What Is The Value Of Input At Interlochen?

What is the purpose of a non-profit organization? According to Federal Government a non profit organization or company is established for charitable, educational, or humanitarian purposes and not for making money.

Orchestras are non-profit entities as is the Interlochen Center for the Arts. And they both share a common problem: those charged with responsibility for governance are becoming increasingly isolated from the public they are obligated to serve. As a result, their only information about their organization comes directly from the administrators they are charged with overseeing.

Ultimately, in every non-profit organization the governance body directly charged with final responsibility for an organization is the board of directors (in Interlochen’s case, they are known as the Board of Trustees). They hire and fire administrators and approve of the institution’s course.

So what criteria do boards use to determine the best path for the institution to follow?

The answer to that question is as varied as the individuals that sit on any given board. But one thing that I’ve always found to be very odd is the complete lack of access any member of the public has to board members.

Just visit Interlochen’s website: you’ll find a list of board members but absolutely no contact information. If you visit an orchestra web site, you’ll likely find the same situation.

Why isn’t there an avenue for the public, with which any non-profit organization is required to serve, to contact members of the board? How is a board of directors supposed to be capable of making decisions that are in the best interest of the public if the public doesn’t have a guaranteed path of direct communication?

Fortunately, the Federal Government predicted this would be a problem, and as such, they require any non-profit organization to provide contact information for each member of their board. This assures the government that the public trust is protected by providing a means to enforce accountability and assure that member service is either on a volunteer basis or not earning enough to violate “personal gain” rules as determined by the IRS.

Increasingly, many non-profit organizations have begun to demonstrate that they are not as willing as they have been in the past to solicit or take note of public opinion. They claim the difficult financial climate dictates that they make “tough choices” about their respective organization’s future that may not be popular with the institution’s stakeholders.

Several months ago I was optimistic that this was not the case with the incoming Interlochen administration. During my conversations with newly appointed Interlochen President, Jeff Kimpton, before the start of the 2004 summer camp session, Jeff sent me the following note via email after a telephone interview:

“Your concerns and your reservations have been heard. I believe a conversation after this summer’s camp has concluded will be the most meaningful one we can have.”

After the conclusion of the 2004 camp season, I contacted Jeff to see about continuing our discussion and to relay many of the concerns I’ve received from Interlochen stakeholders. Unfortunately, it seems that President Kimpton isn’t as enthusiastic to continue our discussions as he once was. When I contacted him to see about setting up another time to talk and to offer him the opportunity to respond to what I’ve written about Interlochen so far, Jeff sent me the following statement:

“We continue to work on behalf of the best interests of Interlochen because we have the responsibility of insuring the future of this remarkable institution. That responsibility requires strong leadership to make some very tough decisions that we recognize are difficult for some people. For those people, and you may count yourself among them, we may just have to agree to disagree about the best way to chart our future Thank goodness for the First Amendment.”

So it appears my avenue of communication is being terminated. But based on the volume of email I’ve received from those with a connection to Interlochen, these issues certainly aren’t settled in their minds and they warrant a significant amount of discussion.

Thankfully, due to the IRS requirements mentioned above, each and every person with an opinion about the future of Interlochen and its current administrative leadership can express themselves directly to any of Interlochen’s Board if Trustees.

All you have to do to is visit a free internet based service called GuideStar (you will have to register, but again, it’s free) and you can obtain the contact address for each member of the Interlochen Board of Trustees.

Here’s what you do.

  1. Visit GuideStar and register for your free account: https://commerce.guidestar.org/GuideStar/newaccount.aspx
  2. Using the Search Feature, type in “Interlochen Center for the Arts”
  3. Once you’re on the ICA’s main page, you’ll find a link on the left hand side labeled “Form 990”. Click that link.
  4. At the top of the subsequent page, click on the “Fiscal Year 2003” link, that will allow you to view Interlochen’s 2003 form 990.
  5. Scroll down to page 21 and you’ll see the beginning of the list of Trustee members. Keep in mind this list is from a year ago so the officers and some of the members have changed. But you can compare the current list of Interlochen’s Board of Trustees to their 2003 Form 990 list to find the contact information for the current board officers.

Then I would encourage everyone concerned about Interlochen to write into as many board members as possible (I’m sure that some of the resourceful Adaptistration readers will be able to find some email addresses for the trustees). Tell them how you feel about what Interlochen has meant to you and where you think it should go in the future. The more direct input the trustees receive the better equipped they’ll be to make appropriate decision for the future and to hold the current administrators accountable for their decisions.

Don’t believe that your voice is a minority and that you don’t deserve to be heard. You aren’t disturbing the trustees; on the contrary, you’re giving them what they need the most: direct unfiltered input on what Interlochen’s constituents really feel. There isn’t a marketing study in the world or executive briefing more valuable than that.

At least Jeff Kimpton and I agree on one very important point; “Thank goodness for the First Amendment”.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment