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So You Want To Interview For Executive Director

Now and again the issue is raised about people moving from the corporate to non-profit world without really understanding the philosophical and cultural differences between the two sectors. 

It wasn’t until a posting by Joan Garry, who made the corporate to non-profit move when she became the executive director of GLAAD, that I realized I had never really seen an attempt to provide an understanding of those differences.

Noting that given the demographics of her readership, she is probably preaching to the choir, she encourages people to forward her post to anyone considering making the transition.

She provides her advice in the form of probable interview questions a candidate for a non-profit executive director position will receive.

This also serves a good guide for the type of questions a non-profit board should be asking candidates. She addresses the obvious question right out of the gate:

1. Tell us about your previous nonprofit experience. How do you perceive the differences in the sectors?

This is really important. You need to have played in the nonprofit sandbox in some way. I’m hoping you have volunteered, been involved in a PTA, or in your house of worship. Consider the differences between that and your corporate job.

If you haven’t done any of those things, as a member of the search committee, I am going to be very skeptical indeed.

Later questions address the fact that employees of non-profits are motivated by entirely different factors than those in a corporate setting; the larger number of constituents with conflicting interests that need to be managed; the relationship between board and executive director and of course, the ever present issue of fund raising.

Since these questions are based largely on the questions that were posed to her when she was interviewing, I appreciated that she reflected on the success of some of her answers. She said she admitted she had no fund raising experience, but that she figured if she could get boxing promoter Don King to pay Showtime what he owed them, she could ask anyone for money.

I also appreciated that she recognized that she was weak in some respects, despite being highly qualified in a wide range of areas, and that it was her answer to the question, “Why are you passionate about THIS organization and THIS mission?” that got her the job.

An acknowledgement that there are always skill sets that will need to be developed is pretty much expected for any new job. As a commenter on her post notes, sometimes that isn’t the case and there is a sense that non-profit work is something one deigns to do after they have had a real career.

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Substantial Change Comes From Within

Diane Ragsdale has an extremely interesting post today related to an earlier set of posts she made two years ago about coercive philanthropy in response to change of direction the Irvine Foundation was taking in their funding philosophy.

She notes today that many of the arts groups the Irvine Foundation had traditionally supported did not shift themselves toward the new direction the foundation was encouraging arts organizations to go. She says:

My view, in a nutshell, was (and still is) this: While the Irvine Foundation may have been justified in pursuing a brave new strategy, its grantees were also justified in rebuffing it. I wrote:

Irvine appears to be interested in bringing about a kind of diversity (i.e., change) in the arts sector we don’t often talk about: aesthetic diversity. … However well-researched and justified, Irvine must recognize (and I think it does) that its strategy is out of line with the missions of a majority of professional arts organizations, which were formed to present work by professionals for audiences that come to appreciate that work, not make it. … Irvine needs to recognize that it is endeavoring to coax organizations into uncharted territory. It wants to coerce a change that many cannot make, or do not want to make.

We often speak of arts organizations bending over backwards and stretching their missions and activities in order to make themselves eligible to receive funding so it was of great interest to me to read about arts organizations who were not doing so even though it might be significantly detrimental to their finances.

In one of the posts Diane made two years ago, she talks about the  long time period required to make the substantial change of the type the Irvine Foundation is signalling versus the impatience of most foundations.

She uses the example of Centerstage Theater in Baltimore which made a focused commitment to do a better job of serving the city’s 67% African American population. They initially lost subscribers and supporters before eventually replacing them in the 10 years it took to fully realize this vision.

Ragsdale suggests that substantive change only comes when the leadership is behind it, not when the funding philosophy shifts.

I seriously question whether funding organizations to make them change works. Has any organization that was reluctant to change made substantive long-term change because of a grant? I suspect any change that happens probably has more to do with leadership, other sources of income, and an intent to change that was already solid before the grant arrived.

And when change fails to be manifested? Well, I would wager that a majority of foundations perceive that organizations are at fault in that case (not the grantmaking strategy). And why wouldn’t they? Organizations write proposals in which they promise to change themselves in dramatic ways for ridiculously small amounts of money and over unreasonable periods of time. They lie about what they can do. They choose to do this to get the money. Foundations choose to believe these lies because it’s convenient to believe that it’s possible to change the world in 3-5 year cycles..

In her post today, she provides a insightful illustration of how this manifests. (To understand the reference to moving diagonally across the box, you need to scroll to the Ansoff Matrix graphic in her post.)

If a business is doing well, then (from its perspective) the best strategy is to continue to create the product it knows for the market it knows (market penetration). However, when that market is in decline (and one could argue that this is the case for many professional arts groups at the moment), its least risky move is either (a) to develop new products for existing markets (product development), or (b) to develop new markets for existing products (market development).

Asking arts organizations to develop new products for new markets sends them diagonally into the box marked diversification and is a high-risk move; there can be a significant chance of failure. And while Irvine might be willing to underwrite some of the financial risks associated with experiments in this realm, it can’t underwrite the strategic, operational, compliance, social, and psychological risks associated with such changes—organizations need to be ready, willing, and able to bear these on their own.

This section of her post really helped clarify some fundamental concepts of business strategy for me. It made me realize that when there is a discussion about the need for live performance organizations with middle to older aged audiences  to develop things like video based entertainment in order to engage younger groups, what is being advocated for is a risky proposition requiring a commitment to endure challenges on all the fronts she lists.

The efforts of Centerstage Theater illustrate that even implementing the changes required to develop new markets for the existing product may entail some of the same risks she mentions.

There are many other related issues Ragsdale addresses so the whole post is worth a read.

I realize I should mention her current post is in reaction to a report on a recent study the Irvine Foundation engaged in. Even though Ragsdale is critical of some aspects of it, my general impression is that the Irvine Foundation may be in it for the long haul with their new focus given they have committed to gathering data and studying the issues. Though I guess we will see where things stand in 8 or more years.

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Diego Rivera and the Paintbrush of Destiny

As part of our website revamp, I am in the process of adding content about the various murals located around the building. One of the best pieces is a little removed from the lobby and spans a couple floors so I have made a video and map to help guide people to it.

So it was with great interest that I read a recent piece on NPR about the rights visual artists, especially muralists, can exert to determine the disposition of the buildings in/on which they are painted.

As I started reading, I began to worry that more people might refuse to allow murals to appear on the sides of their buildings if they were aware of these issues. However, the story notes that Philadelphia, which has a robust, formal mural program, has found ways to strike a balance and work with both the artist and building owner to find some sort of accommodation. They are likely a good source for advice on these matters.

Only works created after 1990 enjoy this protection under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA). So Diego Rivera’s paintbrush technically hasn’t altered the destiny of any buildings as far as the Act is concerned.

This piece from the National Endowment for the Arts and this one from the Arts & Business Council of Greater Philadelphia do a pretty good job of explaining various aspects of the law.

One thing I think bears emphasizing since many of the commenters on the NPR story get it wrong is that while works for hire are not covered under the VARA, that does not mean that only works created for free are covered. If you are commissioned to create a work as an independent contractor and get paid for it, your work is covered. This is clearly stated in the Arts and Business Council flyer, but I wanted to reinforce that.

The reason I think it is particularly important to be aware of this law is because so many communities are utilizing murals to help spruce up the neighborhood. Often these murals are on abandoned buildings that are good candidates for destruction should those murals generate the the desired positive ambiance and attract new residents and businesses.

Since the rights are retained until the death of the last surviving creator, it might be good to form a general agreement that the work is being created with the expectation (and perhaps hope) that someone will eventually destroy it.

The other thing to note is that the VARA deals with the artist’s moral rights to the work which can never be given away. The artist can transfer ownership, but can’t give up their moral rights. Per the NEA Office of General Counsel article:

“VARA restricts the exercise of the rights of attribution and integrity to the author or joint authors of the artwork, regardless of whether he/they hold title either to the copyright or the artwork itself. Thus while both copyright and physical ownership are property rights which may be transferred, moral rights may not be transferred. Moral rights may, however, be waived. The waiver instrument must be very specific: the creator must consent in a written and signed instrument specifically identifying the artwork, the uses of that work, and with a clause limiting the waiver to both aspects.”

So even if a mural was presented as a birthday present to someone, the next owner of the building can’t immediately bulldoze it as the new owner of the mural. Notice of 90 days must provided to the artist(s) during which period of time they can take whatever action they decide is necessary from a final visit to take pictures before it is destroyed to seeking a court injunction against the demolition.

The one issue that isn’t really addressed is what protections exist for art that someone produces uninvited. People go out and paint over unwanted graffiti everyday….unless it is a Banksy in which case they may chisel out the section of the wall and sell it at auction.

If someone cares enough to chisel it out and keep it, aren’t they admitting it is valuable and not a nuance? So if Banksy (or Banksy’s lawyer) shows up and says the art is site specific (which many clearly are) and may not be moved/destroyed/defaced per VARA, who has the right to determine what happens with the work?

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Corralling The Wild Volunteer

The Wall Street Journal had a story entitled Docents Gone Wild sharing some stories about museum docents going off script, treating visitors rudely or diverting people away from works of art they didn’t approve of.

The take away for me wasn’t so much that you have to keep an eye on those crotchety senior citizens as much as the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation provides an opportunity to mobilize a large cohort of people on behalf of the arts. Only it will require some effort to effectively engage and train them.

In some respects this idea is a complement to the series on arts and aging/healing that Barry Hessenius hosted last month. That series dealt with the idea that there is an unmet need that the arts can respond to that is only going to grow as the Baby Boomer generation ages. However, currently most arts organizations lack the capacity to do so.

In terms of enlisting retirees as volunteer or in a type of semi-retired/second career role, arts organizations’ ability is a little more developed, but can still be improved. These retirees are people who are transitioning out of careers as highly skilled professionals and will likely enjoy a longer, healthier post-retirement lifestyle than their parents had.

They may want to contribute more than just ushering, envelop stuffing and phone answering during their retirement. If they can’t find an activity to hold their interest, they may choose another activity that they feel is better suited to the energy and ambition they feel they have.

Arts organizations may be wary about involving additional older folks on their boards of directors when they are desperately seeking younger voices, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some organizations managed to create special task groups that mobilized to advocate and lobby for them with government entities.

For all the foibles their docents may exhibit, I am pretty impressed by the rigor of the training program these museums have instituted for their docents. Not that I would increase the training we give our volunteers for its own sake, but it makes me wonder if we are investing enough attention to our training as well as care and feeding of our current volunteers even before addressing the issue of being prepared for new arrivals.

As I was I writing this post, I had a vague recollection of some futurist like John Nasbitt (Megatrends 2000), Faith Popcorn (Popcorn Report) or Alvin Toffler (Future Shock) coming out with a book in the last 10-15 years that said retirees would gather into fairly insular communities termed something like Yogurt Communities because they would value “active cultures” or cultural activity. I wonder if anyone can remember it because I can’t find it. I was curious to do a check back to see if predictions were coming to pass.

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