What’s This Soft Landing Thing You Speak Of?

This week Vu Le at the Nonprofit AF wrote a pretty thought provoking post about the way the left-leaning non-profit sector consumes, rather than supports, its leaders as more conservative focused groups do. Le had recently left his job when someone reached out to ask if he had a “soft landing.”

I got to understand what Angie meant by “soft landing.” This is what conservatives do for their leaders. They provide them with support to ensure that their work continues….They understand that their most effective leaders are their greatest weapon, so they do everything they can to protect and invest in them and their ideas.

The progressive side, meanwhile, treats people like batteries. Batteries are only as valuable when they have any juice left to power machines. As soon as they are empty, they are worthless and you toss them and you get fresh batteries. People burn out, they leave and are sometimes never heard from again, and we are OK with it, because we just find new people/batteries to replace them with…As Pia Infante of The Whitman Institute said, “The right invests in people and ideas; the left invests in projects and programs.”

Le goes on to enumerate how this manifests. It isn’t just that arrangements might be made for a conservative to get a book deal, a job with a think tank, or a seat on a company’s board of directors where a progressive won’t. He notes that if organizational leadership transitions, funders will take a wait and see attitude before continuing to support them as if the good work the organization had done was inseparable from the leader.

Le speaks of his own experience working with foundation program officers for decades and having them tell him an innovative idea he has to expand the impact of his organization work doesn’t align with the foundation priorities. He says if funders sincerely want to make the difference they profess they do, they need to at least trust those with whom they have a long relationship to execute what is needed.

He provides a good number of other examples that are worth reading and considering. He ends his post with a bright bit of hope. The woman who had contacted him about his soft landing came through with a grant that will support Vu Le during a time when his speaking engagements were cancelling.

“What’s the catch?” I asked Angie skeptically. Funders had reached out with encouraging words, but almost none had offered financial assistance. “Are there metrics, outcomes? Do I need to pay it back?” I asked. “No,” she said, “just keep writing or working on your sketch comedy show or whatever. Your voice is important, and for everyone who wants to see the nonprofit sector and its funders change, we need you.”

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 (artshacker.com) 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. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

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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