The Art$ – Part III (Some Easy Fixes)


Art – it makes life more funner.

In my earlier posts on this subject, dear reader, I first endeavored to put a finer point on the more than thousand-fold revenue variation between the largest cultural organizations in NYC, and the median cultural organization. Holy stromboli you say? Yes! While the very largest nonprofit culturals have revenues of more than $300 million annually, more than half the groups in my most recent study had revenues of less than $250 thousand. What’s more, the top five very largest organizations received nearly half of all city funding (their share being a whopping $133 million).
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NY City Council Testimony on Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts


This past Friday (May 11, 2012)  I had the pleasure of testifying before a joint hearing of the Committee on Small Business, and the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations of the New York City Council.  The topic?  “New York City’s Cultural Sector and Derivative Small Businesses.”

Hello!  Mouthful!

But I was asked to offer framing comments to complement testimony by my colleagues  from the Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts Working Group.  I’ve skipped the preliminaries (you know, hello and thank you committee Chairperson for this opportunity to yadda yadda) and cut right to the meat and potatoes:   Continue reading

Building a Healthy Nonprofit Ecosystem


Hurricane flooded I-10/I-610 interchange, New Orleans, LA

Reposted from my guest blog on Rooflines:  In the halcyon days of my youth, way back in 2006, I went to New Orleans.  I traveled there at the behest of the corporation that I worked for at the time, as we had made a $2 million disaster recovery commitment to the city, and we were trying to figure out how to spend it.

Now, there’s two things you need to know about spending $2 million: (1) that’s a lot of money, and (2) it’s really not very much money at all.  When you get right down to it, in dealing with a post-crisis situation of the scale of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the troubled city of New Orleans, spending that kind of money in a way that was both responsible and impactful was a damned hard thing to do.

So there I am, the well-meaning Yankee, fresh off the plane in my shiny city slicker best, traipsing through the Lower 9th Ward.  I was there several months after the floods had receded, but it was still a silent, mud-stained, wracked and ruined wasteland.  I remember picking up a dirty and detached doll’s head (Woody, from Toy Story – a memento I’ve kept with me always.  He’s staring at me as I write this now), and thinking, well, I’ve got to start somewhere.

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Why Leadership Pay$


Reposted from my guest blog on Rooflines.
In previous blog posts (Why Evaluation Stinks), I’ve discussed how the fragmented nature of the nonprofit sector makes it very difficult to impose top-down, comprehensive evaluative frameworks.  The primary problem is that even if you have two nonprofit organizations, each working with similar clients and conducting similar programs, the mix of supports from philanthropy, contracts and earned revenues will be such that the way they achieve their results will be unique.  The nonprofit sector, operating as it does on the margins of the market economy, is forced to pull together resources higgledy-piggledy, and this mix varies so substantially for each nonprofit (and indeed for each year of its operations), that you really can’t draw comparisons easily between two otherwise similar service activities.In short, our twinkling field of a thousand lights are all very different.There is, however, an upside to this.  Each organization cuts its own path to achieving its mission, providing us with a diversity of models and strategies.  Some succeed by focusing on a specific, artisanal niche where they excel, while others grow through horizontal or vertical expansion.  But there’s one thing that all successful organizations have in common:  they exhibit strong leadership.  And when I say leadership, what I mean is that the manager or managers of the organization are considered trustworthy, intelligent, passionate and capable.  They may also be considered tyrannical, obtuse, plodding, or distraught, but in their own way they get the job done and they get it done well.

As you well know, measuring leadership is a damned hard thing to do.  There are no leadership widgets produced as such.  Or are there? Continue reading

Dear Mom, Here’s What Crashed the Economy (Part II)


Mom at the 9/11 Memorial

Re-posted from my guest blog on Rooflines.

In case you missed the first post in this series, you can link to it here.  You should read it.  My mom says so.  

My goal is to answer my mom’s simple question:  why did the economy crash?  She was asking me because she had read two newspaper articles that had completely different views as to why this very bad thing happened:  Five Good Reasons Why Wall Street Breeds Protesters (USA Today), and Wall Street’s Gullible Occupiers (Wall Street Journal).

In a nutshell, these two opposing views are:

  1. Wall Street greed, lax regulatory oversight, and excessive executive compensation fueled a global debt glut that finally imploded; and
  2. Federal housing policies forced Wall Street financiers to provide high risk mortgages to unworthy borrowers, ultimately leading to an unstable housing market that finally collapsed and brought the economy down with it.

In my first post, I explained some of the background for these opposing views, and I also spent a substantial amount of time discussing why view #2 appears to be (a) freakishly out of touch with reality, (b) so freakishly out of touch with reality that even people who normally want to blame the government for everything can’t agree with it, and (c) in spite of (a) and (b), freakishly popular.

To add vinegar to gall, I don’t think view #1 really doesn’t do justice to the issues either. Continue reading