Feeling Less Conflicted About Conflicts of Interest

As the year comes to a close and you start attending parties hosted by different non-profit organizations, it may appear that the same people seem to be involved with every non-profit organization in town. With the flurry of fund raising appeals that are made this time of year, you may rightly wonder how these people balance their advocacy among all the groups with whom they are involved. Someone must be getting the short shrift, right?

It is with those types of questions in mind that I recently wrote a piece on ArtsHacker covering a conflict of interest article that appeared on Non-Profit Quarterly (NPQ).

There were a couple points I took away from the NPQ article by David Renz:

  • Where US conflict of interest rules address private benefit and financial gain, European rules take a broader view encompassing conflicting influences associated with being involved with many groups as in my example.
  • Not all conflicts of interests are equally severe. Openly recognizing, evaluating and accepting the risks involved can be beneficial to a non-profit organization.
  • It isn’t enough for a person to abstain from voting on an issue with which they are involved, they must abstain from exerting influence on others. And the organization must actively guard against the exercise of said influence
  • Disclosures of conflict should be made on an ongoing basis to the whole board rather than an annual ritual to be filed away or evaluated separately by an individual or small committee. In my mind, this contributes to organizational culture that has a constructive and educated understanding of conflicts of interest.
  • As is the case with policies and bylaws, don’t copy yours from another organization or the IRS boilerplate. Create a conflict of interest policy that meets the particular needs of your organization.

This post is an abridged version of my ArtsHacker post which only excerpted part of the excellent NPQ article. If your New Year’s resolutions are going to include taking a pro-active, less anxiety-driven approach to conflicts of interest, it may be worth taking a deeper look at both.


Toward Crafting Better Conflict Of Interest Policy And Practice

Continued Anticipation Of The Digital Divide

Yesterday I made a post wondering how soon it might be before the digital divide kept people from participating in cultural activities.

At the time, I was trying to think of examples of instances where it might already becoming difficult to gain access to places without access to a phone or computer and couldn’t think of anything specific.

A commenter noted there are some places where you are obliged to access information via a phone app rather than having it accessible on webpages.

This jogged my recollection that I have already run into a couple instances where a phone was necessary to buy tickets in advance. It just wasn’t in the U.S.

In China, there are daily admission caps on a growing number of cultural attractions. The Palace Museum/Forbidden City has been that way for years. The most popular section of The Great Wall, Badaling, just had daily quotas applied this summer. (There are other less crowded sections nearby, but the train runs from Beijing to the Badaling section, making it the most convenient place to visit.)

In order to purchase tickets, you need to use a credit card from a Chinese bank. This isn’t terribly surprising. There is also an option to pay via the WeChat app which is pretty ubiquitous in China.

What is more surprising is that you can’t even get to the payment screen if you don’t have a Chinese cellphone number. You need to enter your cell number in order to receive a code before you can even pick a day to visit in the case of The Great Wall or before you get to the payment screen for The Palace Museum.

So if you are a foreigner, even if you have your credit card loaded into your WeChat app, you still need a friend in China or travel agent to help you arrange for a ticket if you are concerned about gaining admission. If you are someone who lives in China, you need to have a cell phone in addition to your credit card or payment app.

For anyone planning to visit either the Badaling section of The Great Wall or The Palace Museum, the respective webpages tells you how many tickets remain for the next 10 days. Based on that, you can gauge how likely you are to get in if you show up in person to buy a ticket.  (Which is what I did this summer.) Visiting the website on multiple days to watch how quickly the tickets sell is an investment of time and energy that simply being able to purchase them outright doesn’t entail.

I don’t know exactly why the process requires a cell phone to receive the code, but I can easily see how the added step would prevent or at least slow the automation of purchasing for resale.

Since the security features of many social media and financial services corporations in the US already use texted codes, I feel secure in saying there is a strong possibility something similar will be implemented for regular ticket purchasing in the US and elsewhere. When it is, it will represent another place that inhibits the participation of people who lack access to technology.

For your greater edification, here is a screenshot of the Palace Museum website today. You may think 63085 tickets left on 10/26 is a lot, but that means 17000 have already been issued. During National Holidays, it is quite likely the full 80,000 allotment would already be gone.

You may think 63000 tickets left on 10/26 is a lot, but that means 17000 have already been issued. During National Holidays, it might already be at 0

Ack! My Sculpture Is Overdue And I Want To Borrow Some Pottery

Recently saw an article on the BBC website about a gallery in Cambridge, England that has been loaning out art to students for 60 years and has never had a piece damaged or lost.

I have written about this sort of arrangement before. Oberlin College has been doing it since the 1940s and has never had a problem, and they appear to be loaning out pieces with a lot more market value than the gallery in Cambridge.  On the other end of the longevity spectrum, the Akron Art Museum and Akron-Summit County Public Library started teaming up to lend out art works about a year or so ago.

But as I soon discovered, there are quite a number of universities, libraries and visual arts institutions that have been lending out art works for quite some time now. (University of Minnesota as far back as 1934)

Here is a brief list I found in a Hyperallergic post in 2018:

Sure enough, a piece appeared on Hyperallergic about 10 days ago listing or linking to visual art lending programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver,  Braddock Carnegie Library,  Minneapolis Art Lending Library , Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Williams College, Kenyon College, University of Minnesota, Harvard, University of Chicago, University of California, Berkley.

I post about this again because even though this is my fourth post on the subject, it wasn’t long before these programs slipped my mind. These all seem like great efforts to get art into the hands and homes of people who might not have opportunity and access and perhaps reduce the perceptual barriers people have about art not being for them.

Next week, my city is participating in its second community wide On The Table discussion and I want to bring these type of programs up as an idea of something that might be done here. If I hadn’t seen the BBC article, I wouldn’t have remembered. I want to reference my previous posts again to remind my readers and hopefully inspire you into action.

Some Guidance On Researching Open Meeting & Records Laws In Your State

In response to my post last week about the surge of people seeking my advice regarding the open meeting and open records laws of their states based on a 2016 ArtsHacker post I had written, ArtsHacker editor-in-chief suggested I write another post listing some of the resources I had found.

I responded that given every state had its own laws, there really wasn’t any centralized source(s) of information I could point to that a person could reference.

Much to my chagrin, there is still apparently a lot one can say on the matter as I managed to hammer out more than 1000 words of advice regarding how to research open meeting and records laws in your state.

One of the interesting things I have come to realize is that in some states, it appears that technically the members of the board of directors may not have the right to review the records of the organization they govern. There may be more to write on this topic in the future…


More About Open Meeting Laws & Non-Profits

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