My Terrible Secret

After These Messages…

Before I reveal my terrible secret, I just wanted to direct readers’ attention to a piece by Richard Florida in which he refutes the criticisms of his Creative Class work.

Now Back to the Show

The terrible secret that I have been harboring is the fact I have never read any of Peter Drucker’s books. For those of you who don’t know who he is, it isn’t as great a sin as I make it out to be. Peter Drucker is probably one of the most respected authorities/writers on management, economics, and societial and political trends. As a person who purports to be exploring how arts managers can apply business trends to the non-profit world, it would probably be irresponsible of me not to have read some of his work.

Honestly, I have wanted to read his books and feel I am long overdue in doing so. Of what I have read of Mr. Drucker by those who admire him, he seems to be the real deal rather than the management theory flavor of the month. (He has been at it since at least 1950.) His work seems to have a degree of sincerity associated with it whereas many other management theories seem to be tinged with uncertainity and desperation. It is almost as if those systems work and people get paid a lot to write and talk about the theories, but no one is quite certain why it works and for how much longer it will.

Currently, I am reading his Managing for the Future. He has actually written a text specifically for non-profit management but they didn’t have it at the library branch I frequent. That will be the next book I read. I haven’t gotten through the entire book and I haven’t seen a lot that would be applicable to the non-profit world, but there was one area he wrote on that did start me thinking.

He speaks of companies in the same lines of work in different countries banding together. They are run independently of one another, but each one handles an area in which they have greater expertise and resources. One handles the manufacturing for both firms, the other does research, product development and marketing for both.

I have been pondering if the same could be true for non-profits. I don’t know if there is any value in international efforts outside of organizations located on the borders. There could be value in local or regional partnerships. In trying to think of divisions of labor, I came up against the insular and protective nature of non-profits that both I and Drew McManus have recently noted. Unless they engaged an outside company to handle marketing and development, I would imagine there would be accusations of staff bias in the areas of promotion and fund raising. Or else one would feel they deserved a larger chunk of the monies since their audience was larger and more affluent and they had more performances.

The Asolo Theatre Company and Sarasota Ballet have both occupied the same building and used the same stage since FSU moved their Film Conservatory back up to Tallahassee. They have completely separate staffs and neither of their webpages mentions the other exists, nor does the other appear on their “other arts links” pages. The separation isn’t as readily apparent in the building though. I was just there last month and unless you are watching very closely, you can’t tell when you are leaving the theatre’s part of the administrative floor and are entering the ballet’s.

They do share a box office staff and might share front of house staff. There is no indication that volunteering to usher for the theatre will include working for the ballet. The ballet does perform in other venues so they might need to recruit an usher corps of their own anyway. The ballet may get scenery via the Asolo Scenic Studios, but it isn’t mentioned as a client. They might share costuming resources as the wife of the ballet’s Marketing and Development Director is listed as a costume designer for the theatre. Considering the co-habitation arrangement was motivated by financial crisis, it is a pity there hasn’t been continued exploration of cooperative and money saving efforts.

The areas I could see non-profits pooling their resources or splitting functions between them would be in box office/front of house, accounting, human resource and benefit management, publications/web administration, set & costume design/construction, concessions, physical plant & grounds maintenance. Though organizations would want their own people performing, they might also be able to cooperate on booking outreach events and creating support materials. Cooperative efforts might not be possible in all these areas, but they are probably places in which there could be the least contention about how resources were allocated. Development and promotion would take far more trust and honesty.

If anyone knows of organizations that have a high level of cooperation or you have additional suggestions, I would be interested as always.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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