Michael Kaiser’s Ten Rules to Turn Around an Organization
1. There has to be a leader. In times of crisis everybody has a solution. But you need one leader to lead the charge.
2. The leader must have a plan. Kaiser doesn’t believe working harder is going to do it. “I ask them, ‘You were working hard at marketing before, right?’ Working harder is not enough.
3. You can’t save your way to health. You don’t get healthy by getting smaller, by doing less. He says, “My staff will tell you I squeeze every nickel til the buffalo poops, but that’s behind the scenes.”
4. Focus on today and tomorrow not yesterday. There’s no time for blame. When things are bad many people sit around talking about where it went wrong. That’s not healthy.
5. Extend your planning calendar. You have to plan your art. Most organizations plan their art too close to event. You need to plan four and five years out. First, you can make art better if you take more time. Second, you can do a better job fundraising. “I listen to the funder, find out what do they like to fund. I have menu of five years of projects, so I can choose best event for funder.” Finally, “It helps me to educate my audience to want to see something that is not so accessible. I’m excited about projects that are transformational. But this requires some education of the audience. And with time, you can educate in advance. Creativity has been beaten out of so many arts organizations. Planning ambitious work four years out, creating big vision is what’s needed.”
6. Marketing is more than brochures and email blasts. There are two cateogories, programmatic marketing to sell tickets and institutional marketing to get people excited about the institution as a whole. Kaiser gave a number of examples of institutional marketing including getting the Alvin Ailey Dance onto the Phil Donahue show, into the Clinton inaugural (as I recall), and having them do a Central Park performance.
7. There has to be one spokesperson for the organization, and the message must be positive. Often there are a lot of people in the organization talking about financial problems and not about what the organization is doing. There are many more funders that will fund organizations that are healthy than want to fund those in crisis.
8. “If you are in trouble, you don’t have time to focus on the $20 giver. I think the $20 gift is important, but you’ll run out of time chasing it if you’re in trouble. On the other hand, you also can’t be unrealistic and think you’re going to get one big gift.”
9. The board has to be willing to restructure itself. An organization goes through life cycle, and a board goes through life cycle too. The board that is necessary to launch an organization acts like staff. At Ailey, they sewed costumes and did bookkeeping. But that’s not the board that’s needed decades later.
10. You have to have the discipline to do the other 9 things all the time, continuously. Always evaluating the board, always planning.
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