Finding Gold While Flying In Pretzel Class

You know the non profit industry has become larger and more influential than ever before when you find articles about for profit managers ditching their jobs to run nonprofits in an airline magazine.

And that’s exactly what I found while recently flying on United and browsing through the October issue of their in flight magazine, Hemispheres.  An article by Catherine Fredman called “Profiting from Nonprofits” examines the molehill-turned-mountain of for profit executives who have moved into the nonprofit positions.

I found it amusing to read one passage in the article which examines the lower pay for profit executives can expect if they switch to nonprofit jobs but that was followed by a caveat stating big salary nonprofit jobs in medical, foundation, and symphony leadership positions were available and steadily growing (that very issue was covered here in a series of executive director compensation articles).

However, the article continued by reporting on how often for profit managers are incapable of dealing with the fundamentally different culture and environment among nonprofit organizations which regularly bolster such a broad group of stakeholders.  Most are incapable of dealing with measures of success which differ from the concrete bottom line results they’re accustomed to; as a result, the organization flounders. Sound familiar?

The article also discusses the perception among for profit managers that managing a nonprofit is easy by comparison. Wrong again.  To illustrate this point, Ms. Fredman makes an observation which I’ve noticed all too often in this business the “do-gooder” mentality.  “Do-gooders” are for profit managers and executives who move to nonprofit jobs so thy can “give something back” to the community by bestowing a nonprofit with their “superior” skills.

Unfortunately, more often than not, these people don’t have a clue about the unique mission of orchestras or about musicians themselves; they see musicians as merely employees deserving only to be “managed” and artistic integrity as a secondary goal. These people typically last about eight to sixteen months in orchestra jobs and then they’re out (usually crying while walking out the door the stories I could tell ).  They simply don’t understand the stakeholder mentality and the mission driven purpose of a typical orchestra.

My advice to any would be do-gooder out there is don’t quit your day job, instead, offer your skills to nonprofits by way of a gratis consulting capacity.

There are a couple of great quotes in the article that are just too good not to share:

“Corporate executives think it’s easier to run a nonprofit than a corporate enterprise.  Boy, are they in for a big surprise.”

“Nonprofits are nonprofits for good reasons.  Revenue flows and sound management of budgets are seen purely as a means, not an end.”

The last quote sums up much of the philosophical debate currently raging in the orchestra industry today.  Instead of revenue flows and sound budget practices being a means to and end, they are becoming the focus of the institution.  And with that comes artistic degradation and a continued slide toward cultural irrelevancy.

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.

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