#19NTC Topics-Oh Yeah Do I Got Ideas For You

Last week Drew McManus did a call out to the non-profit arts community to submit proposals for the Nonprofit Technology Conference in March 2019. (Proposal deadline is August 17)

Last year, I was excited by the topic Drew was presenting – “Everything Tech Providers Wished You Knew About Writing A RFP (plus the stuff they want to keep secret)

So in the spirit of getting more stuff I am interested in learning about proposed, I am gonna give you a list of some of the things I think would make good topics in the hope some of you will submit something.

  • Data Privacy and Security From Perspective of Communities of Color – I have already reached out to one of the people who made a presentation for the Hispanic National Bar Assn in NYC, but anyone with an interest should submit on this topic. Given that non-profits serving communities of color often need to establish a relationship of trust, this seems like an important subject to address.
  • Analyzing The True Cost of Programs – favorite topic of mine. Related idea:
  • Using Evidence/Data to Rebutt the Concept of Overhead Ratio As A Measure Of Effectiveness
  • Shared /Online Procurement Goods/Services
  • Effective RFP Generation – both internal & external processes
  • Using Geofencing To Better Understand Target Communities – can geofencing help you better understand a community based on where they travel around the community?
  • Ethics of Using Geofencing For Marketing  – i.e. I can geofence a local theater and target people based on the idea that they enjoy attending performances or with the intent of stealing the audience.
  • In-Person/Conference Based Professional Development vs. Online/Technology Delivery. Are there some subject areas better suited to one format over the other?
  • Shared services/technology arrangements – in terms of both back office and program delivery
  • Delete the Facebook Account? – Communication strategies when faced with a concerted social media assault
  • Conforming with Google’s new criteria for Adwords Grants – i.e. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2018/05/07/nonprofits-can-keep-adwords-grants-following-major-changes-restore-lost-accounts/
  • Energy Saving Performance Contracts
  • Use of technology to provide regular cues to keep strategic plan alive and relevant – i.e. using software/apps to periodically to nag/remind you of milestones in time line, provide encouragement, remind you of ideas you had during the planning session
  • Effective Hiring – from job description to orientation/training  this topic is large enough to be multiple sessions can hit on everything from online job boards/job app apps to new state laws requiring salary range and forbidding asking about salary history

There are plenty more ideas where these came from, but I feel like this is a good broad range of subjects. I have already reached out to a few people encouraging to propose based on topics they are well-qualified to address.

If any of this inspires you in any sort of direction, submit a proposal.  If you got questions, let me know. Like Drew, I am on the conference session committee. Honestly, the conference organizers are really good about providing opportunities for people to ask questions at scheduled office hours and open Q&A sessions, and an online proposal prep group in which you can solicit feedback on proposals you are developing. All these resources are listed on the proposal pages.

Broader Conceptions Of Creative Placemaking

Last week I attended the Creative Placemaking Summit for the Appalachian region.  As much as I have read and written about Creative Placemaking, I don’t think I fully understood the what it encompassed until I attended this conference.

Hearing multiple people from various communities talk about the whole process of their projects from the involvement of government officials to securing funding and structuring financing to the sweat equity the arts and cultural invested in renovations, everything coalesced to provide me with a more complete understanding.

The topics of discussion and the level of detail were entirely different from what I have encountered at other arts and cultural conferences.  It reinforced for me that things don’t just happen in a vacuum. You can’t just plant art somewhere and assume economic and creative vitality will be attracted like honeybees if you can just stick it out long enough.

I had written about projects like the Poetry Parking Lot in Lanesboro, MN holding it up as a cool, creative idea. But having John Davis of Lanesboro Arts talk about how that project was driven by a desire to have tourists use that lot and how the renovation of a bridge to provide a pedestrian connection to the downtown was an important element provided a new context. The haiku on the light posts in the parking lot were only one of the incentives to use that parking lot. The others were the improved access afforded by the bridge and the two hour parking limit on downtown streets.

What I came to recognize was summarized by a comment one of the presenters made during the conference – Arts and cultural organizations need to realize creative placemaking can’t really be supported by grants.  Basically, just having artistic activity isn’t going to create economic vibrancy. Someone is going to have to arrange for financing and loans. Even in those cases when it isn’t the arts and cultural organization arranging for the financing directly, they are probably going to have to negotiate and partner with people who are doing so.

In some cases local banks won’t/don’t get into creative placemaking financing because the projects are outside their experience. You may need to cultivate a long term relationship with a regional CDFI (Community Development Financial Institutions).  Where most arts oriented conferences will have discussions about cultivating relationships with granting organizations and funders, this creative placemaking conference spoke more about relationships with CDFIs and community development corporations and foundations.

In some cases, the focus of placemaking efforts was in a much broader context than I am accustomed to hearing. One presenter talked about a project in Jersey City, NJ driven by an alliance of artists and arts groups. Their hope was to renovate a building with a community arts center on the first floor and affordable housing on the second through fifth floors. However, they determined if they had to give up something, it would be the community arts center. The fact that an alliance of arts oriented people felt that affordable housing was more important than a creative space made an impression.

In another session, Ben Fink from Appalshop talked about how they were getting involved with energy projects. He admitted it may seem strange that an organization founded on broadcast media and performance was advancing solar energy projects in coal country. Part of the reason is that high energy costs are threatening the existence of a number of local entities from bakeries to bluegrass festival sponsoring volunteer firehouses. He said the end goal wasn’t the completion of the solar project, it was to use solar energy to power the next projects.

The conference was populated with stories of groups that were renovating old buildings and storefronts and providing a place for the community to give voice to their creativity, but there were also stories like those in NJ and Appalshop that expanded my conception of the role arts and cultural organizations could play in the community.

If you have the opportunity to attend either the national or regional conference summits, it may be worth your time and the added perspective. It was actually less expensive to attend than some other conferences I have been to. (Not sure if that is the case for all the convenings since the cost for past and future conferences are not available on the website.)

Could You Benefit From Sharing Your Ticket Revenue With Four Other Theaters?

Kaya Stanley-Money shares a really intriguing story on Arts Professional about how five London theatres presented the same performance and then pooled the ticket revenue.

…the five London venues to present Yvette for two or three nights at each venue over a two and half week period, sharing the box office income equally after the artist guarantee had been paid. This meant that venues at the start of the tour would benefit as much as those at the end, removing all competition and encouraging a genuine collaboration.

The performances were marketed as a London run, which enabled us to establish a comprehensive press strategy and offered the opportunity to build audiences for Urielle’s work in five different London boroughs. This was particularly important to reach a much younger audience who are typically less likely to travel far and have deeper geographical roots than your average London theatregoer.

Above all, this model offered Urielle the invaluable opportunity to build a relationship with all five venues, capitalising on their support for emerging artists.

I was especially drawn by the mention that this arrangement provided an opportunity to reach a younger audience in five London boroughs. This might not normally be possible because the venues typically insist a performance not happen within a certain radius of their venue. Since each venue stood to benefit if a partner was more successful than they were it made some sense to waive that clause.

I was interested to read that some of the venues were already exploring share box office arrangements. I know that theatres partnering on a production will often agree to share production costs, but this was the first I became aware of theatres engaging in box office sharing.

As part of the shared marketing effort, each venue contributed equally to the advertising spend and each provided links to the performances of all five venues on their respective websites.

Apparently the partnering venues were optimistic about the revenue potential because they agreed to a 60/40 artist-venue split rather than the typical 50/50 split.

In the end, this may have benefited the artist most. She established relationships with five venues. She was able to have a denser saturation of exposure across London than she would have had radius exclusion clauses been in place.  Potentially, she may have received more money than she would have with longer runs in fewer venues.

As Stanley-Money notes, this revenue sharing model can be beneficial when presenting new works or emerging artists because it mitigates the risk a single venue might undertake by pooling promotional expense as well as the revenue.

I am hoping that Stanley-Money follows up with a report on how successful they assessed the plan was.

For example, if a performance is in one or two places across 15 days, it may take awhile for the audience to build up as word of mouth builds and then the audiences may trail off. I would be curious to discover if that may have happened as the show appeared at five different venues. If the audience peaked at the second, third, and fourth venue, it isn’t a big problem revenue wise since all the venues are sharing.

However, if people don’t generally travel out of their borough to see a performance, there may be some exposure concerns at the venues with lower attendance. On the other hand, if they find that people who missed a local performance traveled out of their neighborhoods based on good word of mouth, it makes the cooperative partnership model look even better.

I would also be interested to learn just how easy it was to get all the venues to agree on promotional and operational arrangements. I have had experiences with groups with long histories partnering on many arrangements but could never manage to agree on promotional efforts. The fact this production was more of a second space event rather than a main stage event may have minimized the resistance.

Star Employees Don’t Automatically Become Star Managers

Last month in Harvard Business Review, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman wrote about how the most productive employees don’t make the best managers.

Of the seven qualities they had listed in a previous article as being important for a top producer, only one, collaboration, overlapped with the qualities found in good managers.  They note that most of the seven qualities of a top producer are focused on individual effectiveness whereas a manager needs to be outwardly focused.

The top qualities they list for good managers (the article expounds on each in more detail) are,

  • Being open to feedback and personal change. ..
  • Supporting others’ development. ..
  • Being open to innovation. …
  • Communicating well. …
  • Having good interpersonal skills…
  • Supporting organizational changes…

When we further analyzed our data, we found that many of the most productive individuals were significantly less effective on these skills. Let’s be clear, these were not negatively correlated with productivity; they just didn’t go hand in hand with being highly productive. Some highly productive individuals possessed these traits and behaviors, and having these traits didn’t diminish their productivity.

But this helps explain why some highly productive people go on to be very successful managers and why others don’t. While the best leaders are highly productive people, the most highly productive people don’t always gravitate toward leading others.

All this is important to know because often people who are most productive are promoted to managerial positions on the belief the person can bring out the same productivity in others. But they don’t always do well in that role because it requires a different skillset to achieve success.

Instead of promoting an effective producer and hoping they will learn managerial skills, Zenger and Folkman suggest cultivating those skills while people are still an individual contributor. They say like anything, developing good managerial qualities takes time and businesses often expect good results pretty quickly after a promotion. They note that organizations which are good at identifying and promoting successful managers have often been providing training and opportunities over time.

New managers tend to be overwhelmed with their new responsibilities and often rely on the skills that made them successful individual contributors, rather than the skills needed to manage others. The time to help high-potential individuals develop these skills is before you promote them, not after.

All of this is obviously good advice for non-profit arts organizations. Except that it can be easy to fall into thinking that with so much turnover due to low wages and long working hours, the work you do developing an employee’s skills is just going to benefit another business.

While this may be true in the short term, I submit it is worth considering that the lack of internal training and cultivation may be partially contributing to the perceived dearth of quality candidates to succeed executive leadership. If employees don’t feel there the organization is interested in them assuming a greater role, that is one more incentive to leave.

It may be the result of the small sample size available to me or a trending bias of boards of directors doing the hiring, but over the last few years it has seemed that executive positions of many arts non-profits are being assumed by people with backgrounds in health care or corporate world. This seems to especially be the case with arts organizations of significance like arts councils in mid to large cities or serving well-populated regions.

It has left me wondering if this is the result of a lack of qualified candidates from arts disciplines, or as I suggest, a bias of those doing the hiring.

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