Building trust

by Jini Stolk

I’ve had many fascinating conversations since my recent post on self-interest as a largely unacknowledged factor in successful collaborative initiatives. This led me to think about another essential component of collaborations that work: trust. Because it was part of our name, identity, values and process at Creative Trust, trust was much discussed during the project’s development and continued to be an active theme in the office and around the board table.

I wanted to share my response to a thought-provoking question from our colleague Melody Mui who is now a Programme Officer at the Hong Kong Art Centre – where she is, I trust, extending our program’s values and processes to an arts community in the midst of exciting but challenging change.

Melody wanted to know what the reaction of the stakeholders was, when we were doing the feasibility study, to the idea of sharing and trusting one another; and whether I had any advice regarding inspiring trust and helping one another to collaborate for capacity programs of the future?

These are great questions, because I’ve come to understand that you can’t assume that mutual trust and cooperation will be part of every collaborative project. I think we had something very special at Creative Trust, and here are some of the factors – attitudes, approaches, expectations and values – that, I believe, fostered trust.

  • Many Creative Trust companies had been involved with Arts4Change and had already worked with George Thorn and Nello McDaniel from Arts Action Research individually and in group sessions, where we talked about the really hard topics: boards, finances, attendance, tensions within our companies, and stress. We had become comfortable with openly sharing our most pressing problems.
  • We had had the experience of developing a successful collective fundraising campaign, which raised almost $1.4 million for 23 companies ranging widely in size and type. We knew that collaboration could work.
  • Creative Trust was initiated and led from within the community. The founding steering committee (myself, Claire Hopkinson, Mallory Gilbert, Joan Bosworth and Jane Marsland) were arts managers who had a great deal of experience working on community advocacy, marketing and other initiatives.
  • We offered hope for real change. We asked people to work hard, but they knew they would be assisted, supported and rewarded when they were successful.
  • The program was structured around trust and sharing – with Creative Trust, with each other, and within each company. We encouraged and facilitated open and honest conversation.
  • Our values – based on our belief that the artistic vision is at the heart of each organization, and that each company has its own unique path to artistic vitality and organizational health – were defined early and remained the cornerstone of our work.
  • Creative Trust was both a funder and a part of the community (for which we were sometimes criticized.) We deeply understood the challenges of leading an arts organization, and worked hard to help people succeed.

There were no doubt other factors – including luck, timing, good will, and a uniquely open and supportive board of directors – that helped foster trust and success, but these stand out as possible guides and inspiration to other collaborators now and in future.



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So you think you know about dance?

by Jini Stolk

I’ve always understood dance as a human instinct, a way to express happiness, sexuality or other emotions through movement. When you add in the dancer’s gifts of musicality, grace, strength, balance, speed and courage – what’s not to like?

A new survey – part of Dance Across Canada, a major research project funded by the Canada Council with the Ontario Arts Council – reaffirms that Canadians love to dance, both professionally and for the pure joy of it. Over 8,100 responders from across the country participate in 190 forms of dance; the large majority are involved in contemporary/modern or ballroom/social dance, although European traditional, folk and ballet are well represented. Most people dance with a group or take classes – dance is a social activity – and respondents describe a lifelong involvement in dance (an average of 23.9 years among dance professionals and 16.9 among leisure participants.) Non-professionals who took the survey report devoting 6.5 hours a week to dance. That’s a lot, considering that Health Canada recommends that adults get 2.5 hours of weekly aerobic activity.

Dancing is fun. Enjoyment is at the top of the list of reasons for leisure dancing; professionals rank artistic expression just a bit higher. People dance because it provides social connections, joy and passion, mental and physical well-being and stimulation, and self-expression. People who participate and feel connected to the world of dance tend to go to live performances (85% of dance professionals attend dance shows – I wonder what the other 15% are doing! – as do 70% of leisure dancers.)

The survey becomes more interesting for me when it drills down into the lives of professional dancers, who report earning income from dance for an average of 11.7 years, following 9.5 years of training. The average income in the professional dance field is $11,207; teachers earn the most ($14,170), dancers earn the least ($6,715). Obviously, dance professionals supplement their dance income with other employment.

This is why post-professional retraining is so vital to the field, and why an organization like the Dancer Transition Resource Centre is so important. I’m happy to say I know many dancers who are flourishing, post-performance, in medical, computer programming, design and arts administration/fundraising careers, among others.

I would call the #YesIdance survey a small first step in understanding this moving and physically inspiring art form.

In the meantime, those of us who love dance are looking forward to

  • Hub14’s amazing 10th anniversary, being celebrated with a special photo exhibition April 24 – 26. Hub14 is a place for dance/arts incubation, research, creation and performance that is 100% self-sustaining and volunteer-driven, and an inspirational example of entrepreneurial and collaborative community success.
  • The celebrated Eifman Ballet’s return to Toronto on April 23, 24 and 25th at the Sony Centre
  • InDANCE’s premiere of The Book of Sandalwood, their latest full-length work and first Bharatanatyam creation since 2012, on May 16 at the Al Green Theatre in Toronto
  • Welcoming Fall for Dance North, an annual dance festival New Yorkers have been enjoying for more than a decade, to the Sony Centre, hopefully this October. Fall for Dance is the ideal concept for reinvigorating Toronto’s enthusiasm for dance with its affordable ticket prices and eclectic international programming.
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Many paths to raising funds

by Jini Stolk

More and more people have been asking for advice on fundraising. I don’t mind. I know that a big fundraising goal can feel as scary as crossing a crocodile-infested estuary. But in the interest of making it less terrifying than zip lining across a 200-foot gorge, here are a few helpful ideas:

Research: The more you know about your prospect’s interests and history of giving, the more likely you are to make a successful ask. Imagine Canada’s Grant Connect is probably the most accurate and comprehensive funding research tool in Canada. I also like Big Online Canada which has a new way of linking foundation board members to their networks and connections.

Set goals: Define exactly what you’re trying to achieve. This interesting piece suggests that your specific goals might include raising awareness, acquiring new recurring donors, increasing the size of your average annual gift, or increasing the number of gifts through online or other channels. Each requires specific strategies and tactics.

Plan: Classy puts out a free Campaign Planning Kit that is quite good; I’m going to use it with a collaborative fundraising project I’m working on.

Increase your prospect list: Enlist your current donors in spreading the word about your campaign by asking them to refer you to others who might be interested, reminding them, telling them why it matters, following up fast, and thanking them.

Thank donors the way they want to be thanked: Jenna Quant of Causeview has gone through a lot of donor surveys to find out what donors like best, and it isn’t publishing their names or giving them token gifts. They really like and appreciate donor recognition events. As I’ve always said: people love parties.


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Awesome! We’re mobile-friendly

by Jini Stolk

Since I’m not part of the SEO community I missed the shock waves that swept through it when Google announced that their mobile search rules are being rejigged to favour websites compatible with mobile devices. What this means to the arts world is that we’re going to see a drop in site visits, sales and donations if our websites aren’t mobile-friendly, pronto. That IS shocking.

It seems that mobile web searches eclipsed desktop traffic for the first time last year, and smartphone users like easy to find sites and phone-friendly pages. If they’re looking for ticket information they’re going to get frustrated, and frustrated ticket buyers aren’t likely to become donors.

Luckily there’s an easy to use, downright fun online Mobile-Friendly Test. I was tremendously pleased to see that Creative Trust’s site passed with flying colours. Thank you Blair Francey and Shana Hillman for steering me in the right direction before I knew it was right.

While I was at it I checked a number of other Toronto arts sites – and sorry to say, but we didn’t all pass. (The large majority of Canadian charity websites are not mobile-friendly according to the State of the Canadian Web Nation Survey.)

The Test provides feedback on any aspects of your site that make it mobile- unfriendly, and tips on how to make it better.

Considering that phone donations are growing fast in the UK and Canada, we’d better get cracking on this.


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Collaboration techniques

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by Jini Stolk

My coffee shop has a lot of artists. I like observing as they discuss a screenplay, script, or production. Ideas are bounced from one person to another; notes are made; concepts are sketched out; and once the last latte is finished, everyone has a better sense of what the final product will be, and a clear idea of next steps and their own to-do list.

I’m still wondering whether collaboration is a skill or instinct but Tonya Surman adds something important to the discussion in this piece about a seldom discussed truth: that successful collaborations are always founded, at least partially, on self-interest. (With Creative Trust, the founding steering committee was crystal clear about potential benefits to the community, but we were also aware that each of our companies would benefit in ways that wouldn’t be possible without a collaborative approach.)

It’s important to understand what motivates us as people and what leads others to act, when we’re working to shift culture and systems.

Here’s a piece on A Collaboration Workbook: How Six Brooklyn cultural Institutions Developed a Capacity to Diagnose Community Need and Respond with Collaborative Programs, prepared by Alan Brown, Karen Tingley and John Shibley for Heart of Brooklyn. “Over the two-year period from 2011 to 2013, the six Heart of Brooklyn (HOB) cultural institutions (Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Public Library, Prospect Park Alliance and Prospect Park Zoo) designed, pilot tested, and evaluated a process for conceiving and implementing collaborative programs that address community needs.” The workbook “distills what was learned, in hopes of advancing the field’s understanding of how cultural institutions that share the same community can find common ground and build an organic and robust approach to collaboration.”

Approaches developed during the project include:

  • Organizing for collaboration, and the question of leadership;
  • A public value audit to find areas of common ground regarding stakeholders and programmatic resources between multiple organizations;
  • Community research that allow partners to learn directly from specific interest groups in the community;
  • Idea generation, the process of synthesizing data and proposing creative solutions to problems, and then prioritizing those ideas;
  • Moving potential collaborative ideas through a “product development funnel,” resulting in better ideas to which all of the collaborating organizations are more committed.

The report also discusses the pros and cons of having a central “backbone organization” to support collaboration (e.g., Heart of Brooklyn), versus distributing responsibility for collaboration across the partner organizations.  (All work products are described in the workbook appendix, and may be downloaded from the BSCN website).

It’s definitely a “big organization” approach to collaboration, not much like my coffee shop clusters who seem to have a more practical, get-it-done attitude.

Obviously we should all remember that among the types of people who get on everyone’s nerves in nonprofit organizations are “people who suck at being team players. They’re all like “Meh, that’s not in my work plan” or like “sorry, I can’t help you clean up after our organization’s giant event because I made other plans.” We’re warned, ominously, that “A day will come when you think you are safe and happy, and your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth. And you will know the debt is paid.” (one of “10 Game of Thrones quotes you can use at work”).

And yet…I just heard one of Canada’s most beloved and respected playwrights say, when asked about collective projects, “We’re all humans and we want what we want.”

I guess this brings us back to Tonya’s point about self-interest: unless people see it and feel it, collaboration doesn’t really work all that well (perhaps not even after a public value audit has been conducted.)


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On diversity

by Jini Stolk

We all read Joseph Recinos’ Where are the Minority Voices in Theatre. I know we did.

Here are some thoughts I think are relevant:

  1. Vu Le finds recent stats on diversity in nonprofit leadership in the States (only 8% of board members are people of color; nearly a third of nonprofit boards don’t have a single board member of color; only 7% of CEO/EDs are people of color; only 18% of nonprofit staff are people of color; only 5% of philanthropic orgs are led by people of color) to be alarming. He argues, with all his normal passion and persuasiveness, that the solution is not to increase the demand for diverse leaders, but to increase the supply. He says we should be increasing funding of communities-of-color led nonprofits; supporting pipeline programs bringing leaders of color into the field; funding leadership programs specifically targeting leaders of color; supporting up-and-coming leaders of color; changing hiring policies and practices; and changing inequitable nonprofit dynamics, especially funding dynamics.
  2. In England, a debate on Class, Race, and Classical Music (although I would argue that this discussion should not be limited to the classical music field) tackled the idea of who classical music is for, why we think it’s important for the whole of society to have access to it, and what the institutions of music education and musical excellence can do to become part of people’s lives who wouldn’t otherwise have access or opportunity to be involved. According to Tom Service in The Guardian, “the debate felt to me like the start of a big and essential discussion…, cutting to the core of the values and motivations of music education in general, and throwing up challenging questions for the future.”
  3. Alan Brown, in this short piece, wonders why so few artists are to be found at national (mostly U.S. and U.K.) arts conferences, and argues that bringing artists into the center of discourse on critical issues facing the sector is one of the few hopes we have for solving real problems. “Their voice is sorely missing in the breakout sessions and hallway conversations that shape the field. What is the point of talking about topics like audience growth and creative health without artistic decision-makers in the conversation? Too many panel discussions are one-sided debates — an endless loop of talking about change without change agents in the room.”


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It’s easy bein’ green

by Jini Stolk

As we prepare for Earth Day (April 22, coming up soon), I thought we could start with something simple – something we can all tackle without special expertise or additional expense.

This piece by Leanne Hitchcock for Hilborn, talks about how to organize an environmentally friendly event – from choosing a city with a good transportation system (gosh, I hope Toronto still qualifies), to providing public transportation passes (for performers, volunteers, guests?), using email to send materials, and promoting the event using social media.

Use recycled paper when you can (Step Forward Paper made from recycled wheat waste, gave a presentation at CSI last year); and recycled ink. Reuse materials on site, reuse linens and choose centerpieces that are sustainable, such as plants. Use technology like TIFF’s event app for schedules and tickets. Provide recycling bins for bottles and paper; better yet eliminate bottled water entirely. Choose a responsible caterer who uses locally sourced food; donate your leftovers to an organization like Second Harvest. Don’t (just) provide a map to the closest parking lot; let people know about the nearest transit stop.

I bet you’re already doing 75% or more of these things. Make Kermit the Frog proud: do them all.

Broadway Green Alliance (BGA) has teamed up with The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to offer advice on eco-intelligent products and practices for theatres across the(ir) country…and we, in this country, are welcome to make use of it.

And don’t forget that Toronto-based organizations may be eligible for the Sustainable Energy Fund Financing program for Non-Profits. Cut-and-paste project information onto this simple, informal “Intent to Apply” form and program staff will respond quickly with feedback.

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Words from on high

by Jini Stolk,

Pope Francis – the very definition of an impeccable source – has been laying down some home truths about weaknesses and shortcomings within the Vatican bureaucracy, which can affect “any administrative organization (or) community …and can strike at both the individual and the corporate level.”

Here are some leadership failures to avoid (or else…?):

Losing our sense of mission (described by the Pope as “having “spiritual Alzheimer’s” or “existential schizophrenia,”) i.e. depending on the here and now, on our own passions and whims at the expense of the higher vision, or limiting ourselves to bureaucratic work and losing contact with reality and concrete people.

Committing the “terrorism of gossip,” a sickness of cowardly people who, not having the courage to speak directly, talk behind people’s backs. Ouch.

Being indifferent to others, “When, out of jealousy or cunning, one finds joy in seeing another fall rather than helping him up and encouraging him.”

Having a “funereal face,” when, in truth, “theatrical severity” and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and insecurity.

Forming “closed circles” that seek to be stronger than the whole, thus threatening the harmony of and harming the community.

Also feeling immortal, immune or indispensable; and working too hard: “Rest for those who have done their work is necessary, good and should be taken seriously.”

I’m off to Mexico for a week; hoping for your blessing.

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Paying artists

by Jini Stolk

My heart breaks every time I hear a talented artist say they’re not going to pay themselves in order to get their show on stage. I know: that means I spend a lot of time broken hearted, but I think it’s a problem we should be talking about more often.

Without question, the world of the artist is changing. The cultural industries in particular (book and magazine publishing, sound recording, TV and film production) are in the midst of a transformation whose end point no one seems able to predict. It makes my efforts on the Association of Canadian Publishers’ Copyright Committee many years ago seem laughable. Personally, I do not know how musicians can continue creating music in our world of free downloads, nor how writers will be paid for their work.

Even the Toronto Public Library – either bowing to the inevitable, or embracing today’s distribution models – offers free downloads of ebooks, audio books, magazines, videos and music. My friends love the ease and accessibility: I worry about whether/how much the artists are being paid.

Elizabeth Renzetti in the Globe and Mail worries about it too: “If the artists starve, we’ll all go hungry.” Could it be true that Pharrell Williams has made just $25,000 in royalties from Happy’s 43 million downloads? Or that a Toronto songwriter whose song had 260,000 downloads and made it to No. 3 on the Billboard chart hasn’t gotten a penny in royalties? Although Pharrell looked like he was doing pretty well when I saw him at the Oscars, I doubt most Canadian songwriters are prospering quite as much.

Darren O’Donnell started a schitt-storm on Facebook and Q, arguing (what might be true to a certain extent) that being an artist involves more email answering these days than creative breakthroughs. Of course other professions (arts management being one I can think of) offer creative opportunities, deep satisfactions, and the possibility of having an impact on the world– but we’re not, for all that, creating lasting expressions of the highest achievements of the human soul.

It’s unfair that we now expect all artists to be entrepreneurs (there’s an entire journal devoted to Entrepreneurship and the Arts). There are many compelling artists whose work we don’t want to lose but who just don’t have those skills.

Of course, the arts is not the only non-profit sector which rewards its most talented and committed workers with lousy compensation, we’re reminded by Nonprofit with Balls’ Vu Le, who says that “We’ve developed some no good, very bad habits.”

But as the Arts Advocate’s New Year poll of readers revealed, a large number of cultural workers believe that paying artists adequate fees, and  amending the Copyright Act to better protect creators are crucial issues going forward.

This brilliant essay by William Deresiewicz describes the evolution of humankind’s concept of “the artist” from hard-working artisan to solitary genius to credentialed professional to the emergence of the artist/entrepreneur. I read it with huge appreciation for the truth of his insights – until the last sentence, which made me cry.


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Fundraising tips

by Jini Stolk

It’s always interesting to look at the stats. According to Statistics Canada and the team at Hilborn the vast majority of Canadians (82%) made financial donations to a charitable or nonprofit organization in 2013. And, between 2010 and 2013, the total amount Canadians donated to charities or nonprofits  increased by 14% to $12.8 billion.

Yay Canada, and I mean that very sincerely. But…did some of that increase come your way?

This piece lays out the advantages and disadvantages of raising funds in a small non-profit. Some of the important advantages include the ability to respond quickly to opportunities; the ability to set your own course; a close and passionate connection to the mission; and, often, the continuing involvement of a visionary and compelling founder.

This piece by Jerry Huntsinger in SOFII approaches the same topic in a different way, providing 13 good solid suggestions for fundraising in a small organization.

Have you ever wondered about the purpose of a thank you letter? The real purpose? The reason why a good thank you letter can forge strong and long lasting bonds between you and your donors?

Is calling donors really the best way of retaining them and upgrading their gifts? I’ve heard from donors who prefer a beautifully written and personally signed letter of thanks, but many others genuinely appreciate the personal touch of a phone call.

Have you been brave enough to initiate a planned giving program? Why not? I just spoke to the development director of a small arts org that has been having surprising success with bequests. Here are a few tips on getting started.

Finally, words from the trenches. I found this interview with Jennifer Hobbs, Director of Sponsorship at Hoc Docs, and Jason Maghanoy, Senior Development Officer at Canadian Stage (mentor and mentee with Business for the Arts’ artsVest Mentorship Program), a useful reminder of the many joys of engaging passionately in the task of developing mutually supportive relationships with some of the 82% of Canadians who contribute personally to the causes they believe in.




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