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Recent Trends In Non Profit Governance

Last month Non-Profit Quarterly (NPQ) published a summary of BoardSource’s governance index, Leading With Intent.

The summary is encouraging in that it shows a vast majority of non-profit boards engage in good governance practices. (Although NPQ notes that the results may be slightly skewed given most people on BoardSource’s survey mailing list tend to be people who have contacted them due to interest in good governance.)

The disappointing, though not surprising, finding is that most board and executive leaders are Caucasian and over 40.

“But the lack of inclusion of younger people and people of color on boards and as executive directors seems to point to an unwillingness to join in and make best use of the current societal disruption.

Young people have a different experience base in the political and social uses of networks, which relates to the ability to approach big questions. Additionally, smaller boards can best work for the good of a larger community if those boards have an understanding of how to interact effectively with a larger, more diverse, and unbounded governance system of stakeholders. This cutting edge of governance requires cultural wisdom and the wisdom of younger leadership.”

I was interested to learn that board size has shrunk by 20% between 1994 and 2014 and there is a de-emphasis on people with connections to money. (my emphasis)

The thought that boards must be packed with influential connectors seems to be going the way of the dodo, at least for many organizations. This fits well with the idea that boards should know how to interact effectively with larger systems of governance and support. “Interacting effectively” in these times means that board members are connected enough to the organization and its stakeholder environment to ensure proper communication with stakeholders. Board members should be capable of listening with an educated ear for the tremors and trends in the organization’s environment. A lack of diversity on the board interferes with the capacity to accurately “listen.”

Although NPQ was generally optimistic about it, I had mixed feelings about the news that executive directors have remained in their jobs rather than making a mass exodus as was once feared. My feelings are the same as they were back in 2007/2008 when the concern about mass retirement of executive directors was first expressed.

At that time there weren’t many organizations with succession plans in place or an active efforts to cultivate people to assume those positions and according to the current NPQ article, there still aren’t. While NPQ acknowledges the lack of succession planning is a problem, my focus is more on the cultivation of new leaders.

My fear is that if potential leaders don’t feel like they are being challenged and provided with significant responsibility and decision making opportunities, they may choose to shift their careers elsewhere. The result may be a new generation of leaders with very shallow experience with non-profit work.

I often encourage people to read the full text of a report and that is especially true for this one since NPQ is soliciting articles that make use of the compiled data. If this is a topic which interests you, consider writing about it.

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Info You Can Use: Talking To Strangers

The recent NEA report on why people don’t attend arts and cultural event mentioned not having someone to attend with was a barrier to entry. Daniel Pink recently tweeted a story that gave me an idea for alleviating that issue.

Seats on buses in Brazil are being reserved for “making new friends.” You sit in the seat if you are open to having a conversation with strangers. There are Post-It notes attached to the Reserved Seating signs with conversation starters provided.

Even though the content of this video is in Portuguese, I am pretty sure no translation is necessary-

The application for arts organizations is probably pretty evident. Reserve some really great seats at an attractive price for people who are open to having conversations with strangers.

You would want to sell them individually so friends couldn’t grab them themselves or at least sell them in odd numbers if you think you can trust two people who are acquainted to include the individual sitting next to them in a conversation.

The museum version might be having stickers people can wear or a bench at which people can wait in order to pair/group with like minded strangers and wander the galleries together.

Like the bus program, you can provide conversational prompts that are both generic ice breakers as well as specific to the event people were attending.

But don’t hand the ice breakers out to participants at the box office. Having little signs and Post It prompts attached to the backs of the seats in front of the participants is a good way of promoting the program and it gives other passersby an opportunity to grab some questions for themselves.

If you can provide an after event socialization opportunity in the lobby, local restaurant or bar, so much the better.

And if you can provide discounted tickets for a year to anyone who participated in your “Make New Friends” program, even if they only come back alone, that would be really great!

Having to increase the number of seats available to your “Make New Friends” program because former participants kept returning in order to extend their year of discounts wouldn’t be the worst problem to have.

Having them return with their newly made friends is no problem at all.

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Bring Your Own

I wasn’t aware until recently that airlines have started to strip all the video equipment from their planes and have begun requiring people to bring their own personal devices and headphones in order to enjoy some form of entertainment during a flight.

Passengers on United can tap into the Wifi for a price if they want to go online or into the onboard entertainment system signal for free.

While the onboard system offers a fairly large library of videos, this development requires people to bring a personal viewing device with a full charge and manage the power so they can watch something for the duration of the travel.

As much as this situation depresses me from the perspective of how much enjoyment is disappearing from air travel, it occurs to me that if airlines normalize this practice for the public at large, it may be possible for arts organizations to extend the “bring your own…” trend for its own uses.

The benefit to the airlines is that they don’t have to place television screens on the backs of seats along with all the wiring to serve them. All that is needed is wifi transmitters.

In the same way, arts organizations can provide different “channels” of ancillary material in support of a program within their walls. This might be especially useful for museums which may want to provide visitors with a choice of a video talking about the artist, the subject of the painting, the historical period and artistic period in which a painting falls—or the history of the entire museum for those who suddenly find themselves curious in the middle of a gallery.

Instead of physically displaying text or a video screen which all those standing before a work must share, the museum can offer any of these immediately upon demand and at the speed the visitor requests. Granted, many museums already offer something similar, but there is always opportunity for refinement and scaling things up.

A performing arts organization might offer similar supporting materials during a pre or post show event or on demand as the audience files in prior to the show.

However, there might be a bigger benefit to performing arts venues. As I was thinking about possible opportunities, I recalled something Alan Brown said about how a venue might need five or more rooms to meet the different expectations people how about what their experience would be.

He said he asked them to describe what they would envision as a perfect jazz club. They said it would be a coffee house during the day but a bar at night with a separate room where those who wanted to be full immersed in the music could go. However, there would also be an anteroom where people could talk with friends and still listen to the music and still another anteroom where people could interact with friends more and listen less.

It seems like a tall order to design a building to provide this experience. However the impression I took away from what Brown had to say was that people at every age really desire an experience at an intermediate stage between listening to a recording and fully attending a formal concert. He described this as a place to drop in and hang out and get more information.

That was from a post I wrote seven years ago. Since then, technology has advanced to the point where a venue need not provide five different rooms to cover all expectations.

If people got used to the idea of bringing a personal device with them they could sit in a single additional room with friends and simply chat with the music coming faintly from the performance space. They would have the option of turning part or full attention to the video and audio feed coming from the other room via their personal devices without leaving their friends.

This provides a fair bit of flexibility to a performing arts entity because they can provide a performance in a number of venues without needing to bring video monitors or audio equipment to create a listening experience where the visibility and volume suit everyone equally. They might still have to haul wifi nodes around with them, but it can be easier to set up and there is a fair possibility a venue may already have an in-house system.

The thing I don’t like about this idea is that it validates experiencing a performance through a meditating device over the value of attending live. The way live performance attendance becomes valuable is when the accompanying materials or information stream being provided is only available during the live performance.

For example, a simulcast from backstage where the audience can witness every entrance and exit, set change, interaction. Though there is a danger that knowing you are always “on” might inspire more interesting performances backstage than on stage.

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Info You Can Use: Do You Know The Value of A Volunteer’s Time?

Did you know I am a contributor to ArtsHacker, a website dedicated to offering all sorts of solutions to arts organizations?

Did you know that a volunteer’s time is worth an average of $22.55/hour and may be worth more in your locale?

Did you know you can actually claim each volunteer’s time on grant reports and financial reporting that you submit?

Did you know I wrote all about these things in a post that appeared on ArtsHacker last Wednesday?

Did you know that a meme about volunteering featuring the World’s Most Interesting Man makes your post more interesting?

Well, hey, now you do.

All kidding aside, volunteer hours are very valuable to an arts organization both as a result of the effort they expend on its behalf and for the value you can claim on various financial documents. And with even just a few volunteers working for you, it can add up to quite a lot.

There are accounting rules, of course, that limit what and how much of a volunteer’s time you can claim. But even if you use this information for nothing more than helping your organization recognize the true value of a volunteer’s effort, calculating this number can be worth it.

Do you know the value of your volunteers’ time?

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