In both of my most recent strategic planning and board development projects, I spent time working with each respective group developing support for the formation of a government affairs committee. It never ceases to amaze me just how few arts organizations have a standing government affairs committee and of those that do, how peripheral they are in the overall board committee hierarchy. Unfortunately, the economic downturn is beginning to demonstrate the results of ineffective governmental representation…
Without an active government affairs committee, arts organizations have no official or regular means to establish and maintain local, regional, and state government relations. This lack of presence places the organization at a disadvantage, especially during a time where government legislation that can help or hinder nonprofit performing arts organizations is on the rise.
Case in point, look at what is unfolding in Pennsylvania where the latest state budget agreement contains a provision that would extend sales taxes to arts and cultural performances and venues but not to movies or sports events. Since the tax was unveiled, arts organizations throughout Pennsylvania have mobilized to fight the measure but all of this effort comes after the fact when the proposal is most difficult to challenge. Characterized as a backroom deal snuck in at the last minute in the 9/22/2009 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, this is an excellent example as to why arts organizations need to take government affairs activity seriously as proposed rules and regulations are most vulnerable to influence in the design stage.
By regularly monitoring and tracking legislative, regulatory, trade, and public affairs issues arts organizations will be in a strong position to capitalize on political connections, resultant legislation, and granting opportunities that reinforce the organization’s cultural, economic, and business development value to their region. This can only be accomplished through the actions of savvy government affairs committee members (along with, dare I dream, a full time government affairs officer).
In short, arts organizations need to have enough of a positive influence to make certain that whenever elected representatives consider legislation that impacts the arts sector, they instinctively think about their constituents from a protective mindset and pick up the phone to call their arts based government affairs contacts.
For those that see government affairs activity as an ineffective use of board resources because local, state, and federal funding comprises a relatively small percentage of most arts organization’s annual revenue, recent events in Pennsylvania should illustrate the sorts of the dynamic outcomes resulting from that position. If you’re interested in establishing an effective government affairs committee for your board, drop me a note or call my Chicago office and don’t let your state legislature look at Pennsylvania as a “creative” example for boosting their coffers.