent inability of the board to pull together to raise some money. And, we're not talking millions, at least not for the short-run. Less than a couple hundred thousand would plug their operating shortfall for the rest of the year and buy them the time to nurture some of those longer-term options. On some levels, a sort of organizational paralysis seems to have set in. Not easy stuff. The current financial condition of this organization has been in the making for a dozen years. Some poor decisions were left to fester against hopes for a brighter tomorrow. Course corrections were too little and often too late to

Fix It or Ditch It?

Without question, the common denominator among most -- if not all -- of the nonprofits I work with is that they carry a heavy load of organizational activities.  Staff, volunteers, money, and space are stretched to their limits.  The programmatic calendar is full.  The school buses are lined up at the door.   A public expectation has been created that must now be met again and again.   The load is getting heavier. Let's hope the bottom doesn't drop out.   Does this picture look familiar?  A common trait across the nonprofit sector is that institutions, particularly smaller ones, tend to take on a fair amount of work without first determining its costs and its benefits. The heavy load gets heavier and no one wants to dump any of it.  How do you choose?  Here's what I hear: 'Wouldn't someone be offended if a program, procedure or policy were suddenly jettisoned to make way for something new?' or 'We've been doing this activity so long that it defines us