People first

by Jini Stolk

Those of us in the arts don’t need to be reminded that our most important resources are people: those who create the art, support the art, and engage in the art. But our work can be so intense that I think we sometimes forget to care for ourselves and each other. That’s why I’m so enthusiastic about the Ontario Nonprofit Network’s focus on decent work in the non-profit sector.

We’re all blessed with colleagues and employees who are motivated by the desire to make a difference, to have work that’s personally meaningful and meaningful to the world. The least we can promise in return is:

  • Fair and equitable hiring
  • Pay that allows people to support themselves and their families, over a lifetime career
  • As many alternative benefits as we can provide (because that pay will never be as high as in some other careers)
  • The opportunity for supportive guidance and personal and professional growth
  • A humane and caring workplace
  • A genuine connection to the mission and the art

Vu Le always provides wise advice, and I like the 10 agreements he recommends we make to ourselves as we go about the challenging work of making the world a better place, including: assuming the best intentions of each other; providing feedback honestly and directly; and not forming cliques or spreading gossip. (In this he’s joining another reputable anti-gossip advocate, Pope Frances.)

An organization rife with internal conflict will mirror that in outside relationships. Maxwell King, President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Foundation, warns arts and other nonprofits that foundations will “pay careful attention to a situation where things seem to be in turmoil.”

If you find yourself in a place where leadership staff is burned out, unsure, or unsupported, or where people feel they’re faced with so many demands that they’re not up to successfully fulfilling them, leadership coaching might be advisable.

It all starts, as a friend recently reminded me, by honestly confronting the hiring and employment challenges nonprofits face. Jon Stahl’s interesting website says that “If nonprofits want to successfully compete for talent — and keep good people around for the long haul – they need to pay enough so that money isn’t an issue, then out-compete other employers on meaning, relationships, autonomy and opportunity.” He warns against a number of unspoken, unacknowledged and harmful employment practices. “Most nonprofits would rather spend additional dollars growing their team or launching new programs and accept turnover as a “fact of life” than invest in retaining their best people for the long haul.” Also: “The overhead myth, preferences for new programs over proven effectiveness, underinvestment in leadership development, failure to admit and embrace failure — these phenomena all contribute to unhealthy ideologies about compensation in the nonprofit sector.”

If you are committed to being a Decent Work-place, ONN’s new Employee Benefits program is well worth investigating – and the enhanced pension benefits recently agreed to between the provinces and the federal government seem tailor made to fill the retirement income gaps in our sector. We should embrace it joyfully (increased employer contribution requirements and all.)

Posted in Organizational Development | Leave a comment

Boards embracing fiscal oversight…

by Jini Stolk

Or so we sincerely hope. A Fine Balance: An Arts Board’s Role in Financial Oversight and Responsibility on June 13 was another sold-out event from the Toronto Arts Foundation’s Creative Champions Network. Extremely wise words from keynote speaker Lois Fine (Director of Finance and Information Technology at YWCA Toronto and a playwright, performer and producer) – on what a board needs to look for in reviewing budgets and financial statements; the reasonable expectations between board members and arts managers regarding reporting; and those tasks that should be assigned to the Treasurer and finance committee, among other topics – built great energy and a fascinating discussion on fiduciary responsibility (really.) Thanks also to panel members Ghislain Carol, David Kilburn, and Craig Morash for generously sharing their experiences and learned insights.

For those who couldn’t be there, a valuable Resource Sheet is up on the TAF’s website. And remember that while “The budget is the budget and we can’t budge it”, regular updates on variances and projected year-end actuals are always in order!

Our next session on September 7th will cover the board’s role in fundraising, a topic intimately tied to an organization’s financial health and sustainability. Details will be announced soon.

I still hear stories about new board members who announce at an early meeting that they hate fundraising and don’t want to do any. First of all, and this WILL be covered at the workshop, why wasn’t there an honest discussion during initial meetings about the company’s funding needs and ways for board members to be meaningfully involved in resource development?

And secondly, does fundraising have to be a horrible humiliating slog? Of course not. Those of us who’ve done a lot of it know that while a thick skin, a large and frequently replenished pipeline, and a “that’s too bad but moving on…” attitude are necessary to successful campaigns – there’s as much satisfaction and pride to be found in fundraising as in any other part of our work.

I don’t expect board members to be involved in crafting fundraising emails, but while I’m on the topic I thought I’d share these useful pieces with the managers and fundraisers who are reading this:

Posted in Fundraising | Leave a comment

All about me

by Jini Stolk

I’ve been finding out some interesting things about myself recently. (No: not that I sometimes need a few weeks’ break from writing blog posts; even more interesting than that.)

First of all, my “innovation style” is that of a meerkat – collaborative, interested and solution- focused. I and other meerkats “know that having ideas and making them happen is a team sport”, involving provocation, cooperation, excitement, irritation, perspiration and inspiration. The only way ideas successfully make it into the world, according to all us meerkats, is through working with other people.

Of course that’s very flattering, and absolutely correct, but I wonder how the other “animal-styles” deal with the challenges of creating something new; please do let me know. More practically, this might be a good time to re-read Choreographing our Future , an exploration by The Metcalf Foundation’s Innovation Fellow Shannon Litzenberger of fueling innovation in the arts (especially among the new generation of artists) by rethinking some fundamental assumptions on how the arts are supported and sustained in Canada.

Is the Canada Council’s new funding model designed to spark a new era of innovation? (Or is it, as some predicted, more confusing than helpful?) I don’t know; I don’t think the jury is in on that, although the breaking through and down of discipline silos – among other important goals outlined in the Council’s new strategic plan – had to happen.

I do know that the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s arcane new metrics-based approach to aligning its funding with specific impacts on Ontarians is garnering almost universal criticism, amounting almost to despair.

Secondly, as someone who frequently signs email messages with “Yours, Jini”, I was astonished to learn that I’ve essentially just been playing with people’s minds. According to Emma Rathbone in The New Yorker, no one knows what the hell this means and reading it in an email is akin to entering a virtual-reality maze. A good read for those wanting help in interpreting common email sign-offs. (Hint: “Love” means this person loves you…)

Love, Jini

Posted in Collaboration | 1 Response

A space of one’s own

by Jini Stolk

Art needs space and space needs art.

Duncan Webb, ex-Torontonian, threw down the gauntlet a few years back in a blog post titled Message to Cultural Groups: Rent, Don’t Buy!  His arguments were as expected, and they’re not wrong: real estate is not a liquid asset; arts groups have trouble servicing debt; upkeep, renovations and increased operating costs are hard to afford. Buying a property is complex financially and in terms of time; staff burnout follows; boards can’t keep up with new demands. All are often true.

Duncan recommends an Artscape-like solution like the Playhouse Square Foundation, currently operating 10 performance space in downtown Cleveland.

While arts organizations in the States seem to have been particularly vulnerable to overextension and misplaced optimism in their pre-recession building plans, Canada is still seeing a steady roll out of carefully planned and comparatively modest building and renovation projects. Recently:

  • Crow’s Theatre is set to launch its 200-seat theatre in Leslieville – an $11-million facility at the base of a condo tower on Carlaw at Dundas – early next year
  • Studio upgrades are underway at Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company
  • Toronto Dance Theatre/School of Toronto Dance Theatre are proceeding with their phased renovations to Winchester Street Theatre in Cabbagetown
  • Soulpepper is planning to add a building to its physical footprint, and is looking at several sites near its current home in the Distillery District. Like the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, this will be a multipartner project with shared costs.
  • Young People’s Theatre is on the verge of an exciting solution to its years-long lack of sufficient space for eager audiences, students, and productions

Luminato’s all-out effort to transform the Hearn Generating Station into a multi-show centre for its 2016 Festival stands out as being especially bold and risky. The Hearn is not easy to get to (except for one of my dear friends who travels daily to a garden plot at the Leslie Street Spit), and getting it ready for this year’s Festival was a huge undertaking – which could indeed become the foundational project from which the transformation of this part of the port lands proceeds. I sincerely hope that the temporary project’s large $2.5 million cost forms the basis of a continuing, permanent commitment to this space. There’s not enough public funding or philanthropy available in Canada for one-time solutions.

Arts organizations are drawn like flies to underused heritage properties, such as this project that transformed an abandoned church in Detroit to an art gallery. Artists tend to be thrilled by the potential and challenge of abandoned grand public spaces, and are usually excellent and devoted stewards of built history.

But wouldn’t it be ideal if the relationship between heritage preservation and cultural uses were acknowledged with more than the occasional admiring article. These things cost money.

More cultural spaces in the news:

Posted in Facilities | Leave a comment


by Jini Stolk

I’ve seen a lot of budgets over the years, but I’ve never seen one as positive for the arts as was recently unveiled in Ottawa. Simon Brault’s moving response on behalf of the Canada Council talked, with passion but not exaggeration, about a new chapter having been opened in the artistic and cultural history of this country.

But first things first: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Minister of Finance Bill Morneau, and Minister of Canadian Heritage Melanie Joly deserve an outpouring of heartfelt thanks, and I do hope you all – every one of you – lets them know how much their belief in the importance of the arts is appreciated. If you’re thanking them by twitter, use hashtags #TOArtsThanks; #TOArts; and @melaniejoly, @bill_morneau, and @JustinTrudeau; if by email, [email protected], [email protected]; and [email protected]. Actual letters are perhaps nicest of all, especially if they come from both your Chair and CEO; addresses are here).

The government’s intention to “strengthen our cultural and creative industries” was clear from Minister Joly’s mandate letter, whose goals were realized only a few months later in the budget:

  • increasing funding for CBC/Radio-Canada ($675 million in new funding over the next five years) and, equally importantly, reviewing the process of appointing members to the Board of Directors (CBC has a hard road ahead in overcoming years of losses of staff, technical resources, and even the sale of their 70,000 piece costume collection )
  • doubling investment in the Canada Council for the Arts (a $180 million increase over five years)
  • increasing funding for Telefilm Canada ($22 million more over five years) and the National Film Board ($13.5 million over five years)
  • restoring the Promart and Trade Routes International cultural promotion programs, making it possible for our artists to tour internationally and advance Canada’s reputation and values around the world ($35 million over two years, and hopefully beyond); this funding will also free up support from other governments that’s been unavailable because of lack of reciprocity
  • making significant new investments in cultural infrastructure ($168.2 million over two years to the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund) for the renovation and construction of arts and heritage facilities; also $4 million over two years for the costs of construction and renovation to improve accessibility for people with disabilities in Canadian communities
  • increasing funding for the Young Canada Works program to help prepare the next generation of Canadians working in the heritage sector

And those are just the highlights.

Not to be greedy, but these few more things would make me completely happy:

  • funds for greening theatres and arts spaces, and maintaining heritage buildings housing cultural organizations
  • reviving the National Portrait Gallery to showcase the thousands of works previously collected for this important national project, abruptly cancelled by the previous government. I’ve been delighted to see that I’m not the only one who kept that dream alive over the years; the CBC, Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen, Globe and Mail and more have called in recent weeks for the Portrait Gallery to be reinstated, and I gather there’s renewed optimism at Library and Archives Canada (where the collection is now held.) Just imagine: a flourishing contemporary cultural scene and a place that provides an inspirational spotlight on our history through portraits of the artists, scientists, political, government, military and community leaders who helped make Canada great
  • I will also put in a word of support for one of Canada’s ambassadorial buildings abroad, inexplicably scheduled for “de-accessioning” several years ago. The Villa Grandi in Rome was given to Canada by the Italian government at the end of the Second World War. It has served as the Canadian Ambassador’s residence and is a prominent monument to the pivotal role of Canadian soldiers fighting in Italy. It should of course be maintained.

federal budget 2016

From Growing the Middle Class, Federal Budget 2016


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Response

Spotting the red flags

by Jini Stolk

Goodwill Industries Toronto’s sudden collapse after 80 years of providing work, training and other opportunities to people in need, especially those with disabilities, opened the doors to a flood of criticism and blame (even while their stores’ and workplaces’ actual doors were shuttered and locked tight.) I wrote about Goodwill’s lack of foresight and planning in a changing environment; others focused on the board’s lack of oversight and their attempts to run and hide when disaster struck.

Winding up on the front page of The Toronto Star is probably the worst nightmare of those of us who serve on arts or other non-profit boards. Although public collapse and disgrace is rare in Canada’s charitable sector, the Goodwill story offers fundamental lessons on the meaning of oversight and fiduciary responsibility. We don’t need to be wary, timid, or risk-averse around our board tables, but it would be terrific if we all learned how to spot the signals of trouble ahead.

Nonprofit Quarterly ran an unexpectedly relevant piece called Red Flags for Boards early last year, identifying a string of financial markers of fundamental instability including diminishing cash, ballooning debts, and recurring deficits. Yet, it also pointed out that board best practices warn about micromanaging and that most boards rely on the executive and staff to be forthcoming with information, including about problems. Kate Barr’s advice is for board members to learn how to ask good questions, such as “Is this is a trend or pattern that we should talk about?” “Is this unexpected?”, and to pay attention to cumulative problems on the balance sheet. A far cry from micromanagement, this advice recognizes that board members have a broad institutional scope and the advantage of observation over time.

This piece, written after Goodwill Toronto’s closing, says there were warning signs that management and board should have recognized in time to change Goodwill’s direction. Bill Kennedy outlines some obvious red flags that anyone could have seen – if they were paying attention – including:

  • the organization’s recent selling of assets to pay for operations;
  • inadequate reserve funds; Charity Intelligence Canada says that Goodwill’s 2012 financial statements included reserves of only 7% of annual expenditures. (I wonder how many arts charities hold reserves greater than that?)
  • labour unrest, a big factor in public statements by the CEO and others about stresses and difficulties that faced the organization. (To which I say, “Your mission was to provide dignity, work, and job training to people in need: how could you have allowed labour unrest to grow so out of hand that it sank your organization?”)
  • And the big one, a changing landscape, which as I mentioned in my blog post, seemed to have taken everyone by surprise and left no opportunity for changes to Goodwill’s business model. (I don’t buy it.)

This piece talks about how to recognize the signs of financial fraud (and I think we all know that there have been some quietly resolved tales of embezzlement in Toronto’s arts community), usually signalled by significant lifestyle changes, puzzling and previously unaffordable purchases, or the sad indications of addiction.

Rick Cohen’s tale of hair-raising conflicts of interest in a range of nonprofits in the States is a healthy warning against complicated business deals involving top staff or board members or their spouses or close relatives. A conflict of interest policy is always a good idea for an organization dealing in large sums (although, as I look at Creative Trust’s board Conflict of Interest policy I note that it only dealt with grant-making or other financial decisions benefitting individual companies, and that the Conflict of Interest section in our Employee Policies was too wishy-washy in retrospect.)

I think there are other red flags not highlighted in any of these posts, including internal conflict, lack of transparency or honesty in communications inside and outside the organization, fear of change, fear of failure, lack of creative thinking, putting off until tomorrow what should have been done today, etc.

The antidote? A smart and energetic staff working in harmony with a committed and engaged board of directors – the topic of the Toronto Arts Foundation’s next CREATIVE CHAMPIONS NETWORK Get on Board Speaker Series and networking event for boards of directors. This one features the wonderful Robin Cardozo, Chief Operating Officer of SickKids Foundation, with distinguished panelists including Andrea Bellefeuille, Chair, Against the Grain Theatre; Helen Burstyn, Chair, Evergreen; and Nancy Webster, Executive Director, Young People’s Theatre. Join us!

Engaging your Board Effectively – and having fun in the process

April 27, 2016, 5 – 7 p.m.

Gardiner Museum – Lecture Hall

5 p.m. Doors Open & Registration

5:15 p.m. Remarks

Panel discussion, Q&A, refreshments and networking to follow

Please reserve your seat by April 20 with Natalie Kaiser, [email protected] | P: 416.392.6800 x226

Posted in Board & Governance | Leave a comment

It’s unanimous! Why?

by Jini Stolk

I’m delighted to welcome Luminato’s new Artistic Director, who’ll be coming to us from Australia’s Melbourne Festival to helm the festival’s 2017 edition. I wish her great success in this exciting new position, and look forward to working together over the coming years.

I also warmly welcome Luminato’s new CEO; he came to us from England. I look forward to meeting the new Director and CEO of the Art Gallery of Ontario/AGO (from Honolulu); Shaw Festival’s new Artistic Director (Exeter, the U.K); The National Ballet of Canada’s Executive Director (Boston); the new Managing Director of Tafelmusik (the U.K.); and the new Director and CEO of the ROM (Salem, Massachusetts) – and to getting to know Harbourfront Centre’s wonderful new CEO (Australia) better.

I wish them all the greatest success, and hope that they’ll find the same joy as I have had in becoming part of Toronto’s and Canada’s smart, delightful and diverse cultural community.

I can’t help, though, wondering what’s up with our nation’s Hiring Committees.

There’s something to be said about our responsibilities to our own cultural community’s next generation of leaders, and our duty to develop, mentor and support them as they move to positions of increasing responsibility and prominence.

In days long past, artists and arts workers would have been noisily protesting this influx of folks from away. These days, I have quiet conversations with people who use words ranging from “outraged” to “disappointed.”

I know we have to get used to the fact that Canada is becoming an increasingly attractive employment destination/new home of choice to many people around the world. “There is a vision of what a progressive Britain could be. It’s called Canada.” according to Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian. One of the reasons people find Canada so appealing is undoubtedly our ability to embrace new people and new ideas, remaining tolerant, relaxed and at ease in our own values and value.

But in the meantime, here’s a nice piece we might all take a look at on Steps to Developing Your Future Leaders.


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Responses

Lest we forget

by Jini Stolk

A few timely reminders:

Audiences complete the circle. This heartfelt thank you to audiences from veteran box office employee Christine Quintana, reminds us of our responsibility to understand and honour the wisdom, diversity and caring of the people who come to see our shows.

Your audience will change over time. Lessons from the world of professional wrestling, via Mission Paradox, that nothing lasts forever and that successful evolution requires planned and considered change. “The audience that built your dance company probably isn’t the one that will sustain it.”

There is always a “new normal.” Responding to the changing environment in audience behavior requires curiosity, an open mind, and a willingness to experiment – from tweaking curtain times to “random acts of culture” to attract new audiences. Meanwhile in the U.S. as in Canada, new structural models are emerging in response to tensions around funding and the sustainability of traditional arts organizations. “May you live in interesting times?” Perhaps this is not so much a curse as an invitation to bold and creative thinking … (Thanks to Eileen Cunniffe and the Americans for the Arts Artsblog.)

A few more practical reminders:

If you’re hosting foreign artists on tour in Canada, you’re likely going to have to secure each a new Electronic Travel Authorization. According to CAPACOA, the application process is fairly simple; the fee per person is $7 CAD, the processing time is normally under 10 minutes, and applications are trackable via an online status portal. (NOTE that U.S. citizens are exempt from this requirement.)

We’ve talked before about the confusion and uncertainty around police record checks: a time-consuming fact of life for many theatre for young audiences and other arts presenters. There’s good news from the ONN. New provincial legislation has been introduced, setting a standard practice for the kinds of information required within employee and volunteer record checks, and to be released by police services

Posted in Audience Development | Leave a comment

Board members as donors

by Jini Stolk

Should each board member make a personal donation to your organization? Yes. How much should they give? From each according to their ability…

I’m not sure why anyone would want to join an arts board without being excited enough about the work to want to personally support it, and bring friends, family and acquaintances to share the joy. I’m also not sure why an arts organization would want anyone to join their board who’s not passionately connected to their art and vision.

A board member doesn’t have to have great personal wealth to make a great contribution. The most important thing organizations can do is help their board members identify how they can best use their skills and energies to build resources and support.

Cynthia Armour wrote insightfully about Creating Fundraising Savvy Boards for Creative Trust. Finding the Right Development Officer for Your Organization describes the type of person who would be comfortable, even enthusiastic, about building a board’s success in giving and raising funds. BoardConnect’s checklist on The Board’s Role in Securing Philanthropic Support defines the role board members might play in an individual donations strategy.

I really like Buddies in Bad Times’ Personal Fundraising Worksheet for Board Members. It’s specific, easy to understand, and – what’s the right word? – unscary. It lists 14 ways to contribute to Buddies’ development activities, including: becoming a monthly donor, inviting prospective donors to shows and events, assisting in cultivating donor prospects at events, signing thank you cards, directly soliciting donations, selling tickets to fundraising events, and finally, making connections with potential corporate partners and attending meetings with high-level donors. The last two options on the Worksheet are left open, allowing board members to come up with their own ideas!

Simone Joyaux is also in favor of creating a menu of choices for board members’ involvement in giving and raising funds, and offers a clear strategy starting at the board prospect’s nomination interview.


Few of us will encounter someone whose extraordinary generosity results from a brain injury, but The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Giving published about a year ago in the Atlantic talks about the clear consistent link between generosity and happiness and its neuroscientific roots!

Posted in Board & Governance | Leave a comment

Creating a network of champions

by Jini Stolk

It was exciting to be part of the first advisory meeting of the Toronto Arts Foundation’s new Creative Champions Network. Even more exciting was the enthusiasm for bringing arts board members together to learn and connect, and the great new ideas that were generated.

The Network’s goal, under the Honorary Chairmanship of John D. McKellar, is to develop the engagement and impact of Toronto’s more than 1,200 arts board members – providing them with resources and opportunities to learn about the expectations and practice of good governance; share experiences and learn from each other; understand the context, trends and outside forces impacting their work; and become even more powerful champions of the arts.

Certainly, the response to the first Get on Board workshops on the Art of Good Governance: Getting the Basics Right was clear: board members are eager to learn how to contribute as fully as possible to the health and success of the arts organizations on whose boards they serve.

The idea of creating a network of board members is a first, not only in the arts, but in the non-profit sector. We believe it can have a powerful impact on the artistic growth and organizational development of individual organizations – and on the arts community as a whole.

If you or members of your board want to get involved and receive the Creative Champions monthly mailing, with helpful resources and information on upcoming workshops and events, drop a note to Michelle Yeung at the Toronto Arts Foundation ([email protected]).


Posted in Board & Governance | Leave a comment
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