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June 20, 2019 40 Things

40 Things I Know About ... Running an arts nonprofit

Juliet Feibel

To celebrate the nonprofit’s 40th anniversary, Arts Worcester Executive Director Juliet Feibel is writing four business advice columns in 2019. Her first one on entrepreneurial artists appeared in the March 18 WBJ and can be found here.

30) Nonprofit doesn’t mean no profit. Revenues should always exceed expenses, no matter how worthy your mission or how great the programming.

29) Budget conservatively. Success in a single year sometimes depends on the quality of art, which is hard to determine for a spreadsheet. Triumphs of the previous year are not necessarily repeatable, and that another 2008 might be around the corner.

28) Be transparent. The last three years of our financial statements, our Form 990, and our strategic plan are all available on our website. When people understand how your organization operates, they can trust it and invest in it.

27) Develop and thank your brain trust. These are the people you turn to when you need to know how to build a facility, develop a planned giving society, or improve your HR policies. Although advice doesn’t come with a dollar sign attached, recognize your experts for the important donors they are.

26) You cannot say “Thank you” enough. Every nonprofit depends on gifts and donor relations, but the arts are more a social industry than most. The smallest gift deserves the same enthusiastic “Thank you” as the largest gift, and no one is ever tired of being thanked.

25) Don’t be afraid to spend money to make money. Our exhibition cards are exquisitely designed and printed, and they don’t come cheap. But they are a tangible indicator of the quality of our artists and exhibitions. Some donors give solely in order to continue receiving them.

24) You don’t go into arts administration to make a quick million, but arts nonprofits can offer employees a work environment of unmatched joy and flexibility. Those are important benefits.

23) Respect and love your city’s journalists. Give them a scoop if you can. Be succinct and quotable. Understand the burdens under which they operate.

22) Pursue every opportunity you can with the Massachusetts Cultural Council. It has limited funds to disperse, but endless supplies of knowledge, support, and guidance. Funding from them is valuable beyond the dollars they give. Advocate for them with your state legislators.

21) Keep an eye on your mission and your strategic plan. Doing so will save you and your board from chasing funds for programs costing you more than they bring in, and keep you from being distracted by this year’s shiny new thing. Know what you do well, why it’s necessary, and do that.

For the next column in Feibel’s series on the creative economy, check out the Sept. 16 edition of WBJ.

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