Enough Sins To Go Around

A couple weeks ago Ali Webb wrote the provocatively titled Philanthropy’s Seven Deadly Sins on Non-Profit Quarterly.

According to Webb they are,

Blindness to privilege
Dismissing community knowledge
Misplaced accountability
Poor partners
Failure to learn
Risk aversion
Lack of transparency

Some of the sins were more specific to philanthropic foundations than non-profit organizations in general, but I saw some parallels with topics I have discussed in the past.

I am relatively sure most people recognize that “Blindness to Privilege” is a significant issue right now.

Carlisle observes that, “There are increasingly few places in the country where there’s not going to be significant racial and cultural differences…where people who have been very sheltered or in dominant culture settings are beginning to say, ‘Wow, we are fish in water. We didn’t know we were fish. We didn’t know we were swimming in water.’”

Don Chen, Director of the Equitable Development Team at the Ford Foundation, remarks that he wishes he “had a dollar for every organization that comes to me and says our board came up with a new strategic plan, and we are going to focus on equity. These same people aren’t talking about equity as a core value or a core component of their mission; they are often talking about equity as a topic. That’s a warning sign for me because it could be dropped like any other topic.”

In the sin of “Dismissing Community Knowledge,” I saw some familiar phrasing.

Keller observes that too often, “we ride into communities, stand before them, and tell them what they need to do to solve their problems. Then we ride out, expecting programs to be scaled and sustained.”

“Foundation people tend to over-intellectualize but under-experience the challenges of those they seek to serve with no authentic proximity to the issues,” says Carlisle. She continued, “The validity that comes with seeing and understanding different world views, which are not dominant culture, can have extraordinary outcomes.”

[…]

Chen calls it “drive-by grantmaking,” where foundations make a grant and then go away for a year or two. “Local folks have a BS meter and they know if you don’t trust their knowledge,” says Harris.

For me, this echoed what Marc Folk of the Toledo Arts Commission said about riding into a community on a white horse and Margy Waller’s “We’re From The Arts and We Are Here To Help,” post I wrote about two years ago. Likewise, Ronia Holmes piece about arts organizations being bad at community outreach which I also wrote about also has resonance with this “sin.”

From a recipient point of view, the “Failure To Learn” sin encapsulated a lot of the issues non-profits face today with the expectations of funders. If you read Vu Le’s Nonprofit AF blog, you will be familiar with these gripes.

“In philanthropy, we don’t always clean up our messes when we change priorities and make transitions.” Hegarty offers that the unwillingness to learn may stem from “a tendency to think we are the smartest persons in the room and the assumption that we have all answers and understand all the angles.”

[…]

Another possibility that Chen offers is that the field is “delusional” about what was or could be accomplished with the amount of money offered. Sometimes, Chen said, the sector believes it is “smarter than everyone who ever came before. Especially when working in in under-resourced, low-capacity places, philanthropy tends to think it has super powers.”

[…]

“We ask a lot of our grantees and then what they share with us goes into a black hole. We never do anything with the information to further the work,” said the officer. “Without processing the information and developing a vehicle to get it back to the grantees, much learning is lost.”

All of this is something to think about. It is difficult to effect the change we like as fast as we think we should, but being reminded of these concerns on a semi-regular basis feeds progress.

Fundraising Is Now Everyone’s Job Too

Yesterday I noted that I was interested to learn that $5 million in revenue was something of a dividing line between theaters which supported themselves primarily by ticket revenue (above $5 million) and those that received the majority of their support via donations (below $5 million).

That doesn’t mean that the larger revenue theaters don’t need to do much fundraising. Back in January there was an article in American Theatre that talked about how artistic directors are increasingly expected to join the executive directors and development staff in soliciting donations.

For some years now I have written about how marketing is the responsibility of everyone in the organization. It appears this is becoming the case with fundraising as well.

Michael Ritchie, artistic director of Center Theatre Group … puts the situation more urgently.

“Everyone in our building is ostensibly a fundraiser,” he said. “That’s the new reality for nonprofit theatres. We are all more dependent than ever on the success of our fundraising efforts. Fundraising is no longer optional for an artistic director; it’s an imperative.”

In an August 2017 American Theatre online article reporting on artistic leadership succession, Disney Theatrical Group president Thomas Schumacher suggested a reason for the new urgency: the global economic crisis of a decade ago. “Any artistic director who gets hired today will also be expected to go out and raise an awful lot of money,” said Schumacher, who spent five years on staff at the Mark Taper Forum. “That’s just different.”

The artistic directors they interviewed for the story varied in how comfortable they felt being part of the solicitation efforts. Some were comfortable with it from the start, others mentioned the fear and anxiety they felt. At the same time, many spoke about financial difficulties which had forced them to become more adroit in these types of interactions. Many estimated they spent between 25-30% of their time on fundraising, though one estimated it much higher:

Abe Rybeck, the founder and executive artistic director of…The Theater Offensive in Boston, said, “Sometimes it feels like I spend 120 percent of my time doing fundraising, and it also feels like that’s way less than I’m supposed to be doing.”

One thing I was really curious about after reading the article was whether the added responsibility of fundraising had changed the perception of the artistic director’s role in an organization. For a long time there was something of a stereotype that the managing or executive director of a theater was there to keep the artistic director’s ambitions in check. While there have definitely been some contentious power struggles in this arena, I think the stereotype may have served to perpetuate the roles by giving license for the artistic director to say yes until being told no.

This may have been another facet of the larger general stereotype that artists didn’t need to know about business and such considerations would only serve to limit their vision. Likewise, getting artistic directors involved in fundraising might be a manifestation of the recent general push for artists to cultivate business skills.

Since artistic directors are being asked to get involved with the one area of a non-profit organization everyone would be happier to avoid, I am hoping it has gone a long way toward dispelling the perception that the artistic directors are the irresponsible dreamers of the organization. Reading what the artistic directors had to say about participating in donor solicitations, it is pretty clear they have an appreciation of the costs of executing their vision.

Knight Fdn Looks To Fund Technology Connecting People With Art

A heads up to people who have, (or know people with), innovative ideas using technology to connect people with arts and culture, the Knight Foundation is looking for project ideas via the Knight Prototype Fund.

Unlike some of the other projects the Knight Foundation funds, these projects don’t need to be set in the communities it traditionally supports which is why I wanted to bring it to everyone’s attention. As the prototype term suggests, they expect some of the concepts to be in the early stages of development.

Applicants don’t necessarily have to work for an organization. We’re looking for ideas from arts organizations, artists, technologists, designers, educators, researchers and others inside or outside of institutions who are eager to experiment. We’re open to diverse approaches and perspectives on the use of technology to connect people to the arts, and seek to identify projects that have the potential to be replicated by others in the field.

What can we build to help arts organizations expand their use of technology? How can we use the qualities of new mediums to create unparalleled experiences? How can we replicate solutions, so that more in the field benefit? How can we learn more about the people we are trying to reach and design solutions that understand their needs? How can arts institutions provide magic outside of their four walls? How can cultural organizations breathe warmth into technology?

[…]

We hope to invest in projects that have provocative questions at their core that can only be answered through the act of making them a reality. Grantees will join together over a nine- month sprint to learn innovation techniques and test ideas.

They anticipate the average grant will be around $50,000. Deadline is March 6. They are hosting an online Q&A from 1 to 2 pm ET on February 21 (connection instructions at bottom of the page)

As an example of the type of thing the Knight Foundation has been doing lately, they partnered with the creators of Pokemon Go to see if similar games or tools could help build community.

It sounds like they would be open to projects that pushed the envelop even further as well as repurposing existing tools in a manner few people have considered.

One of the things I most appreciate about what the Knight Foundation proposes is that they are going to provide applicants with training in innovative methods as well as bringing them together to learn from each other. This acknowledges that innovation isn’t generated in a vacuum or emerge from a lone genius working in a garage, but rather builds on past work in new ways, often in collaboration with others.

You Can Have All The Charity Golf Tournaments You Want When You Own The Courses

Generous donations to a non-profit can often become more of a burden than a blessing which is why it is important to have a good donation policy and properly evaluate the impact of the donation upon the organization.

According to a story in Non Profit Quarterly, this is exactly the challenge being faced by the Great American Songbook Foundation in Carmel, IN.  The organization with a budget of less than $1 million was approached with a non-strings attached donation of an estate valued at $30 million.

….includes a couple of golf courses, a pool, a fully furnished 50,000-square-foot main house, and a clubhouse—all set on 107 acres. There are no conditions on the contribution.

The upkeep alone could easily eat up the entire current budget of the organization, what with the nine staff required to maintain the property, and it should be pretty darn clear to any manager or board who have taken a trip or two around the block that such a gift could potentially ruin the organization.

[…]

This isn’t the first time the Simons have tried to move the property, which has covenants that disallow certain kinds of development. In fact, the property has been on the market since 2014 at $25 million with no takers. Additionally, a previous attempt to contribute the property to the Indiana University Foundation in 2008 fell through.

The Songbook Foundation Board is going to take three years to study the use of the estate which is probably a wise course of action. The NPQ article notes that since they accepted the donation of the estate, they will bear the costs associated with maintaining the estate during that time.

There are a number of options available to the Songbook Foundation according to another article.

The foundation could decide to use the main house as a museum and center of operations, subject to a rezone. The golf course land could be sold in a plan similar to Estridge’s but with lot sizes that meet the covenants. That money could be used to support operation of the museum.

The entire property, including the main house, could be sold to a developer. That money could be used to support the foundation or build the Great American Songbook Museum closer to The Palladium, possibly next to the soon-to-be-built luxury hotel, The Carmichael.

[…]

“It’s a very generous gift,” Brainard said. “It’s an asset that could be used by the Foundation to leverage for future donations. It’s very important to include neighbors in any conversation about any use and then proceed in such a way that enhance’s property values in the area.”

…He [McDermott] said charity events could be held on the golf course and added that a donation this size is a signal to other potential donors who were thinking of writing a check.

I have to admit, given the number of fundraisers that occur on golf courses, I was amused by the thought that these guys may be the only non-profit to own part of their “supply chain.”

If they decide to keep the properties, they will almost definitely need to set up a separate administrative body to keep themselves from getting bogged down in the business of overseeing the estates. Not to mention there might be issues that conflict with their non-profit status. The unrelated business incomes from the estates could potentially be 25+ times greater than that of the non-profit. It will be really interesting to see what they decide to do.

I made a post on the ArtsHacker site about two years ago that included lists and links to various resources one can use to create a gift acceptance policy and to evaluate the suitability of accepting gifts when donors approach the organization.

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