Nothing Ambiguous In This Job Description

A job listing for a Program Manager at the Armed Services Arts Partnership came across my social media feed today. I might not have followed the link except that I was curious what type of work the Armed Services Arts Partnership did.

I thought a lot of the job description was particularly well written in terms of being clear about what the expectations would be. The duties clearly reflected the needs of this job rather than having been cut and pasted from a generic description or another organization’s job description.

What really struck me was the “This Role Probably Does Not Make Sense For You If” section. I am not normally inspired by job descriptions, but this one made me wish I had thought to write something that reflected the expectations and culture of my organization so well. (my emphasis)

-You cannot live in the DC Metro Area.

-You are uncomfortable working in a small work environment that involves less structure than a larger organization.

-You are looking for a traditional job with a 40-hour work week.

You are applying to this job because you think our programs are cool, but you haven’t considered the amount of work that goes into developing them.

-You don’t check your emails and deliverables at least three times before sending.

-You are approaching this job viewing veterans as victims to be saved or heroes to be revered, rather than contributors to and leaders of our community.

The “This Role Probably Makes Sense For You” section is longer and more positive. I don’t want to misrepresent the tone of the listing as being negative and exclusionary. I just appreciated that they were able to state their expectations and operational philosophy so well.

Here are some of the “Makes Sense” criteria they listed. I thought they were equally well written. They are just slightly less arresting. If this sounds like the job for you, check it out a bit more:

You are passionate about art education, community arts, performing arts, veterans affairs, mental health, civic engagement, community-building, and/or social entrepreneurship.

You are energized when working in demanding, fast-paced start-up environments where you have the ability to shape the future of an organization and movement.

You are intellectually curious and excited by opportunities to develop new skills.

You view yourself as an entrepreneur, thrive in environments where you have autonomy over your work, and are capable of managing your time effectively and efficiently.

You understand that the behind the scenes work necessary to build, plan, and improve programs is just as important the actual program delivery.

You are excited by the opportunity to lead and foster the growth of a dedicated staff.

Community Engagement: The Game (Brought To You By Helsinki)

If you keep hearing how great Finland is, the results they are having might be due, in part, to the problem solving processes they are using.

The city of Helsinki developed a board game to facilitate conversations and decisions about public participation. There is much about their gamification approach that might be applicable and usable by non-profit organizations.

I was especially struck by the following passage in the article, (my emphasis).

Printed on each card is a participation tool the city of Helsinki has used in the past — hosting resident meetings at City Hall, opening city datasets for public use, or allowing public uses in city-owned spaces, for example. Working in pairs, the group identifies tools they have used and places those cards on the board. This is an important part of the game, Laitio said.

“It builds confidence in the teams that things they have been doing are already part of the engagement work,” he said. “The idea that you’re not starting from scratch is important when you’re pushing through change in an organization.”

This resonated with me because so often when a new endeavor is proposed, especially in terms of engagement, there seems to be an unspoken sense that existing processes have failed us and the new innovative solution needs to be generated whole cloth. The idea that you need to reject all that is in order to be successful can be a pretty intimidating prospect.

Even if you don’t think an entire revamp is required, just trying to determine a starting point of the conversation can feel insurmountable. If the game process helps get the conversation rolling, it can be valuable on that basis alone.

A fair portion of the article cites the head of Helsinki’s Division of Culture and Leisure, Tommi Laitio, who talks about how the game helps his staff cut through jargon and buzzwords like “Citizen Engagement.”  Since community engagement seems to be the hot topic in the US arts and culture sector these days, I had to wonder if we weren’t all facing similar challenges and making similar assumptions.

Other benefits of the gamification approach Helsinki has embraced I appreciated (my emphasis):

The game is structured to surface ideas even from shy or quiet participants, she said, which adds to the sense of shared ownership at the end.

“Participation cannot be dictated,” Miettinen said. “That’s why a tool like the Participation Game is so useful. It encourages players to find their own way to put participation in practice. The game presents participation as a collective responsibility of a team rather than just a singular action or something that needs to be done to ‘tick the box.’”

The Helsinki Participation Game is freely available for anyone in the world to use. However, as you might imagine, a process that demands participation and collective responsibility does require some investment:

“…but he cautioned that it can’t simply be “copy-and-pasted” into another organization. “You need to run a design process in your own organization to adapt the game to meet your needs,” he said.

NPO Execs Much More Concerned By Lack of Board Diversity Than Board Chairs

I recently published a short piece on ArtsHacker about how important the leadership of non-profit board chairs was to the success of the organization. Much of the information was draw from a webinar Non-Profit Quarterly hosted about Board Source’s most recent Leading With Intent report.

I just got around to reading the report in the last week. Since the finds are summarized pretty prominently on the Leading With Intent home page, I will leave readers take a look themselves and hopefully choose to focus in on areas of interest, if not read the whole thing.

Of course, general observations don’t give you the full story. While I wasn’t surprised to read that board membership isn’t becoming more diverse and their current composition is inhibiting efforts at diversity, I was interested to read that executive directors felt much more strongly than board chairs that the lack of diversity was a problem.

Sixty-five percent of executive directors versus 41% of board chairs were somewhat or extremely dissatisfied with the level racial and ethnic diversity.

It is possible chief executives express higher levels of dissatisfaction with the board’s racial and ethnic diversity because they are more exposed to the way it is affecting their organization. Seventy-nine (79) percent of chief executives say that expanding racial and ethnic diversity is important, or greatly important, to increasing their organization’s ability to advance its mission.

Additionally, chief executive responses highlight an understanding of the many ways that diversity (or lack of diversity) can impact an organization’s

reputation: 80 percent of executives report that diversity and inclusion is important, or very important, to “enhancing the organization’s standing with the general public.”

reach: 72 percent of executives report that diversity and inclusion is important, or greatly important, to “increase fundraising or expand donor networks.”

If an organization is facing issues and challenges due to a lack of board diversity, chief executives are wise to help the board understand these issues rather than continuing to make the case for diversity without the board fully understanding what is at stake.

My guess is that pretty much everyone in the arts and culture sector understands that the recent push for greater diversity in commercial entertainment and associated award shows isn’t just applicable to commercial or entertainment enterprises.

If you are under the impression that this is all just a fad and will stop at the edge of the televised red carpet, ooooh boy, you better pay closer attention. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if inclusion displaced overhead ratio as a primary measure of effectiveness and worthiness among funders, patrons and donors.

While lack of diversity in terms of race/ethnicity was the biggest source of dissatisfaction, lack of diversity in terms of socioeconomic status, age, gender, sexual orientation and persons with disabilities was roughly equal for executive officers (~30%) and presumably growing.

The neutrality gap between satisfaction and dissatisfaction in each of these areas varies widely and might be a source of interest to readers. (page 10 of the PDF, page 11 in printed version)

Good Partners Start Planning For Christmas In August

Community engagement is a common topic in the arts and culture industry. We talk about how important it is. We talk about successful programs that have been executed.

However, there is rarely a discussion about all the time, effort, trial and error involved in executing these programs well. By the time you hear about a program after the fact, you are left to assume that an organization is staffed with brilliant people who effortlessly bask in the adoring gazes of fulfilled participants.

That is why I was pleased to read Rebecca Noon’s account on that Americans for the Arts blog of Trinity Rep’s efforts to involve different community groups in their production of A Christmas Carol.

While it sounds like the participants directed a lot of adoring gazes Trinity Rep’s way, there was a lot of work involved in getting those participants in the room.

The directors of A Christmas Carol had the idea of involving non-profits they admired in the production. They viewed Scrooge as a man who cut himself off from the community and then decides to reconnect with it again. Involving area non-profits was a great way of reinforcing this concept.

Even though they only planned to have two rehearsals with each group, there was a lot of effort involved in making it happen. And not only on the part of the Trinity Rep staff. Part of their planning recognized that the staff and volunteers of non-profit organizations aren’t just sitting around waiting to be asked to participate in something.

While many people were thrilled to perform in such an iconic show, some people couldn’t afford the time it would take to organize. Even for the 18 groups who decided to participate, there was sacrifice that we, as the larger institution, needed to acknowledge and address, and so we got to work addressing them. We allocated small travel and food stipends from the Community Engagement budget; our development department offered trade they have with the parking garage; the education director stepped in as Assistant Director to help rehearse the community groups; we negotiated a limited number of comp tickets with the marketing department; and throughout the run, actors in the show self-organized to provide snacks for the community group’s dressing room. All summer and fall, we worked on this one aspect of A Christmas Carol as a team of artists and administrators, ensuring that our institution could live up to our community’s needs 100% of the time.

Perhaps most importantly, the staff established a context for extending the invitations and addressing expectations before asking the first group to participate:

Invitations would be simple, honest, and transparent, clearly defining what we needed and what we had to offer. Angela would listen closely to what the community groups needed, in order to understand why they were saying yes or no. If we could offer what they needed, then we would. If we couldn’t, we’d tell them why, and end the partnership as friends. No false promises, no agreements that felt like compromises on either side.

This seems to me to be a good set of general guidelines to employ for similar projects. There is a sense of reciprocity. Each group is seen as providing something of value to the other in this opportunity. There isn’t a sense that one group is doing another a favor by providing them with exposure and they would be foolish to turn it down. There is an effort being made to understand barriers and work around them, but no umbrage taken if it doesn’t work out.

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