Commentary: Foundations need to trust grantees more, increase 'gen op' support

Niki Jagpal and Kevin Laskowski, Philanthropy News Digest blog, 11/2/12

Whenever grantees are asked about the kind of foundation support that would be most helpful, general operating support usually tops the list. For years, foundations have ignored this much-expressed need of nonprofits while simultaneously claiming to be partners with them in change. This breach of trust is unsustainable. It is time for grantmakers to increase the proportion of grants dollars given as general operating support. A new analysis by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy finds that foundations collectively gave 16% of grant dollars as general operating support from 2008-10, the same percentage as [in] grants given in 2004-06. Even during the economic crisis -- when foundations were encouraged to cut the strings on at least some of their restricted grants -- grantmakers as a group simply continued as usual. Despite the convincing case made by NCRP and others such as the Center for Effective Philanthropy, CompassPoint, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, and Independent Sector in favor of core support, data from the Foundation Center consistently demonstrate how foundations overwhelmingly prefer restricted over unrestricted support. The dearth of core support signals a lack of trust among funders and willful ignorance at the cost of higher effectiveness. The "project vs. general operating support" debate is as old as modern grantmaking, and it's not going to be resolved here. [But] perhaps it is simply time to call this behavior what it is: free-riding. We're not the first to make this argument, and we won't be the last: every restricted grant imposes some costs and neglects others. It's time to end the days of free-riding masquerading as partnership. It's time to cut the strings.


Commentary: More big arts orgs need to hire younger, up-and-coming leaders

Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser, Huffington Post, 11/5/12

I have been [asked] by arts organizations looking for new executive directors to comment on candidates who have been approached. It is surprising how many times I hear the same names. The names I wish I heard more often were the younger, talented, aggressive, passionate arts leaders I have met who represent the future of the arts in America. They are not hired, too often, because they have not worked with the most famous arts organizations. Because many of them have worked with smaller, regional organizations they are not considered ready for the big time. And yet from my experience, it is far more challenging to run a small arts organization in a mid-sized city than a large institution in a major urban center. And those smart arts managers who can successfully sustain and build a smaller organization have the skills required to manage just about any arts organization. Hiring a younger manager is certainly risky. If one has never worked with donors of great wealth, managed a large staff, produced multiple events in a short period of time, worked with unions, etc., entering a major organization in the top position requires a quick trip down a steep learning curve. But hiring older managers with a string of failures on their resumes and lots of excuses about why each engagement didn't work out is also fraught with risk. In a field where few of us have the resources to engage a #2 executive, there is no large pool of trained leaders ready to move up to the top spot without some risk. The possibility of failure is inherent in virtually every appointment of a new executive director.   


Commentary: Artists need to embrace criticism if they're going to 'fail better'

Lyn Gardner, The Guardian [UK] Theatre Blog, 11/6/12

There's a story about the actor Ralph Richardson, who, during a preview for a new play, stopped mid-scene, turned to the audience and demanded: "Is there a doctor in the house?" When a member of the audience stood up, Richardson supposedly said: "Doctor, isn't this play awful?" There is, of course, an entire body of work from companies such as Forced Entertainment that experiments playfully with the idea of failure as an aesthetic. And last week, New York hosted the first Bad Theatre festival. "It's not that we have low standards, it's that we have different standards," declared co-founder Shawn Wickens, arguing the festival frees artists from ideas of success and failure. Whether it's true or not, what makes the Richardson story unusual is the fact that, when actors and directors are actually involved in a show, it's rare for them to acknowledge it might be anything less than brilliant. Acknowledging flaws with a piece is obviously difficult for those involved while it's still running -- particularly for the actors who have to face audiences night after night. But it sometimes it feels as if theatremakers remain in denial about the quality of a work long after the final curtain has fallen and they have moved on to other projects. Yet surely acknowledging failure and its possibility is the first step towards creating better work. Failure and risk go hand in hand; there is never one without the other. Without risk there is no possibility of those rare, often fleeting but always glorious moments when you lean forward and hold your breath because you know you've witnessed a theatrical miracle: something that genuinely matters, which has changed you and which will stay with you forever.      


FROM TC: On a related note, you might be interested in this article: "12 actors who have belittled their own movies, and why we only get mad about it sometimes" 


Commentary: To make conferences more effective, we need to get moving

Beth Kanter, Chronicle of Philanthropy blog Good Advice, 10/30/12

I was in India this summer to facilitate a 4-day training for Packard Foundation grantees. The curriculum covered a lot of territory on social media and online collaborations, but every day after we came back from a delicious meal, the after-lunch slump would set in. I planned for this by incorporating an after-lunch energizer that used movement to get people's brains going. Energizers are activities designed to awaken a sleeping audience or activate a jaded one. Energizers are typically done right after lunch and during mid-afternoon breaks, when energy tends to be low, but they can be done any time. The energizer can be connected to the content or just a movement exercise or stretch. In India, I designed the first one to celebrate the local culture: so I had them do Bollywood dance moves. And to make it more fun, I awarded prizes. It totally changed the atmosphere of the room, and people were ready to learn. I had different energizers planned on each day. There are many creative ways to have people move around. For example, after you divide participants into small groups to work on a project, you can have them create wall posters and then do a walking-around debrief. Or speed-geek, which is similar to speed dating, but in this case you spend five minutes talking to each person about the content of his or her poster. You can integrate movement right from the start. One of my favorite ways to do that is the human spectrogram, in which participants line up according to whether they agree or disagree about a topic related to the training.  


Related: New Calvin Harris app makes you dance to hear his latest album

Martin Bryant, The Next Web, 11/2/12

With almost any song you want available online with a click, it can be easy to dismiss music as nothing but a commodity. So, it's good to see musicians innovating to create experiences that create a meaningful, memorable connection with their audiences. Case in point, the new app out today from Calvin Harris. To tie in with Harris' new album "18 Months," [the] app allows you to listen to all the tracks in full, but with a twist - you have to keep moving to keep listening. Select a song from the album and it will begin playing, but if your phone stays still, it soon stops. Keep moving though, and the song will continue. The idea is to keep you dancing right through the album. Of course you could just keep shaking your phone, but that's not as much fun, is it? As a bonus, if you take a photo of the album's cover from within the app, image recognition will unlock remixes.

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