Saturday, March 29, 2014

Term limits: Worth it or worthless?

Hey there,

So in a number of various situations, term limits is one of those given circumstances to any nonprofit governance situation, particularly arts nonprofits. But for the purpose of this particular post, I am referring to term limits regarding nonprofit board governance, not for-profit, and not elected government officials, which isn't to say that the conversation isn't at least related.

And to answer my own question before you've even read the rest of this blog, I would say it depends. That being said, I put the question out there and received some replies I wanted to share from colleagues.

Here's a reply I received on Twitter from Jess Solomon (thank you!!):
And if you'd like to see the the responses my inquiry received on Facebook, well, check out the post here:

So as not to rely solely on anecdote and personal experience, although all those who replied are professionals whose input I certainly appreciate, respect, and recommend, I Google'ed "nonprofit governance term limits" and thought I'd highlight excerpts from some of the results on the first several pages.

From On Board For Term Limits, The NonProfit Times, 10/1/11:
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has endorsed term limits, according to Bruce Hopkins, a partner in the Kansas City, Kan., law firm of Polsinelli Shalton Flanigan Suelthaus. “It’s certainly recommended in many quarters, but there’s ongoing debate whether it’s appropriate or not. Limits can force new blood on a board, which can be a good thing but sometimes organizations lose people who are competent, who can serve and want to serve, but can’t. There’s a valid debate on both sides of the issue,” Hopkins said.
From Five Reasons Board Leaders Should Have Term Limits, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, 1/18/11, specifically having to do with a Board Chair's term limit:
Term limits provide a painless way for people who aren’t doing a good job to retire gracefully and automatically. Admittedly, this is a pragmatic argument—and the downside is that a chair who is doing a fantastic job may get forced out early. But I’ve never heard a real-life complaint about term limits. And I’ve heard many complaints about their absence. 
And from Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice, Independent Sector, regarding the core concepts of "Principle 17: Board Member Term Limits":
  • Term limits provide natural turnover on the board. 
  • Staggered term limits prevent the entire board from changing at the same time, providing a way to preserve institutional memory. 
  • Term limits should be enforced in a systematic manner.
One quote from Alyson Ball, President of BoardWorks, LLC, from Term Limits - Critical to Your Nonprofit Board's Success:
Term limits are critical to a board's health because they prevent a single individual or group from monopolizing the spirit of the organization. They ensure that new ideas and approaches are explored - something that's essential to the success of every organization. Everyone is forced off the board eventually. If your board doesn't have term limits, I recommend you start thinking about them now.
And in conversations I've had, the main argument against term limits seems to be worry about loosing great board members, particularly regarding institutional knowledge. But that seems to be more a matter of engagement rather than governance.

But it's all related, because if you don't have a robust process for recruiting and onboarding new board members, of course one would be worried about loosing current ones.

Regarding the institutional knowledge, that not only seems to be more about how new members are onboarded, but also resides largely in the domain of the staff, more so than the board members, who are on the ground working Monday through Friday, 9 to 5, and often times more.

But again, the best answer is "It depends", because this is not a one-size-fits-all kind of question. With that being said, what is your own experience, and where along the spectrum of "Worth it" to "Worthless" would you say term limits lie for you?

- JR

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Artists and members and dues, oh my!!

Hey there,

So after procrastinating for a bit, I finally renewed my Theatre Communications Group membership today. I had an individual membership, which had lapsed, and which you can find more information here.

And how much was it? $35.

Part of my impetus to renew was personal, as theatre artist in general. But part of it had to do with my role as a Grant Manager at the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, handling the individual fellowships for the performing arts and literary arts. And so in addition to wanting to take advantage of resources for myself, but I also want to be a resource for the individual artists who will apply and eventually be awarded.

So that means staying involved and informed in the artistic disciplines I and the fellows are trained and work in.

And that took me to sign up for an individual membership with Dance/USA. Again, just as much for myself, as I received my B.A. in Dance from the University of Maryland.

Membership due for a year? $100. But as the membership year begins in July, the due which is..."due" when you sign-up is prorated quarterly, so it only cost me $50.

And in case you were wondering, yes, I am a bit of a triple threat. I sing with Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, and it was actually the performing art I started out with soonest. I was a Washington National Cathedral chorister, singing soprano in 5th grade.

And so of all the music membership organizations that are out there, it seemed to make the most sense to sign up for an individual membership with Chorus America.

To be a singer member? $20.

In case you would like to see what other service organizations there are, if you're involved in the performing arts, check out the Performing Arts Alliance Member Organizations.

And last, but definitely not least, I updated my Fractured Atlas membership. And while the Individual rate is definitely affordable, at $9.50 a month, if you don't need to take advantage of their fiscal sponsorship or insurance, the community level membership provides you all the other benefits of the individual one, and for free!!

Sooo...all my membership dues at the end of the night? $105.

And let's say I did take advantage of the full individual ones for Fractured Atlas and Chorus America, as well as signed up at the beginning of the year for Dance/USA? That would still only be, let's see... $95 (CA) + $100 (DUSA) + $95 (FA) + $35 (TCG) = $325 total. Less than $1 a day.

Me with contact staff
Anyway, I say all this to suggest that no matter how busy working arts professionals get, that they maintain connected, informed, etc. with their discipline's service organization(s), whether it's local, regional, or national. Make the time, budget the money.

Side note: I'm going to see if, as an added benefit to being awarded our fellowship grant, we (at the local arts agency level) can actually take care of the fees for each artist's respective service organization and offer them a membership for the duration of the grant cycle.

We shall see.

Anyway, that's it. Just thought I'd share. Anyone have thoughts to share? Other tips for other artists? Challenges and/or solutions to taking advantage or even just finding resources like these?

Any questions?

Please leave a comment,


Monday, March 17, 2014

A birthday gift, for SpeakeasyDC

Hey there,

As I write this, it is the eve of my 33rd birthday. I don't normally want much of anything, during such times. Pretty content, in general.

Nevertheless, I thought I would ask for people to help support an organization whose work I am involved with, SpeakeasyDC.

And I've never done something like this before, so it's a bit of an experiment.

Just thought I'd put it out there, see if anyone else, board member (which I am) or not, have used non-programatic events other than your usual end-of-year campaign, to raise funds for an organization.

Let me know in the comments,


Monday, March 03, 2014

Non-profit DOESN'T equal "NO"-profit

Hey there,

So this post was inspired by some comments that have already been left at the Burning Man blog, regarding the post Burning Man Transitions to Non-Profit Organization. The post starts off:
BIG NEWS! It’s been a long time coming: we’re excited to announce that Burning Man achieved an historic milestone in January with the successful transition of the 24-year-old organization to a non-profit organization! The process has taken nearly three years, and now more than ever we’re positioned to support the global cultivation of art and community based on the 10 Principles.
I do recommend reading the rest. But one of the comments was:
...all of the for-profit stuff will continue to be for-profit.. calling burning man non-profit is sort of disingenuous
And another was this:
So burning man actually continuing as a for profit..and will remain for-profit in the foreseeable future.. it’s just owned by a non-profit
Now I will immediately say that I may be attributing information from other similar conversations working the mission driven arts world, but the comments seem to come from a perception the "non-profit" means "no-profit", or the idea that a non-profit organization isn't allowed to make ANY profit.

I'm going to refer to Wikipedia's definition of nonprofit organization, which starts of:
A nonprofit an organization that uses surplus revenues to achieve its goals rather than distributing them as profit or dividends.

So no, the revenue mechanics of Burning Man aren't going to change drastically, if at all. Becoming a non-profit simply dictates what the organization is legally allowed to do with excess revenue, which is a pretty big deal. And, to my understanding, part of the reason for this transition came because some members in the community were concerned that there were people who were unscrupulously profiting from the endeavors.

Transitioning to a non-profit was a way to be publicly and legally accountable for how the finances of the organization were managed. Yes, the blog does mention that the LLC will continue to operate the event itself, but the non-profit now has oversight responsibility.

Not only that, as board members of the non-profit, those individuals are fiscally and legally responsible for anything that happens, for better or for worse. Which, for me, is just another indicator of how much those people are dedicated to and invested in the work they obviously love to do, for the community.

So I'll stop beating a dead horse. I will say that the very confusion regarding what being a non-profit means is why you will sometimes hear folks refer to them as "not-for-profit".

Anyway, this post might be a gross oversimplification of the subject. But I just wanted to make sure that the misperception that a non-profit isn't allowed to make any profit was addressed. Non-profit organizations are ABSOLUTELY allowed to make a profit. Any profit must then be spent in a way which moves the mission of the organization forward, rather than any individuals profiting directly.

Any questions or additional thoughts? Leave' em in the comments,


Sunday, March 02, 2014

Twighlights from the Black Theatre Symposium

Hey there,

So yesterday was the 1st Black Theatre Symposium at UMD's Clarice Smith Preforming Arts Center. Here's part of the description:
How does Black theatre fit into the framework of our nation’s history and culture? Who are the dominant voices in Black theatre today? What can we expect from Black theatre in the 21st century? 
This symposium will challenge assumptions about the boundaries of race and allow a diverse collective of students, scholars and professionals to engage in a spirited dialogue about the past, present and future of Black theatre.
The event was co-presented by UMD's School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies & the African Continuum Theatre Company (ACTC). Here's a clip of ACTC's Producing Artistic Director Thembi Duncan at the Symposium's welcome:

It was a really great day of dialogue, knowledge sharing, and networking. So I wanted to share some of Twitter highlights from the hundreds of tweets which paralleled the discussions happening in real life. And these are not necessarily the best, and are not in any particular order.

For more of the tweets from the day, I've Storify'ed a more (but not completely) comprehensive selection here, Tweets from the 1st Black Theatre Symposium.

Just some other interesting links which popped up by Google'ing "Black Theatre":
So I'm very excited!! Still processing a lot of yesterday, especially as someone of mixed race (my dad's Black and my mom's Filipino). And very much looking forward to continuing the conversation and next year's Symposium.

Have any thoughts, regardless of whether you are black or not, involved in theatre or not? Please share in the comments below,

JR aka Nexus

P.S. If you are on Twitter, +Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center created a Twitter list, Black Theatre Symposium.