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Info You Can Use: Evidence vs. Emotion In Fundraising

This week Marginal Revolution blog linked to a study addressing the claim of many donors that they are motivated to give by the effectiveness of the charity.

The researchers worked with the charity, Freedom from Hunger, to send out two nearly identical letters.

In the first experimental wave, the control group received an emotional appeal focused on a specific beneficiary, along with a narrative explaining how FFH ultimately helped the individual. The treatment group received a similar emotional appeal (trimmed by one paragraph), with an added paragraph about scientific research on FFH’s impact. The second wave was identical in design, except that the treatment group narrative included more specifics on the research, and briefly discussed randomized trials and their value as impact assessment tools.

They found that adding the scientific data didn’t have an impact on whether someone donated and how much they donated in the full sample. However, the full sample includes previous donors as well as those who had never donated before.

There was a significant difference when they looked at just those who had previously made a donation. (I have inserted a paragraph break to the original text to provide easier reading)

We find that presenting positive information about charitable effectiveness increases the likelihood of giving to a major U.S. charity for large prior donors, but turned off small prior donors. This heterogeneity is important, we believe, and is consistent with a model in which large donors (holding all else equal, including income and wealth) are more driven by altruism and small donors more driven by warm glow motives.

Altruistic donors, we posit, are more driven by the actual impact of their donation, and thus information to reinforce or enhance perceived impacts will drive higher donations. On the other hand, for warm glow donors, information on impacts may actually deter giving by distracting the letter recipient from the emotionally powerful messages that typically trigger warm glow and instead put forward a more deliberative, analytical appeal which simply does not work for such individuals.

Now whether the results for a large national human services charity will be consistent for a smaller, regional cultural charity, is uncertain. The fact that larger donors may be motivated by evidence of effectiveness and smaller donors by emotional appeal and turned off by effectiveness data is definitely something to think about.

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Classical Music, Out standing In The Field

I wanted to call attention to John Luther Adams today. It may have escaped your notice that he won a Pulitzer Prize for Music yesterday for his composition, “Become Ocean.” (sample here). It certainly escaped my notice.

I had a faculty member come to my door talking about how he spoke to Adams today and how he has known the composer for awhile and Adams had played his music on his radio station in Alaska. I think the faculty member assumed I knew about the Pulitzer, which I didn’t. I thought he was just going on about a buddy of his.

It was only after the faculty member left my office and I Googled Adams’ name on a lark, that I discovered he was a big deal. Adams’ work was much more accessible than the faculty member’s comments lead me to believe. (Especially in the context of some of the music samples he has given me in the past.)

As I looked around for some other samples of Adams’ work, I found this video of his “Inuksuit” at Park Avenue Armory which really excited me. As Alex Ross mentions in his article on the performance, Adams never intended for the work to be performed indoors, but saw a lot of possibility in the cavernous armory. He set up 76 musicians throughout the drill field, catwalks and adjoining rooms and encouraged the audience of 1300 to wander among and with them.

What excited me was that we so often talk about getting orchestral music out of the concert hall and here was a piece that was never envisioned to be indoors.

There was the recent question of whether American orchestras are ignoring American music. Between Adams’ Pulitzer win and his willingness to have his music played under the sky, there is incentive to pay some attention.

Concerts like this will generate a clear dividing line between those who yearn to listen in acoustically perfect halls and those who don’t. Symphonic  and chamber music wasn’t written for warehouse spaces so I don’t advocate trying to impose the “Inuksuit” format on them.

“Inuksuit” seemed to be much more about experiencing the music than listening to it. I would guess concerns about coughing, opening cellophane candy wrappers and cellphones ringing in the middle of the show never emerged. For all the people who were up and walking around, it seemed like at any one time the majority actually sat/laid quietly and let it all wash over them. And the audience definitely did experience and respond. If you look at the last 2 minutes of the video, as the sound produced decreases, so does the physical movement in the room and nearly everyone stands still.

I don’t think anything about this negates the value and need for quiet moments in music found in conventional orchestral pieces. Listening to “Become Ocean,”  Adams definitely has an appreciation of silence, as you might expect of a composer who takes nature as his inspiration.

In fact, there seems to be an impulse for “Become Ocean” to escape the room.

From his NPR interview it almost sounds like the walls are a hindrance (my emphasis):

“It’s scored for large symphony orchestra, a bunch of percussionists, a large string section, full woodwinds and brass and even four — count them, four — harps. The orchestra is deployed as three separate ensembles. It’s really a piece for three orchestras. The different instrumental choirs are separated as widely as possible in the performance space.”

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X Degree + Y Experience = Happy Employer?

Over at Marginal Revolution blog, Tyler Cowen draws attention to two studies, one that suggests that internships are more valuable than business degrees when it comes to finding a job. The researchers sent out over 9000 fictitious resumes to jobs  in banking, finance, management, marketing, insurance and sales. Some applicants had business field degrees, others had arts and sciences degrees like history, English, biology and psychology.  As a liberal arts major, I am encouraged by the first sentence.

Despite applying exclusively to business-related job openings, we fou nd no evidence that employers prefer to interview job seekers with business degrees over applicants with nonbusiness degrees. In addition, there is no advantage, in terms of job opportunities, associated with a particular degree; that is, students with particular business degrees (e.g., finance, marketing) fare no better than students with particular non-business degrees (e.g., english, psychology). However, we fi nd strong evidence that internship experience improves employment prospects in economically and statistically signi cant ways. Applicants who were assigned a three-month internship (Summer 2009) before they graduated with their Bachelor’s degrees (May 2010) receive about 14 percent more interview requests than those who were not assigned internship experience. The “return” to internship experience is quite large for both business and non-business majors, but it is economically larger for non-business degree holders than that for business-degree holders…More research is needed to better understand the channels through which college degrees and internship experience aff ect employment prospects.”

There has been a lot of discussion about unpaid internships in the arts, including one last week on HowlRound. These discussions often raise the point that the internship system favors those with the financial and familial support to survive while making little to no income.

The question I wanted to address in the context of this study, however, is whether a degree or experience is more important for the practice of arts management.

A good number of job listings out there require an MFA. If they will accept experience in the place of an MFA, it is as much, if not more, time than would have been required to complete the MFA.

For instance, a recent job posting for the Executive Director of Buffalo Studio Arts requires “Master’s Degree, plus 2 or more years experience at a not-for-profit organization, preferred; Bachelor’s Degree, plus 5 or more years experience at a not-for-profit organization, acceptable”

Another for the Executive Director of the Graham Center at Florida International University required “Master’s degree in an appropriate area of specialization and eight years of experience; or a bachelor’s degree in an appropriate area of specialization and ten years of experience. ”

Now given that a Master’s degree can take 1-3 years to earn, with an MFA being 2-3 years, these jobs can be viewed as requiring slightly more or equivalent experience from a person without a Master’s.  With the first description only deeming a Bachelors and experience as acceptable, it seems you are at an immediate disadvantage without that Master’s. This verbiage is not at all uncommon.

As for the second description, if a person with a BA has 8 years experience, there probably isn’t much more to be gained in those additional two years to bring them on par with a person with a Master’s degree. They are either as good or better at year 8, or they aren’t.

In the Buffalo example, I think the determining factor comes down to opportunities which translates to experience. A person with a Master’s and two years of good opportunities is  going to be preferable to a person with a BA and five years of poor opportunities. But a person with a BA and three years of good opportunities is easily going to be preferable to a person with a Master’s and three years devoid of practical experience.

But is that how arts employers approaching hiring? Perhaps they do and just use that Master’s = Bachelor’s + Experience to signal expectations and encourage people to self select out of applying. Not that it keeps 50 unqualified people from applying for every qualified person.

My suspicion is that many arts employers adhere closely to that equation to make it easier to sort through the 100s of resumes by preemptively tossing whatever doesn’t neatly fit.

It isn’t fair to single arts employers out in this regard. Any degree serves as a imprimatur for a job applicant in any field. It is a shortcut people use as a guarantee of quality which is why so many people seek to get a college degree even though they may not be suited for college.

Does this bring about the best result for the organization? That is something each has to answer.

Now, it should obviously be acknowledged that I have an MFA so I tend to pass that initial test of fitting into the equation.

I have hired people who didn’t fit neatly in to the equation and benefited from it. Some times there was a large element of faith involved, but that is true in all cases regardless of degree attained.

Again we come back to that first question, how much do the degrees matter versus experience? When I go to conferences and interact with agents, artists and other presenters, I don’t care about the degree anyone has attained. I don’t get better service from people with master’s degrees than those without.

However, I do care and can tell if someone is inexperienced. Experience does have bearing on the quality of service received.

Of course, I am only interacting with people for a short period of time. Degree earned may have a significant impact on the experiences of boards of directors, organization staff and audience base who have to live with them.

As a person who has earned a Master’s degree, I could point to how my degree had a positive impact on the organizations I have worked for. I can also point out how my lack of experience had a negative impact on the organizations I have worked for, even after earning the degree.


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Boards! What Are They Good For?

Some interesting thoughts on the purposes of boards in the blogosphere today. Laura Zabel makes some “bored assumptions” about the primary purpose of boards suggesting that passion about the mission should come first with fund raising being a distant second or third or fifth…

“I’ll be blunt here: if you’re not thinking about how your board represents your community then you’re not building a relevant organization. When we are looking for new board candidates at Springboard there are two criteria:

-do you love and understand the mission deeply?
-will you energetically represent the organization to your community and your community to the organization?

Swim Pony Performing Arts artistic director Adrienne Mackey says much the same thing in a post of her own today.

“Which means that were I to incorporate the mission my board would be responsible for is “To make Adrienne’s work the most Adrienne it can be.”

But Mackey, whose organization is not incorporated as a non-profit and who states from the outset “I am generally anti non-profits for the majority of content generators, especially for small ensembles and individual creators,” asks

“Are there any artists who, if given the choice, would actually want to keep a board of directors if they didn’t have to? I know that many of my peers have talked to me about learning to find meaning and usefulness and sometimes even joy in the people they’ve invited to be part of their non-profit board. But if they weren’t required to find a way to live with this set up, would they still do it?”

She asks this predominantly in regard to companies that exist to promote the work of a single artist rather than in the service of promoting or curating types and genres of art or to provide “a habitat for artists to plug into.”

The basis of this is the belief that (my emphasis):

“..artists should get input from the outside about how their work is best made and how it might be financially sustainable and responsible. But at the core, I don’t agree that the final responsibility for a creator’s product can be located outside of the creator.”

For me, both posts are further evidence of the sentiment that has been simmering over that last few years that the current structure needs to be replaced. Adrienne Mackey makes a good case for situations when you should not view non-profit status as the default and only choice.

We have seen the appearance of Benefit Corporate structure in an increasing number of states over the last few years as a way for companies to effect positive social impacts. Readers of my blog know that I am intrigued by the idea of arts organizations being created with expiration dates.

But I think there is just as much validity in Laura Zabel perception that there is nothing necessarily wrong with the current structure, but the that assumptions and dynamics of board relations need to be altered.


Today’s post title inspired by Edwin Starr. I should note, I am not advocating for the dissolution of boards a la the “absolutely nothing” lyric. It is often difficult to think of a title for my posts and it was just too good a reference to pass up.


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