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Trespassing Won’t Make You Many Friends

The Non Profit Quarterly had a piece by Simone Joyaux which I suspect reflects what will be the necessary practice in fund raising for the future.

She asks fund raisers to stop asking their board members to trespass on their family and friends.

Trespassing is when you ask your friends or colleagues to give gifts and buy tickets . . . just because they are your friends and colleagues. This is the personal and professional favor exchange. This is obligation to a person rather than a cause. It’s a lousy way to raise money. It’s offensive. It alienates the asker and the askee. And it’s not sustainable.

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How often have you, as a fundraiser, asked your board members to name names? How often have you asked them to bring in a list? Did you ask your board members to write notes on the letters that you planned to send to their list?

I say again, trespassing is a bad idea. It alienates board members. It alienates the friends and colleagues of board members. It doesn’t produce loyal donors or sustainable gifts.

Joyaux advises asking board members to suggest those they believe might be interested in supporting one’s organization and then inviting them to learn more about the organization. In the process of interacting with these people, one can gauge whether they are interested in what the organization does and perhaps what specific manifestation of the mission they may be disposed to supporting. From there you can work on cultivating a relationship with them that may see them more involved with the organization.

This suggestion isn’t terribly earth shattering or new. I have heard Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser say this is essentially what he does to garner support for the organizations he leads. When I first heard him speak about how he evaluates what people may be interested in and only really approaches them in relation to their interests, it seemed a less daunting and more considerate approach than soliciting everyone for every cause, even though it is much more time consuming.

As Joyaux notes, existing supporters like board members are probably going to be more comfortable implementing an organizational relationship building approach. After all, they invested the time to develop their personal relationships with friends and colleagues. While they may be willing to donate the fruits of that investment to their favorite non-profit, those relationships were built on entirely different circumstances which may not be entirely compatible with a request for support of a non-profit.

Now that social media allows people to be approached for their support every time they turn on a computer or pick up the phone, it is likely that only those organizations that take the time to cultivate a relationship with people will earn sustained support.

Not that social media won’t be a good tool for keeping people engaged with the organization’s work. It may just not be the strongest method for the organization and individual to gain a good mutual understanding and appreciation of each other’s priorities.

N.B. My apologies. Some how I ended up omitting the link to Joyaux’s piece when I first posted this entry.

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Ford’s Fresh Angle On The Arts

One of the activities the Ford Foundation is engaging in as part of their celebration of 75 years is a series of forums focused on issues of social justice. The first of these, held on May 4 had an arts focus. I have been watching the videos of the sessions on the site and still have a few more to go but I wanted to reflect on what I have seen. The event utilized Cover It Live to aggregate the observations of the social media people who were present so you can review their record of the proceedings as well.

In the lunch time discussion between NEA chair Rocco Landesman and former NY Times journalist, Frank Rich, called “Roccing Out: A Lunch Conversation” (sorry, no direct link you will have to scroll down the page), they went over a number of issues, including Landesman’s now famous comments about supply of arts exceeding demand. What I found most interesting was Landesman’s discussion of his efforts to create a private-public partnership between the NEA and private foundations to better serve the arts constituencies.

I found myself wondering if the association would constrict private foundations’ vision toward that of the U.S. government since they are obviously an influential player or if the NEA’s vision would broaden to more encompass the myriad aims of the private funders. I could see the NEA funding possibly expanding as its chair goes before Congress to mention that influential foundation X was bringing Y amount to their partnership. Or it could backfire and Congress could decide it only proved there was plenty of private money out there. Though if GE and oil companies can make billions, not pay taxes and still receive subsidies, there has to be a way to successfully frame the argument.

Landesmann also discussed how he is trying to work with other departments of the federal government to get them to emphasize and use the arts in their programs. He described his efforts as being the coo-coo bird who lays his eggs in other bird’s nests for them to raise since they have more resources than he does. Two examples he used were aligning the arts with transportation projects and housing and urban development.

The other session I watched was “Sharing the Stage: Globalization and Cultural Might.” The thing that grabbed me was the discussion of how construction of arts and cultural centers were seen by countries as a symbol of having made it. Having such buildings were seen as conferring credibility as an accomplished, modern culture and society upon the country. The problem is that some countries haven’t thought about actually inhabiting the buildings with art.

Michael Kaiser of the Kennedy Center talks about traveling to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and walking around a magnificent art center located far from the population that has never really had any performances in its 15 years of existence. He mentioned another large facility being constructed in the same country where they have projected no operating costs because it will be run entirely by volunteers. Vishakha N. Desai, President of the Asia Society, mentioned that China has plans for building hundreds of museums, but when she asked the mayor of Shanghai what would be put in them, she was told they would figure that out.

The point they were making was that there was something of a misunderstanding in governments in whether the value in art resided in the buildings or the artists. There was some discussion, especially when they opened up the floor for questions and comments, about the importance of having places to exhibit and perform work as well as to train managers to properly empower and enable the work of artists.

My first reaction to this talk about the building bringing prestige was the thought that this is what comes of promoting the economic value of the arts. This came mostly as a result of thinking about all the money and resources that went into the construction. I soon realized though that what the governments really sought was not the tangible value, but to trumpet the intangible value of their country’s culture. They have world class facilities in which to feature world class artists, heavily represented by artists of their own country.

In the US we have been arguing that arts and culture are one of the things about our country that make it great and strengthen the national character. It is difficult to criticize a government who agrees with that and wants to invest huge amounts of money to draw world wide attention to that fact.

Except, of course, that the Field of Dream expectation that if you build it, the artists will come to inhabit the facility and bring life to it is somewhat erroneous. It takes some significant effort and planning to cultivate an artistic life for a facility. My strong suspicion is that the construction of these facilities didn’t involve a lot of input from artists who represented the type envisioned to perform/use the building and the facilities may not be suitable to their needs at all necessitating some immediate renovations.

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Arts Administrator Residencies-Is There A Need?

I am not quite sure what drew my eye to it but Fractured Atlas did an interview with the founders of the Philadelphia Art Hotel this January. I don’t know why, but the project just looks and sounds a like a cool idea.

Personally, if I were a visual artist, I would probably tend toward the residencies in rural settings which is where a lot of them are located. Ready access to the Philadelphia art scene is not to be undervalued though.

I would probably sell my children into slavery to participate in the Arts/Industry program at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center.

It is probably fortunate then that I am not a visual artist. And I don’t have kids either. That is probably better since they have a performing arts program and I would still love to work there for the washrooms alone!

I don’t really talk about artist residencies too much. Perhaps because there aren’t too many for arts administrators. If you check the residency search tool at the Alliance of Artistic Communities website, administration is not even a search option. The only place I am aware of that offers one is The Studios of Key West which I wrote about 18 months ago.

I start to think that people like Michael Kaiser are correct when he talks about how few training opportunities there are to make people good arts administrators. There aren’t many opportunities for them to take a retreat and do research. Though to be fair, residencies for arts managers isn’t really part of the ethos. Arts administrators don’t get granted long periods of time to hone their skills. I don’t know if there is a market for offering residencies to them. How many administrators would ask for the opportunity? Most would say they don’t have the time. Kaiser talks about starting his day at 4 am which pretty much reflects the trend for many arts administrators.

One might say the Kennedy Center’s Art Management Fellowships are a sort of residency for arts managers. It combines practical work experience around the Kennedy Center with classes on relevant topics. And I believe they provide a $20,000 stipend to support yourself which is really pretty decent compared to what I was paid to intern. Though since the fellowships are for mid-career administrators,they would be bringing much more to the table than an intern would.

In any case, I would imagine the days there are just as long and involved as the position the arts manager left to become a fellow. That doesn’t give a lot of time for reflection and thinking about what the future of the arts might be and how one can restructure their organization to move forward to acknowledge these changes.

This summer I waswoolgathering a little about taking advantage of low real estate prices in Detroit to help grow an arts community there. I wonder if I was being too narrow in my vision and should have been thinking of including opportunities for arts managers to cultivate their skills too since there are so few opportunities.

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Staying Married To The Artistic Process

I came across an interesting article in The New Republic, by way of Arts and Letters Daily that suggested that a shift in business school orientation partially contributed to the loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States. At one time universities focused on training graduates to manage manufacturing businesses and often had mini-factories on campus to give students practical experiences.

The focus since about 1965 has shifted to finance and consulting. While this has been largely beneficial for the economy, (until they started creating bad financial products), it is one of the reasons why the country has become weaker in manufacturing. That has been pretty bad for the country.

“Harvard business professor Rakesh Khurana, with whom I discussed these questions at length, observes that most of GM’s top executives in recent decades hailed from a finance rather than an operations background….But these executives were frequently numb to the sorts of innovations that enable high-quality production at low cost. As Khurana quips, “That’s how you end up with GM rather than Toyota.”

At first this was just an interesting theory to me, but then I realized that this describes exactly what people are afraid will happen if arts organizations are “run more like a business.” The fear is that decisions will rest entirely on return on investment and will be divorced from the manufacturing process as it were.

There was a time I would not have imagined that any arts organization would have a disconnect between the administration and the artists. I assumed that the administrators would be passionate about the arts with which they were associated. Why else would someone work so hard for so little pay?

Nearly five years ago, I cited observations that orchestra administrations were disassociated from the performances and performers. Given all the conflicts and closures since then, I don’t think the overall environment has gotten any better since. I also don’t assume that this situation is necessarily unique to the orchestra world.

In the last week I have heard Michael Kaiser on his Arts in Crisis tour and Andrew Taylor debating the utility of the arts management degree. In both conversations there was an obvious focus on training arts managers well. But the necessity for training boards well was mentioned too.

It seems to me that maybe the need to advocate the intrinsic value of the arts is necessary internally in addition to external constituencies. Perhaps one of the dangers of emphasizing the economic contribution of the arts to the community is that it creates greater expectations for boards and administrators that the art and its creators be ever more economically viable as well.

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