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The New Ventures Think Tank: Why Your Organization Needs One

BRAINSTORMING SESSIONS HAVE A WONDERFUL WAY OF invigorating people.  It's exciting and, yes, liberating to contemplate future accomplishments, even if they're too lofty to achieve.  Cultural organizations are full of creative people with lots of ideas -- big ideas, too -- but few have a structured means of capturing them and funneling them into workable actions.  This is especially true when it comes to developing earned income strategies.  Beyond the typical mix of nonprofit fundraising activities, who's routinely minding the store when it comes to creating opportunities for long-term self-sufficiency beside the director?
I recently met with the executive committee and director of an historic site with a massive physical plant.  Almost three-quarters of current income comes from earned income and much of that is from for-profit activities, such as apartment rentals and lease of space to for-profit business.  Their efforts to come up with ideas for income-generating ventures is an ongoing conversation that could be considered sporadic or unfocused due, in part, to a lack of time and talent to devote to such efforts.  How could that be remedied?
Many for-profit businesses devote big money for research and development in an effort to remain competitive and profitable.  R & D is more often a by-product in the world of cultural nonprofits, the result of an immediate problem in search of a quick, inexpensive solution.  But, what if we could create a think tank that met regularly to brainstorm, research and evaluate self-sufficiency ventures?  Why couldn't a committee made up of various talents come together to do this for your cultural organization? 
You may have heard or read about the importance of a "blue sky committee", a group just focused on the big picture what if's.  I'm dubbing my think tank the "new ventures committee" to not only contemplate the what if's, but to also assess project feasibility and identify venture partners and funders.  It's groups like these that will help keep nonprofits flexible and in tune with the needs and trends of their external environments, as well as make substantive contributions to the bottom line. 
Photo:  All Blue.... happy blue sky!  from Andreza Pinheiro 

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