Stuff To Think About: Take My Employee, Please

Last week I drew attention to Joan Garry’s post for people in the for profit field who wanted to interview for a position as a non-profit executive director.

Since then, I came across a post on Creativity Post where a researcher at Cambridge, Will McAskill, was urging people not to enter the non-profit field right out of college if they truly wanted to make a difference.

His reasons are as follows:

1. Most nonprofits have little impact
A significant fraction of social interventions don’t work, and this means that the nonprofits who implement these interventions don’t have any impact.

2. Poor skill development
Nonprofits are usually small and have a shoestring budget, which means there’s little room for training or career development compared to organisations in the for-profit sector.

3. Poor option value
It’s much easier to transition from the corporate sector into nonprofits than vice versa, so if you want to try both, it’s better to start outside of nonprofits, then enter later.

Instead, he suggests if people really want to make a difference, they should get into a lucrative career like finance and then donate a significant portion of their income. In that way, they will have a greater impact.

Other career paths he suggests are entrepreneurship, research, politics and jobs like consulting that allow you to build your skills. Each of these options will either afford you an opportunity to make an impact, or develop your skills to the level required by highly effective charities.

While McAskill’s findings are mostly focused on social welfare and health related charities, arts organizations need to grapple with most of the same issues. It is difficult for arts organizations to show quantitative impacts; there generally isn’t a budget for training and career development; and the sentiment that the organization ought to be run like a business often sees business people hired into leadership positions over non-profit career professionals.

The other consideration is that we are told Millennials want to make a difference. McAskill’s suggestion that non-profit work come later in life combined with pressure to study business or science rather than the liberal arts could see some of the most talented individuals diverted away from the non-profit sector.

The tough question the non-profit arts world may need to seriously grapple with is whether it might be better if we recruited for profit mid- to late careerists for our jobs. We all bristle at the idea–and not infrequently reality–of someone from the corporate world coming in and telling us we are doing it all wrong.

It might be possible to mitigate that by forming partnerships/alliances with companies to establish a non-profit track where interested individuals volunteer with your organization or take a position on the board. In that way you might solve the challenge of getting younger people on your board and groom people to eventually be a non-profit leader.

Perhaps only 10% of those in the track ever decide to transition from their corporate job, but those that do are more thoroughly versed in non-profit operations. Those that don’t have satisfied their urge to make a difference.

Though perhaps a simpler solution would be to see if your staff could piggyback on a professional development opportunity a local business is providing their employees. They may have a speaker that costs $20,000 to engage for one day so you would never be able to afford that. But if you pitched in $250 per employee, they might let you participate.

The same with conferences. There are a lot of artists that piggyback in on a vendor’s badge allotment at arts conferences or pay the reduced “additional employee” rate. Corporate partners may allow your employees to do the same.

Or as part of your sponsorship request, you could ask a corporate partner to out and out pay for your employee to join their employees at some training event or conference.

True, the content of the conference may not be entirely applicable to the arts–but it may inspire something you might never have considered. Not to mention 80% applicable can be better than no professional development at all.

Tagging along on professional development seminars doesn’t solve all the issues Will McAskill cites, but it does start to address them.

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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