I Hope No Arts Organization Is Doing Anything Close To This

In writing posts I often draw on examples from commercial enterprises and other types of non-profits to provide interesting ideas or lessons that my primary audience of arts and culture professionals might use. It isn’t often that I come across something where I firmly believe no arts and cultural organization could possibly be engaging in.

But just in case, here is an example of an operation which would undoubtedly give non-profit charities a bad name and make people want to subject them to additional scrutiny.  Gene Takagi of the Non-Profit Law blog had retweeted a post by Karl Mill which I initially assumed was just going to deal with what can be a fine line between what is allowed in terms of political lobbying and action by 501 (c) (3) non-profits and is better organized as a 501 (c) (4).

But it got oh so much worse than that really quickly. In addition to wanting to actively lobby for political candidates, the proposed non-profit intended to assist the homeless and indigent by enrolling them in the multi-level marketing program of the company which was forming said non-profit organization.

Mill goes through the application for non-profit status in some detail, commenting on what activity is okay, falls into a gray area of the law, and falls off the rails completely. Some of that is definitely useful for those who are confused about the difference between issue advocacy and lobbying. But he also gets to the point where he starts to comment “I wish I were making this up.”

At the end he sums up all the problems he identified in a bulleted list:

At this point, you might be wondering whether your organization can learn anything from an organization that was planning on:

  • Scooping up homeless and other indigent individuals;

  • Putting them in a home together and brainwashing persuading them to pay to become salespeople for a multi-level marketing company,

  • Charging them a fee for that initiation on top of the fees that all salespeople pay up the chain;

  • Taking control of their finances and charging them money for non-compliance, and

  • Having their conscripted army of indigent salespersons produce videos, op-eds, and go canvassing door-to-door to campaign in support of the company’s chosen candidates or in opposition to the company’s political enemies.

Maybe I Should Have Held Out For A House, Too

For Purpose Law Group posted the second installment of their “Nonprofits: What Not To Do,” series yesterday. The first installment dealt with the infamous Indianapolis Museum of Art job posting for a director who would help the organization continue to serve its “core white audience,” along with some other questionable decisions organizations have made.

This most recent post deals with creating prudent safeguards in executive compensation practices. It put me in mind of Drew McManus’ annual Orchestra Compensation Reports series which examines compensation for concert masters, music directors and executives.

In the most recent posting by For Purpose, they discuss how the board of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) wanted their new executive director to live closer to the facility than Manhattan and so offered a housing bonus of $968,000 so she could purchase a home nearby. This being NYC real estate, the bonus only covered half the cost of the house, but it is still a pretty dang good down payment. Since there were no provisions made regarding the house or repayment of the bonus should the executive director resign or be fired, when she did leave the organization six years later, she retained the house.

While the previous executive director being with the organization for 36 years, 16 as executive director, may have created high expectations for the new exec’s longevity in the mind of the board members, For Purpose writes the board should considered that eventuality.

Not to mention that knowledge of such preferential arrangements can impact morale among other staff in the organization, something the pandemic only exacerbated at BAM:

This scrutiny has also arisen amidst the background of severe fiscal carnage due to the pandemic; BAM lost millions. It had to “cease live programming, lay off or furlough staff and dip into endowments.”

And there was staff grumbling all along. “To be in an all-staff meeting where we were hearing so much about capital projects and how grateful Katy was to be able to walk to work was very disheartening,” said a former education coordinator. “It made a lot of us question the austerity we saw in other parts of the institution.”

It is likely that CEO compensation practices in the commercial sector influenced the board of an organization based in a world financial capital. However, there are different standards and levels of scrutiny accorded to non-profit orgs. The For Purpose Law article lists a number of resources boards can use to establish compensation standards. If you have questions, pop over and take a look.

Info You Can Use: Database of Performing Arts Venue Vax Policies

Drew McManus has started a database of the different policies performing arts venues around the country have enacted.  He started it last Friday and announced the 100th entry this morning. If you follow the links, you can see both the database and a form with which you can provide information about your venue or venues in your community.

I immediately passed it around to members of my consortium as soon as I saw it last Friday. Probably the biggest value it has is providing guidance and a bit of moral support for performing arts organizations around the country so that if they are getting push back from boards and higher ups, they can point to other entities around the country and in their region who are taking certain steps.

For the venue I run, most of the self-sponsored shows on our schedule are happening in the Spring so we were just starting to formulate the beginnings of a policy when groups renting from us over the next three months contacted us to tell us what measures they would like to take. In one case we were surprised by how rigorous one group’s standards were because were concerned their audience was the type to vocally push back. It turned out their policies were heavily driven by the insistence of the artists who were scheduled to perform.

It has been a week since they made an announcement about their policies and it doesn’t appear they have had more than a couple people requesting refunds. It has shown us that everyone’s input has something to contribute to policy creation and not to make broad assumptions about how audiences will react.

Take a look at the database and add your information as you can.


Resource: Performing Arts Org Vax Policy Database

Running An Intellectual Property Rights Grabbing Contest Isn’t A Good PR Move

Laura Zabel, Executive Director of the awesome Springboard for the Arts posted a important Twitter thread on being mindful about the way you solicit creative work from the community.

Read the whole thread, it is short but she makes the important point that you may be asking creatives to do a lot of free labor on spec and if there is only a couple winners, most won’t see any sort of reimbursement for their time. She suggests that a request for proposals (RFP) might be more appropriate. She likewise reminds readers to make sure the planned remuneration, whether it is contest prize or fee for services, is appropriate for the level of effort people will need to invest in your project.

Perhaps most importantly, she urges people not to use any language which claims all the intellectual property rights for anything that is submitted. She notes that many templates have this language in it so even if it isn’t your intention, you could be making a “rights grab.

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