Success Attracts Success

I was interested to see there was some research conducted with some of the earliest recipients of MacKenzie Scott’s unrestricted gifts to various non-profits between 2020 and 2021. The median of the grants she distributed was $8 million as compared to a median of $100,000 given by larger funders in recent years.

To be clear, some of the organizations Scott targeted in the first few rounds of giving didn’t sound like they had been getting anywhere near $100,000 grants. The biggest finding of the study was that the Scott grants weren’t just transformational for organizations, they were equally transformational for leaders who found they no longer had to lay awake at night worrying about keeping doors open. Now they not only felt secure in knowing existing programs could be executed, they began to dream about what else it might be possible to accomplish.

In interviews, more than three-quarters of leaders discussed the shift in their thinking that accompanied the receipt of this gift. A scarcity mindset was replaced with an opportunity to pursue transformational possibilities, as leaders were able to reimagine their organizations “in the ideal way to achieve the biggest impact that we could have.”

Close to two-thirds of interviewed leaders described a sense of relief and breathing room after having received their grant. Many told us of the opportunities to innovate and take risks that their grant has afforded them, knowing their organizations are now more financially secure. “It’s an opportunity to be innovative and creative because we have more foundational support,” said one leader. Another said, “For us to have money to pilot something to see how it goes is just a miracle from heaven.” Other leaders put aside a specific portion of the gift specifically for bold or risky ideas.

The most striking response for me was a leader of color talking about how she felt affirmed and vindicated after worrying her presence was a liability to the organization:

I’ve been told about two million times that organizations led by women of color get less than others,” one leader told us. “So, I was nervous about this because I’m thinking, man, I hope that who I am doesn’t cheat this organization out of opportunities, you know? And that’s a sad thing to even admit to you, but I did think that.” The grant from Scott was powerful for this leader because, as she put it, “it positioned being a woman of color as an asset, not a liability.”

What was also encouraging was that the concern others funders would reduce their support of recipient organizations was unfounded. In many cases, the organizations reported an increase in overall fundraising after receiving MacKenzie Scott’s gifts.

Have Things Changed Since 2008?

I am going to be traveling and preparing to take up a new position so I am dipping back into the archives to help provide some content while I am busy elsewhere.  One of the first entries I came across in my review of old posts seemed to be well-suited for re-examination. Back in 2009 Andrew Taylor made a post about survey work his students had done at the 2008 National Performing Arts Convention (NPAC) in Denver. Happily the links to his original post and survey results I included in my post reflecting on the survey results still work if you want to see them.

The conference was a meeting by members of different arts disciplines, including service organizations like Theatre Communications Group, Opera America, Chorus America, Dance/USA and League of American Orchestras. One of the observations made in the surveying was the different cultures of each discipline. I wonder if people feel things have changed since 2008/2009 or if this still generally describes things:

The dress and demeanor of the different service organization membership was a continual point of discussion in our evening debriefing sessions, and were often heard used as shorthand by one discipline to describe another (“take time to talk to the suits,” said one theater leader to a TCG convening, when referring to symphony professionals). Some of the difference was in rites and rituals: from the morning sing-alongs of Chorus America to the jackets and ties of League members, to the frequent and genuine hugs among Dance/USA members, to the casual and collegial atmosphere of TCG sessions.

Other differences, which manifested in more subtle ways, shed light on the deep underlying assumptions and values held by the respective disciplines. The team noticed, for example, that the word “professional” was perceived in a variety of ways in mixed-discipline caucus sessions. For many participants, “professional” staff and leadership was an indicator of high-quality arts organizations, and an obvious goal for any arts institutions. Several members of Chorus America, however, bristled at the presumption that professional staff was a metric of artistic quality, as they held deep pride in their organizations, which were run by volunteers.

Other topics I covered in my post had to do with degree of trust between arts administrators, community engagement practices, government relations, knowledge sharing throughout disciplines, as well as lack of sleep and succession planning.

While the status quo feels like it has remained in place on all these fronts, the one area covered in the survey which seems like it is finally being addressed seriously these last few years is diversity. Some of the summarized responses are a little cringe-worthy.

“Diversity was the most polarizing priority in the AmericaSpeaks process, and the issue for which there is the most disconnect in language and priorities….Some flatly stated that they did not think diversity was a priority, and others noted that people in their organizations may claim to support diversity, but don’t really mean it. Many noted ambiguity in defining diversity: that diversity “means different things to different people—there is no common agenda for inclusion.”

This was revealed in the stark differences in responses ranging from the claim that minority arts groups don’t have to make any efforts at white inclusion (“Why is it that primarily Caucasian-based groups look to ‘diversify’ their audiences while minority-based groups do not?”), to people who thought diversity meant “Getting minorities to see the importance of what we do.” Still others rejected the audience development perspective and saw the need for more systemic change. Said one respondent, “most of our organizations are not ready—we want to talk about it, but we are not prepared to become ‘diverse’ and accept the changes that may follow.” Some acknowledged that there were challenges in terms of comfort zones. Some noted that tying funding to diversity or pursuing diversity and losing money on such efforts might be counterproductive…

Respondents were more concerned with what they saw as others’ failure to address or understand diversity than with their own ability to effectively address the issue. As such, many did not envision opportunities for progress although they agreed that progress is needed.”

Here is the original survey report if you want to take a deeper dive.

Actual Recognition That Return To Office Shouldn’t Be Return To Usual

Yesterday Daniel Pink made the following Twitter post about OKRs – Objectives & Key Results (because apparently KPIs – Key Performance Indicators, needed to be replaced with another equally meaningless acronym?) and he suggested some NO-KRs which have plagued work culture to jettison.

Pink provided a link to a website summarizing the Charter Workplace Summit. This was the first time I have seen signs corporate employer making constructive attempts to revise the office work environment and move beyond threats or cheap perk ploys to get people to return to the office.

Some of the things that caught my attention:

Workers should be re-onboarded. “We’ve been spending all this energy on onboarding new employees in a unique and special way,” said Daisy Auger-Domínguez, chief people officer at Vice Media Group and author of Inclusion Revolution. “We need to do the same thing for our current employees.” She sees that as a way to remind colleagues why it’s important to come to the office.

Talk about what’s not working. “We owe it to our people to get really specific about where we’re growing, where we’re shrinking, where we think we have the most risk,” said Francine Katsoudas, Cisco’s chief people, policy, and purpose officer. “In doing so, we give our people a lot more power as well.” Providing transparency about a business’s challenges is also a way to enlist colleagues in navigating an economic downturn, said Kieran Luke, chief operating officer at Lunchbox. “We want everyone to see and understand, empathize, and take a sense of ownership.”

Audit your attention. “The scarcest resource that we have is not money and it is not time. It is attention,” said Didier Elzinga, CEO of Culture Amp. Organizations need to assess what they’re asking their leaders, managers, and individual employees to focus attention on amid numerous priorities. “We can actually sit down and look at it and give ourselves almost a budget,” he advised. “How are we going to prioritize the things we need [a company’s staff] to focus on?”

I particularly liked the idea of re-onboarding, especially if people have been working from home for any length of time because the shift back to the office is pretty much going to be akin to starting a new job in a new place mentally, emotionally, physically and relationship wise. In addition, the time and attention paid to new hires makes you feel special. I am sure a lot of us have resented seeing special offers advertised for new subscribers to a service, but no benefit given for 10 years of loyalty. I have recently seen people complain online about being denied the $2/hr bump in salary being advertised for new hires when they obviously had more experience and wouldn’t require a learning curve. It makes people feel their loyalty is taken for granted.

I also liked the concept that these days attention is a scarcer resource than time and money and that there needs to be clear communication across the organization about what priorities should receive the most attention.  We have all seen the posters wearily asking which of the 10 top priorities is actually the super-secret extra top priority the boss want you to focus on first.

What I was really surprised to see included in the list was the recognition that workplaces being a social environment, there is opportunity for tension. There seemed to be an acknowledgement not only that this may present a problem for people returning from a work from home setting, but that perhaps more could have been done to train people for that reality over the last few decades:

Practice real-life scenarios such as uncomfortable conversations. “We often give people an opportunity to expand their role and become managers without actually giving them the experiences that they need to practice the craft,” said Edith Cooper, co-founder of Medley. One way to do that is to create spaces, such as group coaching environments, where they can practice having difficult conversations without being judged or dismissed.


Physical offices are a place for conflict. “Conflict, disagreement, the brainstorm, the row, the ‘I’m sorry, we’re not on the same page here’” are important to spend time together with colleagues for, said Julia Hobsbawm, author of The Nowhere Office. In-person work—whether it’s in an office, coffee shop, or other location—is also important for training, mentoring, and social connections between people. “To hang out, to learn, or to argue,” is what in-person work time should be for, concludes Hobsbawm.


Interviewing Post Covid: How Do You Want To Do It?

Last week Barry Hessenius sent me a link to a Buzzfeed article listing answers to job interview questions, suggesting it might make a good blog post. This suggestion was well-timed because Drew McManus had also posed a question on LinkedIn about whether cover letters were useful any more, spurring a spirited conversation among arts professionals on that topic.

Between the two, there is a lot to think about in terms of how we interview, both as employers and potential candidates.  For example, in the LinkedIn discussion, Tyler Rand mentioned his company inviting people to introduce themselves by choosing from a number of formats including letters, email, personal statements, videos and showing their suitability for the position through either resumes, work samples, links to websites or LinkedIn profiles.

The Buzzfeed piece claims the list contains clever answers to tough job questions. While there are some suggestions like describing yourself in the context of your Hogwarts house and how to navigate the dreaded “what are your weaknesses” and uncomfortable salary questions, many of the tips mentioned are smart responses to typical interview questions rather than a matter of clever maneuvering.

For example asking

“What’s the biggest pain point in the company/office/on your team, and what could I do to address it if I started tomorrow?”

Can be useful in uncovering issues about the work environment that hadn’t come out during the interview, possibly revealing an organizational culture that doesn’t suit you.


“When they ask if you have any questions, ask what current/past employees in this role find the most rewarding and challenging about the position. If there are red flags, you’ll get them here. It’s basically asking the interviewer what the job’s strengths and weaknesses are but more effective.”

I have been asked a number of times what my plan for my first 90 days on the job will be, but it never occurred to me to turn it around and ask the obvious:

‘What are your 30/60/90 day goals for the role?’

I have asked what the goals for the new person might be and how my skillset might be applicable toward fulfilling them, but the X days horizon can give you a sense of top priorities and allow you to judge whether they are realistically attainable in that time period.

Anyone have any additional thoughts on obvious, but seldom asked questions or processes they feel are antiquated?  Are there ways you would rather interview, both as an employer or candidate, but feel stuck in a framework of expectations?  I suspect there are questions some candidates would love to ask but there is a fear of appearing too presumptuous to the prospective employer.