It's been almost two years since my last post. I've done a lot of learning, thinking, reflecting, reading and experiencing in those two years. I'll share just a little of that today.
Earned revenue is one way non-profits make money by providing a program or service in exchange for fees (in arts orgs, selling tickets is an example). But there are downsides to having too much earned revenue on your balance sheet. Higher earned income means that there are more people who value concerts than the overall mission. Let's say a concert ticket averages $45 and a donation averages $150. Meanwhile a concert hall has a maximum capacity but a bank account doesn't...wouldn't you be happier to see more people donating? Donation capacity is unlimited, seat capacity is not. This is a longer topic, and you'll find plenty of writing on earned vs. contributed income out there.
Having a lean staff is always helpful when telling funders that their money is going more to programs than to administrative costs. Keeping general operating expenses such as marketing and fundraising low is considered healthy and responsible. But Dan Pallotta has it right when he says, "the things we've been taught to think about giving, and charity and about the non-profit sector are actually undermining the causes we love." We are taught that working in a non-profit means working long days for less pay and with fewer resources than our counterparts in the corporate sector. This results in less personal fulfillment outside of work because most of the employee's time is spent at the office, economic insecurity for many non-profit workers, and a feeling of being hand-tied when trying to do more with less. When we think that a non-profit's mission is vitally important, but we don't invest in the administration of the organization to achieve it, we set up a cognitive disconnect. So staff up folks.
Risk is a funny thing. Many non-profit boards err on the conservative side when it comes to spending and risk. Most non-profit staff are taught not to rock the boat. And many non-profit leaders sit in the in-between of true dreaming and respecting the mores of non-profit culture.
But all is not lost. Non-profit staff, leaders and boards can take a little bit of risk and see results. One example - at The Washington Chorus, with no extra money or staff, we created a new weekend choral festival for DC Public School kids. We hoped money would come, and it did but not until afterwards. In year two of the program, more money came. Plans are underway for a third year of the program!
Keep risking, keep dreaming, keep pushing. After all, art should push us forward.