Embedded Professional Development

In the work done by Helicon Collaborative this spring for NW area funders and for GIA’s summer Reader, Holly Sidford reported that grantees wanted arts funders to provide leadership. One of the areas where leadership is needed most, in my opinion, is in management evaluation and development for grantees. As I wrote last week, we are a field with no certification or degree requirements for management. In addition, the primary attention of most grantmakers is on the artistic product not on an organization’s administrative prowess.

However, the nonprofit arts sector, working under the current status quo of the 501(c)(3) business model, is in need to some help here. Certainly the organizations at the top of the food chain, operated by experienced, life-long managers with equally experienced board members, are most likely doing fine. But, so many organizations, under capitalized and under staffed, are in need of management evaluation and staff and board training.

There are several great examples of funders being involved in professional development efforts. The National Endowment for the Arts has systematically funded service organizations that provide everything from conferences to peer advisory networks. The Pew Charitable Trust supports the Philadelphia Cultural Management Initiative. I received a notice recently from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation about their 2009-2010 Board Leadership Training Series, which they do in conjunction with the Nonprofit Center at La Salle University’s School of Business.

In St. Paul, the Bush Foundation under Nancy Fushan’s leadership created a cohort of grantees over ten years ago under the auspices of the Regional Arts Development Program (RADP). The program is specifically for mid-sized organizations from Minnesota and the Dakotas. It is multi-year and many organizations have been involved for over eight years. Three years ago, a peer-networking project was created for these grantees to learn from one another. Issues from insurance to marketing and development have been on the agenda. It’s not required of grantees, but everyone participates. It is a unique model for mentorship and the creation of “community” for managers and staffs.

Embedded professional development, as I see it, goes one step further. In addition to volunteer programs like RADP’s peer network or the board series offered by Dodge, grantmakers may take a more aggressive role with organizations to evaluate management and implement required professional development steps to train staff and boards. Is this the role of the funder? I’m the first one to say that funders should be responsive and not prescriptive with grantees. But, I agree with Michael Kaiser’s claim that we spend too few resources to assure the competency of management and the training of boards and staff. We need more serious training by experienced administrators. We need mentorship programs within communities where seasoned managers assist novice colleagues. One option is to support service organizations already in existence. Regardless of the mechanism, continuity and consistency of training opportunities offering multiple levels of proficiency would go a long way. And, the closer to home they are offered, the better.