One Of The Most Significant Music Venues In Washington DC Is Outside A Cellphone Store

Today CityLab had a post titled “How Go-Go Music Became Kryptonite for Gentrification in D.C.” This was actually a follow up to an article that had come out in the Spring that I bookmarked with a notation “A T-Mobile store is the cultural axis for Go-Go music?”

I had bookmarked the story with the intention of returning to it in order to draw attention to the way centers of cultural signficance often emerge organically rather than by plan. I don’t think anyone uses a cellphone store as a model when drawing up plans for a cultural facility.

Briefly, the story here is that a guy who owned a nightclub which featured go-go bands opened a cellphone store when the venue closed and started playing his go-go music collection over the speakers outside his store. The neighborhood has gradually gentrified since the mid-1990s and residents of the new condo across the street complained about the music being too loud.

You may not know that residents of Washington DC claim go-go as their own, feeling the music style is synonymous with the city. Hearings were held on October 30 in support of a bill to make it the official music of the city.

They rallied around the store in a big way:

Thousands of people flooded Shaw’s streets and thousands more signed a petition (80,329 to be exact) demanding that Campbell be allowed to keep playing go-go at his corner, all done under the banner #Don’tMuteDC, which was to say “don’t mute—or erase—black people in D.C.” … which was to say, “don’t let gentrification have the final say.” And it didn’t. Several forces converged—including the CEO of T-Mobile, which owns the Metro PCS cell phones and service Campbell sold at his store—to declare that “the music will go on,” which led to the condo tenant dropping the complaint and acquiescing to the will of the streets.

Often speakers/writers about non-profit organizations challenge people to think about their place in the community and ask the question, who would miss you if you were gone, as a way to gauge the degree of relevance your organization has in the community.

Something of a corollary to this question is whether there is an entity in the community so that is so closely tied into the identity of the community that people would become angry if it disappeared. It may not be your organization, but really asking the question and paying attention might be revelatory. On the surface, it may seem obvious. In some communities, everything may seem aligned toward high school or college football. But there may also be some powerful, but overlooked element your organization could do a better job embracing and/or magnifying. Or at the very least recognizing and acknowledging the importance of.

Colorblind Grant Evaluation Measures Aren’t

There was an opinion piece on the Chronicle of Philanthropy website today by Antony Bugg-Levine, CEO of Nonprofit Finance Fund, discussing how the evaluative measures often employed by funders tend to discriminate against non profit organizations lead by, and serving, people of color.

He writes,

What I did not realize then was how colorblind application of financial assessment and funding practices can make it harder for organizations led by and serving people of color to get grants and make the most of them.

The problem often originates in the fact that these organizations don’t have access to networks of influence and financial resources that other organizations do.

So requiring dollar for dollar matches for grants or using rates of donations by board members as a measure of engagement and investment are difficult criteria for many non-profits to meet.

The same problem arises when using budget size as a point of assessment.

Determine grant size based on the value of the work rather than the current revenue of the organization: When you recognize the structural barriers that prevent many well-run and effective organizations from gaining traction, you come to see how distorted the link can be between an organization’s size and capacity. And the formal accounting rules that determine what counts as revenue make the problem worse. For example, pro bono legal advice from a corporate law firm counts as revenue. The many hours a volunteer spends reading to young people in a community center does not.

A better approach: Rather than creating rules that peg grants to a share of revenue, spend time understanding the value the work would generate and the full cost to undertake it.

Obviously, these evaluation measures don’t just present problems for organizations run by and for racial minorities. Many non-profit organizations run by racial minorities lack resources, but not every non-profit lacking resources is run by and for racial minorities.

Bugg-Levine provides a link to a guide recently issued by the Nonprofit Finance Fund which charts racially-based financial analysis and provides suggested alternatives.

There are some issues you might not immediately anticipate. For example, having access to a wealthy private donor allows organizations to take government contracts which tend not to cover full costs. Having the imprimatur of a government contract provides other funders with a greater degree of confidence in the organization, leading to better funding opportunities. But not having a relationship with a wealthy private donor makes it difficult to secure the government contract in the first place.

Another example identified in the chart is that:

Funders associate small organizations with community authenticity

Organizations will intentionally limit their revenue (often below $1 million/year) to remain eligible for “small organization” grants, because some funders will cut them off when they become larger. But, they still can’t make the leap to effectively compete against larger organizations for larger grants, given the dearth of funding options for organizations in the $750,000-$3 million/year revenue range.

Even an organization’s accounting method can be a source of bias. The indication that the organization employs accrual based accounting vs cash based accounting  favors better funded organizations that have the resources to pay for accrual accounting services because,

If an organization is using cash-basis accounting, which counts money when it is received or spent, rather than when it is earned or billed, their finances appear less stable. This can lead to suspicion about the soundness of their leadership and overall financial health, and create a perception that making a grant to this organization is riskier than if they were using accrual accounting

Gradually Finding The Leader Within

Long time readers know I am a fan of Peter Drucker’s short piece, Managing Oneself.  It has been awhile since I have sung its praises so it is timely that a TEDx Talk by Lars Sudmann about self-leadership came across my social media feeds recently.

Actually, it was a written summary of the talk on the TED website that initially came to my attention.

One of the first things I appreciated about Sudmann’s talk was that he acknowledged that good leadership is a lot easier in theory than in practice. As a subordinate, we always have ideas running through our heads about how we would do a better job than our bosses if we were in charge. Then when we are actually put in charge, we get bogged down with all the details and demands for our time.

Sudmann talks about walking in to his first staff meeting, resolved to be an inspiring, dynamic and awesome leader only to have the conversation bogged down by a discussion of email signature files.

Where I really agree with Sudmann is his suggestion that self-reflection and introspection is one of the most important traits of a good leader. It isn’t enough to simply make a list of your strengths and weaknesses and acknowledge them, you have to be in the practice of evaluating your daily decisions and activities.

Drucker covers this in his piece too. He urges people to become aware of their strengths and what they need to become better and encourages people to share how they work best with co-workers as a way of enlisting their in providing materials and opportunities in a manner that aids your improvement.

Sudmann cites Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher recognized as one of the better Roman Emperors, who focused much of his time practicing self-leadership versus trying to lead others.

Sudmann suggests that a little self-examination can result in a realization that we share many of the traits we dislike about those we consider bad leaders. You can do the same thing with the traits you admire in others:

Every day, take 5- 10 minutes to think about the challenges you’ve recently handled and the ones you’ll soon face. While Marcus Aurelius was fond of reflecting in the evening, Sudmann likes doing this over morning coffee. Questions to pose include: “How did my leadership go yesterday? How would the leader I’d like to be have faced the challenges I faced? What about my challenges today? What could I do differently?” Write down your thoughts so you can refer back to them and learn from them.

Prioritizing issues is also an important part of leadership. If you hadn’t guessed it already, a discussion about email signatures shouldn’t occupy important staff meetings.

You should engage with 9s and 10s right away, but you’ll find that many things which shatter your calm will be of lesser importance. With anything that’s a 6 or lower, either excuse yourself physically (“I need to take a quick break; be right back”) or figuratively (“Let me take a minute to go over what you’ve said”). Then, give yourself a moment to think: “How would the leader I aspire to be handle this situation?” The answer will come to you.

There are pretty much direct parallels between strategic plans and developing leadership skills. Just as you shouldn’t put a strategic plan on a shelf after investing time in examining the state of your organization and creating a plan to guide the organization into the future, you don’t want to scrutinize your strengths and weaknesses and do nothing to address them until the next crisis or next scheduled board/supervisor evaluation.

I also see parallels between the approach Sudmann  espouses and Arts Midwest’s Creating Connection initiative.  (You knew I was going to tie something back to that sooner or later!)  Just as building public will for arts and culture is a long term plan focused on continuous improvement and consistent messaging, so too is the process of becoming a better leader.

 

Why The Sudden Interest In Non-Profit Record Access?

Three years ago I wrote an article for ArtsHacker.com about being aware of the open meeting requirements your state imposes on non-profits.

I basically pointed out that while pretty much every state requires a non-profit organization receiving state funds to comply with open meeting laws, every state is different when it comes to defining at what degree of state support an organization needs to begin complying.

In some states, the existence of your non-profit pretty much needs to be established by an act of the legislature, while in other states being provided with a meeting space in a state owned building is all that is required to make your organization subject to the state open meetings and records laws.

I am not sure what has happened in the last year or so, but pretty much once a month now someone leaves a comment asking if an organization in their state is subject to open meetings or open records laws.  I pretty much end up saying, “You should really consult a lawyer on this subject, but here is what I found online about the laws in your state.”

I have yet to find a state that doesn’t have the rules governing non-profits posted online somewhere, pretty clearly labeled. So if you are curious about your state, I encourage you to check online first because that is all I am going to do. (Check both the sections on open meetings and retention and access to records.)

Some states have some pretty good guides created to answer questions about open meetings and non-profits. It is good to have your secretary of state telling you clearly what the state laws do and don’t require.

I call attention to all this because I am wondering why there is a surge in questions on the post.  There are far more comments on that post than anything else I have written on the site. Have search engines started giving it better placement in results?  Are people seeking greater transparency from the organizations with which they are involved and don’t know where to find answers? (Or perhaps, the closure of so many local newspapers means a lack of people to help them find answers)

If anyone has theories, please share.

I should note, I am not sure any of the queries have come from people involved with arts and culture organizations.  Only about half provide any details that identify what sort of organization they are working with and none of them have been arts related.

Is Your Non-Profit Subject To Open Meeting Laws?

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