I’ll Take The Job Description Turducken On Rye To-Go Please

It’s no secret nonprofit performing arts admins are overworked and underpaid. Fortunately, the issue is starting to get more attention but that hasn’t done much to curtail what I’ve noticed as a growing trend of stuffing an increasing amount of duties and responsibilities into single positions.

Traditionally, you’ll find something resembling the following three-tiered structure at most arts orgs:

  1. Director = Mid to late career, $$$ pay, runs a department, determines strategy and is responsible for outcomes.
  2. Manager = Mid-career, $$ pay, executes Director’s strategy, exercises a degree of independent decision making.
  3. Coordinator = Entry level, $ pay, assists Managers with detail-oriented tasks (i.e. grunt work).

Job descriptions (JD) typically reflect these basic levels of responsibility, requisite skill sets, and required experience. Overlap between positions would resemble something like this:

Across budget tiers, there’s always a bit of wiggle room, but it’s becoming increasingly common to see organizations engage in “creative downsizing” by combining Manager and Coordinator duties and responsibilities into a new position with a stuffed title, but hardly more pay than the previous coordinator role.

The resulting structure is like a blanket that’s a little too small to cover everything.

There’s no way to get all the previous work done so in order to cover as best as possible, Director positions get stretched and some of the combined Manager/Coordinator work simply gets lost. The result is a turducken structure that is almost certainly not sustainable.

You can tell when groups are beginning to fall victim when they start releasing openings with position title like “Managing Coordinator” or the less creative Director/Manager.

I do worry about the sustainability of the current nonprofit performing arts workforce. Expectations, job advancement, job satisfaction, wages and benefits, and responsibilities are combining to create a particularly caustic work environment that burns out too many good managers.

The only thing I can promise is it will get worse before (if?) it gets better unless the field starts to make it a priority.

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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