Monday, June 29, 2009

Foundation offers reduced office space

The Chronicle reported that the New York Foundation for the Arts is offering some help to recession-plagued arts groups in the city: a chance to claim some discounted office space, according to Dana Variano on the PhilanthroMedia blog.

Citing a report in the Philanthropy News Digest, Ms. Variano says the foundation is now soliciting proposals from groups and artists that are affiliated with it. Read the article here.

The article suggests that this may be an opportunity for other nonprofits to explore by renting out space they may have to generate additional income.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Foundations Trim Staffs After Assets Slide Lower

The NY Times reported that foundations are decreasing their staffs in large numbers.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was the latest to announce a voluntary severance plan, offered this month to 42 percent of its 250 employees. In May, the Ford Foundation offered a similar plan to 140 of its 550 staff members.

Bradford K. Smith, president of the Foundation Center, a research organization, said foundations were resorting to job cuts after having adopted other cost-saving measures, like hiring freezes and reductions in benefits and travel budgets. Read the article here.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Arts organizations forge collective

The NY Times reported on 11 diverse downtown arts organizations that have come together to forge a collective and active response to the grim economic climate. Calling themselves the Lower Manhattan Arts Leaders, they meet once a week to plan strategy and exchange ideas about helping government policy makers and grant-making foundations become aware of the vital ways in which small arts groups feed the life of a neighborhood.

Support for the arts, in their view, is not simply a matter of cultural philanthropy, it’s also a smart and necessary way to sustain a vibrant urban environment, to keep any city from becoming a patchwork of chain stores, steroidal gyms and name-brand coffee shops. It’s forward-thinking city planning.

“I think we need to pay more attention to the artistic and cultural work that goes on in every neighborhood in this city,” Ms. Marting said. “We are part of what makes New York unique. It’s amazing the mixture of experiences you can have in a night. We are in danger of losing a lot of the fabric of our neighborhoods as they become more expensive, and arts organizations are on the front line.”

It’s a dangerous place to be right now because as everyone involved in the arts has become painfully aware, the steep economic slide of the past months has radically altered the climate. Grant-giving foundations have watched their endowments plummet in tandem with the stock market and have tightened the purse strings accordingly. Corporate giving has become scarcer still, with some companies even shying away from taking the usual generous credit for money already given rather than be seen spending on philanthropy as they slash costs and set employees adrift.

You might expect that the sudden scarcity of arts dollars would bring out a ruthless streak in the administrators charged with keeping their organizations afloat in rough economic waters. It would be only natural for companies to fight hard and fend for themselves as the never exactly enormous pie of arts money shrinks to the size of a two-bite tart. And yet the members of the Lower Manhattan Arts Leaders reacted in just the opposite way, banding together to create a collective front to fight the tough times.

Nello McDaniel, who runs the consulting group Arts Action Research, said: “It makes a tremendous amount of sense and also says a lot about the strength of these organizations.” Mr. McDaniel, who has attended some of the new group’s meetings, added, “Not so long ago the mind-set was a sort of castle-island. If you were a theater or dance organization, you built a moat to protect your turf, and the thought of sharing or reaching out was antithetical.”

Kevin Cunningham, the executive artistic director of 3-Legged Dog/3LD Art & Technology Center, which presents theatrical and multimedia works, was among the first to sense the seriousness of the impact as the economy began to sour last summer. Mr. Cunningham had weathered catastrophe before; 3-Legged Dog was the only arts producing organization to have its headquarters destroyed in the Sept. 11 attacks. Read the remainder of the article here.

The Group has also collected their combined economic impact to people and businesses. Have feedback or your own ideas to share? Post here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Aspen Institute Taps Business for Social Change

BusinessWeek reported that at a time when the world's economy is in crisis, what could be more timely than a gathering of 160 innovative leaders from business, government, and the nonprofit sphere? The Aspen Institute, a public policy think tank, is hoping to set off some constructive frisson this week in Aspen, Colo., by bringing together representatives from its young global leadership programs around the world.

The three-day event is billed as a "reflective retreat." But based on the agenda, this is no peaceful monastic experience. The participants are taking on challenging topics. The programs include: "Leading in a Typhoon: Keeping Afloat in the U.S. Financial Crisis;" "Oops: Learning from Mistakes;" and "Biotech and Ethics: Where Do You Draw the Line?"

The conference will serve as the official launch of the institute's Aspen Global Leadership Network, a community of entrepreneurs who share a passion for tackling some of society's thorniest problems. Aspen's goal is to inspire participants to take on individual projects that put those values into action. "We say, 'You've been successful. Now what will you do that's significant and is going to change the direction of your country?' " says Peter Reiling, executive vice-president of the Aspen Institute.

A Call to Action
The gathering doesn't have the star-studded cast of the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, but it may end up producing more concrete results. The WEF is known for its public posturing by governmental leaders and movie stars. This Aspen event is at its essence a call to action. It worked in the past. Ever since the institute established the Henry Crown Fellowship program in 1997, it has been challenging young business and government leaders to become social-change agents. Reed Hastings, chief executive of Netflix (NFLX), was inspired after he became a Crown fellow in 1998 to get involved in public education and later served on California's Board of Education.

Among some of the high-profile presenters at the conference are Sonal Shah, the newly appointed head of the White House Office of Social Innovation; John Wood, founder of Room to Read and author of Leaving Microsoft to Change the World; David Rubenstein, co-founder and managing director of The Carlyle Group; and Walter Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute and former CEO of CNN, owned by Time Warner (TWX).

The Aspen Institute invited a handful of journalists to observe the event and publish dispatches. The setup is a little awkward. Some sessions are entirely off -limits. At others, quoting people directly is not allowed unless they give permission.

Still, the opportunity to give BusinessWeek readers a view into the minds of this group seems too valuable to pass up. So please check in often on this page for updates from the conference. And, of course, please weigh in with comments.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

NYS Cultural Data Project: New Tool for the Arts

The New York State Council on the Arts has joined to help launch the New York State Cultural Data Project (New York State CDP), a powerful management tool for arts and cultural organizations. This unique system will, at no cost, allow arts managers and artistic leaders to understand and analyze their organization’s financial performance through easy-to-run reports. By participating in the New York State CDP, you will be part of a successful and growing project that will allow researchers and the arts community as a whole to better articulate and provide evidence for the sector’s assets and needs, as well as its contributions to the state and the country. By completing the online form annually, you will also be able to generate reports to be submitted to grantmakers with the click of a button.

NYSCA believes that CDP could be of service to the field, particularly based on their experience with Cultural Blueprints. During the nine sessions held to date across the state, a common need for more robust research, advocacy and policy discussions with and about the cultural sector emerged. They believe that CDP has the potential to be a valuable tool in addressing these issues. Overall, they would like to engage the field in a conversation both about what those needs are and how CDP can help address them.

About CDP
An online system for reporting historical organizational and financial data, CDP will be offered at no charge to arts and cultural organizations (and entities/individuals with a fiscal conduit) across the state. Once an organization’s data has been entered into this 11 part, web-based form on an annual basis, the organization is able to:
  • Streamline grant applications to participating funders: Once data is entered into CDP, it doesn't need to be reentered when applying to the funders listed at the bottom of this email.
  • Generate one of 77 on-demand reports: Organizations can produce the data they have inputted for their own reporting and fundraising purposes, including presentations to board members, funders, staff and other audiences.
  • Ensure that your organization is included in major advocacy efforts: Aggregate data from CDP is available to all advocates, researchers and interested parties to help make the case for the arts in New York State.
Organizations can participate and benefit from the system regardless of whether they are a recipient of support from any of the participating funders. Additionally, there is a full-time Help Desk/hotline available to guide organizations in entering and understanding the data.

Get the most from the New York State CDP.
Attend a free demonstration and discussion.
Register for a demonstration and discussion by visiting and clicking on "Attend a Demonstration and Discussion."

June 15 - 19, 2009, New York City

June 15, 9:30 am
Mark Morris Dance Center

June 15, 4:30 pm
Gracie Mansion

Staten Island
June 16, 9:30 am
St. George Theatre

June 16, 2:00 pm
Billie Holiday Theatre

June 17, 9:30 am
Pregones Theater

June 17, 2:00 pm
Studio Museum in Harlem*

Long Island
June 18, 9:30 am
Huntington Arts Council

Long Island
June 18, 2:00 pm
East End Arts Council

June 19, 9:30 am
Flushing Town Hall

June 19, 2:00 pm
The New 42nd Street Studios

Monday, June 1, 2009

How to Stand Out On One More Day Aimed at Volunteers

The NY Times featured a story about how a handful of nonprofits, with help from the White House, are working to rebrand occasions like Martin Luther King’s Birthday and Sept. 11 as national days of volunteering. As the article relates:

Add one more to the calendar: Mandela Day, July 18, when people around the world will be urged to perform 67 minutes of community service to honor the 67 years (and counting) that Nelson Mandela has fought for racial and social equality. The holiday is the brainchild of the Nelson Mandela Foundation and 46664, the advocate group that bears Mr. Mandela’s prisoner number.

But how to sell the public on yet another working holiday? An ad campaign.

Gotham, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, is starting a campaign worth about $5 million, focused almost entirely in New York State, to introduce the holiday and break down the barriers that prevent people from volunteering.

“For 67 years Mandela has been fighting social injustice, and he’s even done it from a jail cell,” said Peter McGuinness, chairman of Gotham, which is based in New York. “We want to use his example to empower people to make a difference”

But Mr. Mandela’s face will cede the foreground to a more symbolic image for the ad campaign: hands. Everything about Mandela Day — including its icon and its television and Web ads — revolves around images of the hands of volunteers, meant to represent the impact an individual can make.

In a 30-second television spot that will begin showing on major networks on June 22, the hands of a volunteer in a soup kitchen fade into the hands of someone reading to a child, which fade into the hands of another person helping an elderly woman use a computer, and so on. Print ads will run in major newspapers and magazines, and outdoor ads will appear on bus shelters and phone kiosks.

Gotham has also produced a Web video in which actors like Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker and Sharon Stone show their hands to the camera. Visitors to the Mandela Day Web site will also be able to splice themselves into the video and share it with friends. Gotham executives say they hope that the video will go viral, spreading the message globally.

That site will also help people find their 67-minute volunteer opportunities. Through a partnership with, users can search for work based on cause and ZIP code. The site will include a heat map showing which areas are in greatest need that will “cool off” as people commit volunteer time. Read more here.