Category Archives: Developing Relationships
I’m not sure if it’s my youth (full disclosure: I’m not really that young) or my personality that adores autonomy and cringes at the concept, and the idea, of micromanagement. In the past seven years, I have been proud to watch the board of our organization grow from a lopsided grassroots board to one who is gradually taking the governance reins and is making great strides.
But as we all know, utopia is a myth, and I have talked to more than one colleague who has at least one person that is making their life relatively sour due to a constant hawkish attention to the tasks that are supposed to be trusted to that person. Sometimes this attention persists, even in light of reassurance from their peers that the aforementioned person is doing the right thing for the organization.
When I talk to people who are new to the profession, they often want to know the same thing. “I work in a small shop,” they say. “Which activities will give me the most bang for my buck, no pun intended?” I am paraphrasing, but this discussion is definitely the #1 topic that I run across. And my answer is always the same: court your major donors.
When I first started, I wouldn’t have believed it were true. I wanted to get as many people excited about our cause as possible (which is important). I also wanted to create systems that were easy to maintain and monitor (also important). I wanted to design newsletters (keeping people informed is important) and hold (eek) special events (I won’t go there). I wanted to write grants (also helpful and important). But one thing I didn’t want to do was talk to major donors. I was afraid of them, didn’t feel that I had an rapport with them, and was scared to death of messing up, so I filled my time with other important—but not necessarily as important—activities.
No matter how much you love your job in the nonprofit sector (or any other sector, for that matter), you’re bound to have one of those days/weeks/months that your mama warned you about. From my vantage point, it sometimes feels like development directors carry the weight of a nonprofit on their shoulders like proverbial atlases. No funds = no programs = no service to the community. Oftentimes, that can also = low self-esteem, feelings of guilt, and added stress.
I stopped into the office on Easter Sunday with Art, to feed our resident cat and check on the theater. I sort of sighed inwardly, looking at the empty street and thinking that downtown seems pretty dead when we have nothing going on at the Capitol. On our way there, I had decided that I would take the opportunity to take some progress photos of some work being done in some of our newly-purchased buildings. My mind let out a kind of moan about working on my off hours, not having anyone to delegate photo-taking to, having too much on my plate already, etc. In an attempt to silence the negative voices in my head, I loaded the camera with new batteries, and strolled down front to see how Art was doing in his rounds.
In planning our capital project at the theatre where I work, we are entering new territory. The variety of programs that we are planning, and the spaces in which we will be able to do them, will be multiplying by the time the project is finished.
As arts organizations, we are mission-driven to provide artistic and cultural experiences to our patrons, and often to the community at large, regardless of their age, income level or other factors. Chances are, unless you live in a very tiny town, there are other organizations that are obligated to better the lives of their community as well.
The great part about all of this enrichment and quality of life improvement is that it gives us many opportunities to collaborate. For example, some of the programs that we will be adding are music education and lessons, school programming, independent cinema, and a student theatrical program. Because this is our first foray, as administrators, into this territory, it could potentially be a mountain of work and coordination, and it might take us years to get it right.
Very fortunately for us, there are people in our community who already do these things on a smaller or piecemeal scale. A local teacher who schedules and gives piano lessons is working with us on our music education program. A group of teacher center directors is helping us to determine the best way to introduce programming into our schools. Another organization in our area who does a small amount of independent cinema wants to partner with us to promote their brand and serve a neighboring community. Our student theatrical program will be directed by a woman who has worked with various groups of young people in the areas of acting, creative movement and performance.
There is no need for us to reinvent the wheel, and learn from scratch skills and aptitudes that others have spent many years developing. Make a list of your ideas, and ask yourself who can help. If you are starting a new initiative, chances are that there is someone in your community that could lend advice, expertise or experience to your efforts. The time that you spend seeking them out will be a great investment in your future. Working together not only makes your projects more fundable, but it keeps you from duplicating services and splitting your audience with a more established program at another venue.
Have you had good experiences partnering with others in your community? Feel free to share them with us!
If you work for a nonprofit, dealing with volunteers—recruiting, keeping, and appreciating them—are probably a big part of your life. Volunteers make big things happen for many of us, and some of our best stories come from the experiences, actions and antics of our “donors of time.”
Relatedly, I often think about whether nonprofit professionals volunteer, and if they don’t, why they don’t. I used to volunteer all the time at my organization; in fact, I started here as a volunteer before I was a staff person. Sometimes volunteers make the best employees because of their passion for the cause. But over time, my devotion and desire to do good led me to volunteer for my organization outside of work hours. As you can imagine, this rapidly led to burnout. Sometimes, if the burnout is too profound, good people can be lost, be they volunteers or staff, and that doesn’t serve anyone well.
As professionals, we know full well the benefits of volunteering. We tout them everyday to others, and use them to make our cases for community involvement to our funders. When presented with volunteer opportunities of our own, however, many of us don’t take them. “I am already doing good things for the world at my job,” you may say, or “I don’t want there to be a conflict of interest between my job and my volunteer work.” I am as busy as the next guy; even I made those excuses at one point.