Info You Can Use: Job Descriptions, Not Everything Is A Critical Duty

Not long ago I came across a job posting for a non-profit organization that listed over 25 duties and marked each one of them as a core responsibility.

Now, my first thought was, if every job responsibility is a core one, why did they go to the trouble of applying a special symbol to each one.

My second thought following soon after was that this is why there is so much burn out in the non-profit field.

Theoretically, a job should only have 4-5 core responsibilities. Every other responsibility should be subsets of the core responsibilities or be something you do occasionally. (Vendor coordinator for the annual street fair, for example.)

Core job responsibilities are ones to which you should expect to devote a large portion of your day/week. If you have 25 core duties and even assuming you work at 10 hour day, you will only be able to devote 24 minutes each day to a duty. If indeed they are all core responsibilities.

If you have a job as a marketing director, your core responsibility might broadly involve promotional efforts, external relations and sales. In pursuit of that your a subset of your responsibilities might be supervising writers, designers, front of house staff, relationships with the boards, vendors and various constituencies. You will have many responsibilities, for certain, but most will be aspects of the core duties and not equal to them.

The ticket office manager’s core responsibility is to supervise the ticket office. If your core responsibility is listed as supervising the ticket office, marketing and publicity people, house manager, then you need to have as much contact time with those people each day as the ticket office manager does with the ticketing staff. Presumably those managers are competent enough that they don’t require such close supervision.

Your job descriptions may be very long in order to clearly define what your duties are. I had an email exchange with Drew McManus regarding this topic and he mentioned he has a history of advocating for detailed job descriptions.

I would probably agree with him. The way some job descriptions are worded, it often isn’t clear what the duties are. There are times I read job postings for executive director positions and I don’t know if the person will be supervising a marketing department or actually writing/designing promotional pieces themselves. With non profit arts organizations, one can never assume…

Now I will confess I understand the impulse to make everything a core responsibility. When you have so few people working for your organization, it is crucial that so many things be accomplished and you want to underscore for the job applicant—-it is IMPORTANT to our operations that these duties are successfully implemented.

(I will also confess this topic is something of a sore point with me since 90% my own job description is boiler plate putting “performing arts management” in place of the “facilities operations and management” hire the week before.)

But some things are more important than others and people need to know what the overriding priorities of their position are. The resources and personnel of the marketing department may be necessary to support fund raising campaigns and outreach programs in addition to promoting events.

Determining which of these functions receives the most priority will depend on a number of factors, but the marketing director’s position description should provide a basis for that decision. If the reality does not match the position description, it may be worth examining that fact during a performance review.

But that is a different entry altogether.

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.


Leave a Comment