WolfBrown: On Our Minds

I have recently been conducting research in connection with the New Jersey Symphony’s efforts to develop a strategic plan for their arts education programs. In looking to identify effective educational programming offered by other orchestras, it is nearly impossible to avoid the influence of El Sistema, Venezuela’s highly successful youth education program that provides free musical training to hundreds of thousands of Venezuela’s poorest students. A number of U.S. orchestras are working to adapt the El Sistema system in their own cities, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Baltimore Symphony, and the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio. New England Conservatory has established a fellowship program, (which Tom Wolf wrote about in his article in the April 16th On Our Minds) for those interested in establishing El Sistema programs outside of Venezuela. And an El Sistema USA network has been set up to support those interested in the program. A conference was recently held in Los Angeles at which both the successes and the challenges of translating the program to the United States were discussed. Not surprisingly, the current need for “proof” of the effectiveness of the program in order to generate funder support is one of the challenges that U.S. implementers are facing. In Venezuela, financial support, which happens at the national level, is based on qualitative evaluation only. Will U.S. programs be able to model their evaluation efforts on the same foundation of qualitative research? Is collecting stories enough to convince funders to step up and contribute?  I can only hope so, as these programs introduce young people to a lifetime passion for music, and help develop future orchestra audiences.


The Next Best Practices

June 15th, 2010

As a consultant, I’m used to identifying “best practice” models, as they are useful for clients to learn from the exemplary experience of others. So I was interested to see Beth Kanter mention “next practices” in her blog.  When it comes to technology, she’s right at the front of the line, especially relative to social media, so it’s not surprising that she’s latched onto the concept of crowd-sourcing and “next practices,” a subtle shift from our common thinking. A little research finds mention of “next practices” as far back as 2006, in an article by John R. Sullivan, now a professor of management at San Francisco State University. He focuses on the increasing speed of innovation and the need to look outside our core business to explore new models. And Saul Kaplan, the founder of the Business Innovation Factory, argues that “All leaders should spend more discretionary time outside of their industry, discipline, and sector…The big and important value-creating opportunities will most likely be found in the gray areas between the silos we inhabit.”

So many aspects of arts and culture are changing so rapidly that we often haven’t had time to sort out what the best practices are. We can learn from what others are trying, even before their approaches have been anointed as “best.” And as various fields and disciplines shift and merge, looking outside our usual range of comparatives could provide just the flash of strategic or tactical insight needed to move an organization forward. So while we still need to cultivate best practices, let’s keep a forward-looking eye to next practices.



What Motivates Donors?

June 15th, 2010

Over the past year, Rebecca and I have been hard at work on a major study of Bay Area donors.  The results were released last week, and we’ve created a special page on our website where you can download the results.  There are three reports:

1.  A high level summary report, It’s Not About You…It’s About Them: A Research Report on What Motivates Bay Area Donors to Give to the Arts and Artists, which should be of interest to funders, arts agencies, and others who seek to help artists and small arts groups raise funds for programs.

2.  A series of case studies, Field Reports from the Fund For Artists Matching Commissions Program:  Unlocking the Potential of Individual Donors, which describe how some of the individual artists and arts groups successfully raised funds.

3. A detailed WolfBrown report on what motivates Bay Area donors to give to a range of arts programs and projects, including results of a survey of over 3,000 donors, for research geeks who want to read the whole bloody thing.

The research was co-commissioned by The San Francisco Foundation and East Bay Community Foundation, as part of an effort to better understand the success of their Fund For Artists Matching Commissions program, through which Bay Area artists raised more than $1.3 million since 2004.  I am particularly grateful to our partners in the research, John Killacky and Diane Sanchez, as well as Marcy Cady and Holly Sidford of Helicon Collaborative, for all of their support and good thinking.


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