If you ever doubted that executive director positions were all about the fundraising and light on requiring artistic vision, the recent news about the firing of Ft. Worth Opera general director will disabuse you of that notion. It was with some dismay that I read about his firing due to lack of creativity when it came to fund raising.
Now I don’t intend to understate the importance of strong fund raising. I probably would have just scanned the Dallas Morning News piece and moved on with my day. While unfortunate, organization leaders get fired or resign fairly frequently.
Except that as I read on it struck me that Woods wasn’t an idler as general director. Every sentence brought accolades for different accomplishments. He brought the opera to greater prominence, navigated challenges with performance facilities, engaged in some innovative programming that appears to have interested a larger segment of the community, and yes, did a respectable job with fund raising against a shortfall.
Just to be sure the Dallas Morning News writer wasn’t personally biased, I sought other reporting on the firing and they seemed to agree on these basic facts. All in all, he didn’t sound like someone you would want to blithely part ways with.
Certainly, there may be some underlying problems that no one is talking about publicly. The comments by the board in all the articles I came across focus so strongly on their desire to find someone who can handle fund raising and business development as Woods’ replacement that it appears that is about all that matters. Artistic and community relationship building skills seem to be such far seconds that I fear all the accomplishments Woods has been praised for will stagnate and perhaps decline.
The opera seeks to hire a leader to “focus more on business and management … to be creative with the fundraising and development aspect,” he said, adding that, “we just didn’t feel Darren could provide us with that leadership from that aspect.”
Martinez said Woods has brought the opera “to a point where we felt good artistically.” Now, he said, it’s time to move forward with a new general director who can help shape the company’s future, which includes being a good steward of donors’ money.
That last line made me wonder if the board really did approve of Woods’ artistic choices or if there is something going on that isn’t being spoken of.
Over the history of this blog, (holy crap, is it really going to be 13 years on Friday?), I have often cited studies about how fewer people are interested in taking on executive roles in non-profits. Of those energetic people I know who want to assume leadership positions, few to none have a vision that involves fund raising as their primary role. They get excited by the prospect of making an impact and aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty, but job descriptions like this, (and lets be fair, Ft. Worth Opera is far from the only one emphasizing this skillset), don’t really fire their imaginations.