Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Stressed out? You're not alone.

Photo by Eamon Curry via flickr
Lack of time, money and proper staff get in the way of arts and cultural organizations achieving their top priority goals, TRG Arts found in its recent survey of the consulting firm’s eNews recipients, Twitter followers, and blog readers. By the numbers:

•    Too many activities, too little time (53%) – Priorities conflict and as one respondent aptly put it, “I can’t do anything right when I’m doing everything at the same time.”
•    Financial constraints (44%) of insufficient funding and not enough revenue are age-old issues that recent economic factors appear to have exacerbated.  Organizations of all sizes and genres say they cannot afford what they need.
•    People problems (45%) – Not enough or not the right staff, causing these three institutional shortcomings:
     o    Poor collaboration between staff peers and partners
     o    Ineffective leadership that imposes top-down pressures, provides too little or unclear direction and sets unrealistic expectations.
     o    Lack of skills/training staff need to be successful, especially in technology, campaigns, and database activities.

This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s worked in the arts industry for any amount of time—indeed, it confirms what our consulting team sees regularly. 

This may surprise you though: survey responses revealed a disconnect between the importance of patrons as a revenue stream and what arts practitioners do every day on the job.

Virtually every responder working in a broad range of large and small arts organizations said that patrons – what they do and how they invest – are a critical revenue source.  Yet in their workday priorities it is the short-term needs of the organization, not the lifetime needs of the patron, that take precedence. Survey respondents indicated following as top priorities:
•    Making budget (68%)
•    Deploying immediate campaigns (42%)
•    Managing expenses, working on new initiatives, or planning for the future (33%)

Of course, we could defend as patron-centric the top priorities related to budget and campaign priorities. Campaigns do support patron revenue and making budget is critical to maintaining patron programs. However, both are immediate “this season” issues.  The bigger finding is that only 18% of respondents mentioned understanding or knowing patrons better among top priorities. In the context of multiple, competing priorities, the goal of knowing patrons better inevitably gets set aside awaiting more time, money or staff that may or may not ever materialize. 

The survey corroborated TRG’s recent field observation that too often every priority is important and every initiative has short-term goals.  There is no clear focus on the patron as a sustaining asset. Serving audiences and increasing their loyalty is not only a mission-critical goal for most organizations; it’s also the surest way to measurably increase sustaining revenue.

Fact-informed, well-implemented patron initiatives build an organization's capacity to overcome obstacles and maintain financial health long-term.

To be sure, none of the priorities respondents cited are bad ones. However, when leaders pursue these goals in a way that pull time, money, and staff away from patron-centered activities, the results are toxic. Conversely, providing resources to activities that build capacity alleviates those “stretched-too-thin” problems like the ones cited in the survey—essentially multiplying outcomes from staff efforts.

So where to start? What should and should not be on your to-do list? TRG CEO Rick Lester and President Jill Robinson will discussed how the survey points to prescriptive actions every organization should take in our webinar, Make Time to Make Money, on Wednesday, February 27. If you missed it, you can watch it here.

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