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Showing posts from October, 2009

Key Questions for Board and Senior Staff

I'M PREPARING FOR A BOARD WORKSHOP ON ROLES and responsibilities, and we'll be spending a good chunk of time reviewing a self-assessment board members participated in a few weeks ago. The organization's director and I decided to use the self-assessment as the launch pad for a series of discussion questions that we think will encourage board members to dig deeper into how to apply established responsibilities to the institution. I think they're pretty good, so I wanted to share them with you. Feel free to share them with your boards. How frequently and deeply is the mission used to drive organizational goals and values? What is the role of the executive director vis-a-vis the board in financial stewardship? Besides finances, what are the biggest risks facing the institution? How can interaction among board members be enhanced? Is the needed mix of talent at the board table for now and the next five years? How can the level of information and idea exchange at board meeti

Game Changing the Model

WHO'S READY TO MOVE FORWARD? WHO'S READY TO EXPLORE new and effective ways of addressing the seemingly intractable problems of the arts and cultural community, -- too many of us, too few resources to sustain us all, too many fiefdoms, unpredictably shifting audiences (to name but a few)? Who's willing to dig in deep enough to ensure that new approaches are sustainable for the long haul? Who are the arts and cultural game changers right now? Here are three that come immediately to mind: Michael Kaiser, President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, created this year the “ Arts in Crisis: A Kennedy Center Initiative ,” a program providing free arts management consulting to non-profit performing arts organizations around the United States. The program has put Kaiser on the road to all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia, hosting management symposia. Maxwell Anderson , Director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, has championed

Developing a Facility? Your Best Advice May Be Just Around the Corner

I'M ALWAYS ESPECIALLY GRATEFUL TO RECEIVE QUESTIONS from smaller culturals that are in the process of creating or expanding their facilities. These organizations often operate with a dearth of information about building and shaping their spaces, despite the fact that there are thousands of organizations who've gone through it and are happy to offer up advice, warts and all. Without some unvarnished insights and opinions, most of us are susceptible to the shiny object held out in front of us by architects, professional fundraisers, and product vendors. We don't wish to appear ignorant, even if we are. But do we really want to end up with a museum that has too little collection storage space or a performance hall with a too-small backstage area? Boards of trustees and many staff do get caught up in the immediacy of such projects, often unable or unwilling to think about the long-term consequences of building decisions. The pressure to raise funds and move forward on cap

Frozen by Fear

A CONVERSATION TODAY WITH THE DIRECTOR OF A local history museum outlined many of the financial issues cultural institutions are grappling with right now. While programs continue apace by a small and increasingly overworked staff, the director said, "We're close to pulling out of the economic trauma, but it seems as though every time we get close, we fall back." She cited a confluence of issues at the base of which is the simple reality that there just isn't enough operating income being generated from any source to cover expenses. And like your organizations, this one has cut its expenses as much as possible without laying off staff. That may come next year, however, if the museum fails to address its structural (long term/ongoing) operating deficit, which right now is about $40,000. While some of her board members are beginning to examine the issues surrounding the deficit, these conversations easily become consumed by minutiae. Before you know it the train is

A Board Self-Assessment Tool to Get You Started

My last poll about board self-assessment attracted thirteen respondents. Six have done or do self-assessments; six haven't; and one intrepid person who admits to needing a bit of help with the whole process. So, to help get those of you who are interested in self-assessment a bit of a jump start, I'd just loaded a tool on my website that you can use as is, or adapt to best suit your needs. Here are some thoughts about using it, once you've decided to take the plunge: First, consider the self-assessment as a baseline of information/feedback from the board about how it does its work from the governance and organizational structure point of view. Give the board some time to review the findings and comments. Structure part of a board meeting (or several meetings or a retreat) around discussion of the findings. Focus primarily on areas of greatest discrepancy in responses . Spend some time delving into why some board members

Does the Cultural Sector Need ONE BIG RALLYING POINT?

THIS PARAGRAPH FROM A RECENT post by Dan Pallotta (his blog is Free the Nonprofits ) has my head spinning. So, I’m just going to lay it all out there as best I can. Pallotta uses the Apollo space program as an example of a success because it had specific parameters – and resources – for achievement. He doesn’t see either in the current nonprofit sector. Nearly 100 new nonprofits are created in the U.S. every day — about 35,000 a year — most of them doing the same things as existing organizations wrestling with the same social problems. Over 90% are very small — with less than half a million dollars in annual revenues. In his recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review , Mark Kramer wrote that, because of fragmentation, redundancy, and the plethora of small organizations "there is little reason to assume that [nonprofits] have the ability to solve society's large-scale problems." I would argue that it is precisely because we aren't committing o

Self-Assessment: One Director's Take

A COLLEAGUE RESPONDED TO MY POLL QUESTION on board assessment with an email stating that his board has engaged in annual assessment for the last three years and they're gearing up for their fourth this fall. When I asked him if the assessment process surfaced any revelations, he replied: Not really, but it provides an opportunity to catch little things early, for folks to air anything quietly that wasn’t big enough for them to say in a forum – and it removes any excuse for not saying something until too much later…. I hadn't thought of assessment quite that way -- surfacing the small stuff, not so much larger issues, but of course it does. The amount of "big" versus "small" issues likely depends on the organization and how frequently assessment is done. For those boards that have never done assessment, the issues could range all over the map, from large to small. Boards that regularly take the reflective pause are most able to manage large issues as well