Looking For Unicorns On A Donkey Budget

The unicorn employee: someone with all the skills across a multitude of platforms, isn’t limited by job titles, and efficiently completes tasks at an awe-inspiring pace. They are willing, and even prefer, to wear different hats, inspire colleagues, and never lose empathy.

Unicorns can make the difference between surviving and thriving and perhaps unsurprisingly, they are hard to catch even when you have the right bait.

And this is why it never ceases to surprise me when I come across a job description from a nonprofit arts and culture org that is clearly looking for a unicorn but offering a donkey budget.

Following the pandemic, this has become a bit more common, and I get it; staffs were gutted and the funds to rehire at previous levels doesn’t exist. All of this makes the temptation to offer a little more for unicorn level duties and responsibilities is strong.

All of this is the latest byproduct of a system that has underpaid staffers for decades while expanding the pay gap between entry/middle management and executives at exponential rates. As such, I can’t say any of it is a surprise and while I wish there was a simple solution here, don’t expect much to change until the field begins to make pay equality a priority.

In the meantime, you’ll be more likely to attract the best candidates possible by conducting an honest unicorn to donkey review before posting your next job listing.

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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