Not So Strange, But Does Require Effort

Non-Profit Quarterly made a post in May that just came across my social media feed today about a weekly Zoom call 200+ arts organizations in NYC are having in order to share information during Covid-19. Ruth McCambridge links to the New York Times piece that reports on this effort.

I have to admit I initially bristled at McCambridge characterizing the NYT article reporting on a story that is “pretty strange” because:

It appears the pandemic has created a sudden realization among the city’s arts organizations that they need one another for advice, counsel, and support even while they take one coronavirus-related hit after another. That has led to a daily Zoom call with around 200 leaders in attendance, coming from groups large and small and spanning organizational types.

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Pogrebin finds it “notable how much they are actually acting these days like the ‘arts community’ to which they often aspire.” We call it something of a small miracle, which we think we may be seeing a lot more of as advocacy and mutual aid look increasingly central to not just our survival, but our evolution in a new landscape.

I have been regularly participating in on a number of those calls myself so I will admit that there is more coordination and information sharing across disciplines than before. It is definitely beneficial to everyone involved.

However, over the course of the last 15+ years, I have been part of organizations comprised of arts and culture entities whom regularly shared information and even engaged in cooperative grant writing. I am sure many readers have similar relationships. You know, the ones where you receive important information, but also multiple people feel their one word reply “Thanks” should go to the entire group rather than to an individual.

While I do agree with the proposition that it would be a shame these cross-disciplinary conversations faded away when the crisis passes because we are seeing greater cooperation and community than in the past, I also feel like the idea this coordination is novel news doesn’t given non-profit arts & cultural organizations credit for progress made over the last couple decades.

Also, were there a lot of commercial entities who were having conversations like these that non-profit arts organizations have been eschewing?  It seemed perhaps there was an implication of some norm that existed that cultural organizations are finally participating in. Non-profit folks are networking and sharing information at conferences, chamber of commerce meetings and rotary meetings, etc just like everyone else.

I will say though, it can be really difficult to make sure you are invited to the right meetings. If you look in the comment section of the NYT article, people were asking how they could join the call because the information wasn’t public. You had to know someone in order to receive the meeting link.

That dawned on me about a month ago as I bounced from one Zoom meeting hosted by charitable foundations to another Zoom meeting of local live event organizations (concert venues, sports teams, bars, etc.). I realized a number of people in the meeting I just left weren’t invited to the second meeting where topics like the governor’s orders on public assembly are discussed. I asked for about 20 additional groups to be invited to that second meeting and did see about eight show up to the last meeting.

Bottom line- regardless of my perceptions of how these meetings are characterized, an effort should be made to ensure they continue past the current crisis. Which means people who are invited need to commit to participating rather than blowing the meetings off. Just as important, we should continually be thinking about who might benefit from these conversations and take steps to see they are invited.

 

Delay May Appear Wise, But Is The Outcome The Same?

Interesting short piece on the FastCompany website that points out the current uncertainty about the future created the the Covid-19 pandemic makes deferring on a decision seem the wise option, however there is always a cost associated with delaying on that decision. The author of the piece, Art Markman, says that because deferring the decision seems so attractive, people don’t actually think through whether the delay will make any difference or not. (my emphasis)

Leaders might think it prudent to wait for more information about the status of the pandemic before moving forward. However, it is always worth making a decision tree to determine whether a different decision would be reached in each of these conditions. Key leaders do not always take this step. In some cases, leaders might find that the best outcome is actually the same regardless of the status of the pandemic. In that case, deferring the decision would involve paying a cost to defer the decision in order to get information that does not change the decision that gets made. There was no reason to incur that cost.

I haven’t come up with a scenario other than capital improvements/repairs and staffing decisions in which this might apply to arts and cultural organizations. I may be too entrenched right now  in thinking about the pros and cons of re-opening venues in the context of economics and public perception/willingness to broaden my imagination. However, I figure some readers might be in situations where being reminded to make a decision tree might be useful for helping move things forward.

It’s A Good Time To Broaden Board Composition Too

Tyler Green’s tweet today about art museums acting like corporations rather than charities got me to look at the full series of tweets on the subject.  He is angered by the fact that instead of stepping up to support museums in a time of crisis, the billionaire members of boards are voting for mass lay-offs of staffs.

In brief, his argument seems to be that while museum boards are comprised of people who make the largest individual donations to museums, they are not the largest sources of support for those museums.

He notes that many charities have board members who represent the membership or community the organization serves, but institutions like San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) don’t have any.

All this is worth serious consideration as our organizations seek to move on to the next normal. Those who have supported our organizations in the past with their participation may no longer feel safe engaging with the general public. There is an opportunity to start working toward oft expressed ideals of engaging a broader audience with whom you haven’t had the time and resources to initiate a conversation. Because they are increasingly likely to be your new audience.

Their numbers may not be as large as your old audience, but social distancing rules have reduced your top capacity so you have some cover to explain the smaller crowds.

I wrote about Nina Simon’s talk on this effort earlier this month.

But perhaps most importantly in the context of Tyler Green’s posts, it is probably time to broaden the membership of the board. This is likely to necessitate a shift in corporate/board culture. Even if your board isn’t comprised of billionaires, it is highly likely that the group dynamics of the board are going to feel alienating to any new members chosen to represent the core demographics served by your organization.

Customer Desires: Always Complicated

The news JC Penney is closing a number of their stores and liquidating the inventory reminded me of a post I made eight years ago about the company’s efforts to deal more fairly with customers. Instead of having all sorts of sales and discounts that lead consumers to suspect something had been marked up last week in order to put it on sale this week, among other bits of trickery, JC Penny’s new CEO at the time pledged to offer completely transparent, low everyday pricing.

The move backfired on them leading a number of business reporters to observe that perhaps people liked to be cheated. That CEO was out, a new one was ushered in who restored the sales and coupons.

It was all a bit revelatory about consumer psychology and how you can’t always take what people say they want at face value.

As I pointed out in my post at the time, it also illustrates that money does not build relationships and loyalty.  I would suggest that most non-profit arts organizations are in the relationship building/facilitation business. If we weren’t, would people be donating the value of their tickets on cancelled events and increasing the amount they typically donate in a year? I say facilitation because participation in an activity with friends and family contributes to the development of relationships.

As much as your organization is struggling, those donations and other expressions of concern are what distinguish your identity and role in the community from larger corporations, even if you suspect you may be soon accompanying JC Penny on the road to dissolution. In that 2012 post, I also linked to a post I made about the expiration date of arts organizations. At the time I was speaking theoretically. Sorry to say it may be emerging into reality.

Back in 2012 when I first wrote my post, I quoted Collen Dilenschneider. She has since come out with much better research and advice for arts organizations use of discounts, but the basics still remain the same.

One thing of course, I need to point out is that price does not develop loyalty. You can not develop a relationship with your community if interactions with your organization are based on price. I stated that in the early days of this blog and as Dilenschneider notes this is true even in these days of social media:

“It is far better for your brand and bottom line to have 100 fans who share and interact with your content to create a meaningful relationship, than to have 1,000 fans who never share your message and liked you just for the discount.”

Dilenschneider also points to some data that there are diminishing returns from social media discounts. This may illustrate be where arts organizations and retailers differ. Retailers can offer myriad discounts annually and not suffer, but arts and cultural organizations offer a product valued entirely differently from that of retailers

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