When High Standards Collide With Low Expectations

Last week’s poll asking readers “how many orchestras will take advantage of having the direct link to their respective financial reports page at GuideStar.org and post it on their webpage by the end of November” and if “institutional transparency in the form of posting financial and annual reports matter” generated just over 100 responses. The results, at the time this article was written, can be summed up by saying that stakeholders have high standards but low expectations…

QUESTION: Does institutional transparency in the form of posting financial and annual reports matter?
QUESTION: Does institutional transparency in the form of posting financial and annual reports matter?
How many orchestras do you think will take advantage of having the direct link to their respective financial reports page at GuideStar.org and post it on their webpage by the end of November?
QUESTION: How many orchestras do you think will take advantage of having the direct link to their respective financial reports page at GuideStar.org and post it on their webpage by the end of November?

Unquestionably, this is one instance where I am disappointed that my outlook is shared by a majority of others throughout the business. Clearly, institutional transparency is an important issue for stakeholders and organizations taking the time to enhance their transparency by making the most basic of financial reports available at their website would benefit from such measures.

Most reasons behind why an organization doesn’t make financial reports available fall into two basic categories: apathy and philosophical opposition.

Concerning the former, stimulating positive change can be as simple as offering much needed tools – like an orchestra IRS 990 resource list – to assist overcoming very real shortages in personnel and time. As for the latter, introducing systemic change is a much greater challenge and past practice throughout the field indicates there may be a great deal of resistance to these efforts.

Click to visit the new Orchestra Financial Reports resource list
Click to visit the new Orchestra Financial Reports resource list

There are a host of reasons why this is the case (some legitimate but just as many if not more aren’t) but ultimately, there’s nothing standing in the way of clearing out unhealthy financial practices of the past. In order to accomplish this task, it takes the combined efforts and dedication of a board executive committee, CEO, and CFO to implement necessary changes and rally the remaining stakeholders behind the institutional vision.

In order to promote institutional transparency on a continuing basis, the reference list from 10/28/2009 has been moved to a static page in Adaptistration’s resource material. This free resource currently includes all of the orchestras from the Orchestra Website Review but over time, it will be expanded to include as many organizations as possible.

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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2 thoughts on “When High Standards Collide With Low Expectations

  1. Might be good to add lack of staffing or time to apathy and philosophical indifference on your list of why orchestras don’t link to this.

    Many orchestras are just barely able to get through the challenge of administrating successful concerts and staying financially responsible.

  2. Thanks for the comment and that’s precisely what was mentioned in one of the earlier articles on this topic and why the direct links were assembled in the first place.

    At the same time, even though times are tough, there are many groups that manage to conduct business as usual and do an excellent job at meeting and exceeding demands.

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