Lack Of Inclusion Reaches All The Way Up To Big Money Donors

If you’ve had a heart-to-heart with a fellow nonprofit performing arts manager that operates in the Silicon Valley area, you probably got an earful of cathartic grumbling about how disengaged the tech sector is from philanthropic giving.

Adaptistration People 039The 5/14/18 edition of The Atlantic published an article by Alana Semuels provides one of the most comprehensive examinations to date on why this is such a problem.

This article does a superb job at walking you through why this happens, why it’s getting worse, and why it won’t improve without two necessary changes: much tougher regulations on charitable donor-advised funds and a gut rehab of existing board culture.

The former requires legislative fortitude to end tax shelters masquerading as charitable foundations while the latter demands accountability on the exclusionary culture of old money.

Don’t hold your breath on the former transpiring any time soon, but the latter item is entirely in our collective control.

While in no way a universal truth, orchestra and opera boards are known throughout philanthropic circles as being strongholds of old money influence.

Long story short (admittedly, this is a wild oversimplification), money flowing into the tech sector ended up in the hands of individuals that were as far outside traditional board demographics as you can probably imagine.

Old and new money people didn’t run in the same circles and too many in the former group were happy to avoid building bridges across that gulf.

As a result, the tech sector developed an entirely disengaged culture toward philanthropic giving. The minority who did take an interest encountered severe culture clash, all of which added to the problems we see today.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the nonprofit performing arts sector can’t write-off big donors from such an influential sector. The solution includes a combination of internal board culture change, increased willingness to share authority, and using existing influence to make participation in everyone’s best interest (i.e. hold charitable donor-funds to much higher standards or make them unpalpable to use).

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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