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!

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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 (


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Funding reform

by Jini Stolk

Toronto’s arts community enjoys the unique privilege of having arms-length funding bodies at all three levels of government, specifically mandated to support our work. We have the possibility of ongoing operating support; places to go with project proposals; and a built-in connection through peer juries to community feedback and oversight. The Arts Councils’ boards monitor artistic developments and changing needs to ensure that the range of supported work is relevant and reflective of community priorities.

With all this, there are also funding programs we can apply to at federal, provincial and municipal government ministries and departments. These are much more directly tied to government political priorities – and the resulting complexities of process and decision-making are behind the Ontario Nonprofit Network’s Funding Reform initiative.

The ONN’s vision of a relationship and process that allows both government and nonprofit organizations to spend less time on administration and more time on program delivery and improving results is worth our attention. Those of us whose core or special project funding comes from the Province of Ontario should be able to get behind goals including: administrative processes that have been streamlined and standardized across ministries and programs; nonprofits that function more efficiently because there is predictable, stable long-term funding; reporting processes that are easier to navigate and focus on outcomes; and savings generated by streamlining processes that are reinvested in communities.

Vu Le has written often and passionately about the many absurdities of restricted line-item oriented funding, and has identified excellent funding practices as clearly as I’ve ever seen. More and more people are making the case for funding that includes full overhead expenses, and funders like the Metcalf Foundation are exploring which funding practices yield the best social impacts.

There are changes in the air in Ontario: a Joint Funding Reform Forum has been working on “Transfer Payment Administrative Modernization”, which could help cut through the tangles in the system.

A funding approach that’s flexible within reasonable limits, that allows for long-range planning, and that takes into account real costs – such as organizational administration, professional development, program evaluation, reporting, quality assurance, and fiscal management – characterizes “good funding,” no matter where it’s coming from. The arts have a great deal to contribute to this discussion – and potentially a great deal to learn.

If you need help this summer – whether for filling out fundraising applications or for some better more mission-oriented purpose – the Canada Summer Jobs program has been expanded in 2016 and is now taking applications (through February 26, 2016, so get going!). It offers eligible non-profit employers subsidy of up to 100% of provincial adult minimum hourly wage.

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Be it resolved

by Jini Stolk

Is it ever too late to make New Year’s resolutions? I think not.

It’s certainly never too late to share Vu Le’s list of Ten Resolutions for the Nonprofit Sector for 2015. If you are one of those people who still think the arts are not really, truly, part of the non-profit sector, I defy you to find any of these that you don’t think the arts community should adopt.

How about saving yourself time and disappointment by having all the essentials in place before writing this year’s grant applications: key messages (fine-tuned so they’re clear, persuasive and inspiring); a concise case for support; research, evaluation and project plans; and a list of alternative prospects in case your first proposal is turned down.

Why not write lovely notes to people who attend your shows, like Tarragon does, thanking them for coming, inviting feedback and comments, and letting them know how they can save money on future visits.

Consider whether you can make a strong argument that your show or event will draw tourists, boost the local economy and create jobs. If so, get in touch with the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund, which helps arts and cultural organizations develop, promote and present unique events and exhibitions that bring visitors to communities across the province.

And finally, resolve to lose 5 pounds (again) and to take a break this winter like I’m doing by spending this month in sunny Mexico. See you soon.

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Planning to survive

by Jini Stolk

I confess. Sometimes I’ve felt good about the fact that Canada has far fewer big charitable scandals than the United States. Whether the story’s about financial malfeasance (United States Navy Veterans’ Association), shady use of donated funds (Wounded Warrior Project), dramatic loss of trust and supporters (Susan G. Komen for the Cure) or the abrupt closure of a much-loved institution (Sweetbriar College and the San Diego Opera) Canada’s been relatively immune.

And then along came Goodwill Toronto, reminding me not to be so smug.

At this time, there aren’t many reliable details on why Goodwill spiralled so quickly out of control. But a few things are immediately obvious, even at this early stage. Creative Trust included planning as one of the key characteristics of strong and healthy arts organizations. “Organizations that plan and learn are able to respond, adjust and take advantage of changing realities” we said in our Year 3 Evaluation Report. “Each Creative Trust company details its commitment to take specific steps towards health and sustainability in a written Work Plan.” Analyzing and balancing risk, ensuring that each organization understood the financial, human and other resources needed to fulfill their mandates, and planning for expected and unexpected financial difficulties were all part of our program.

Where was the planning at Goodwill?

  • Cash flow shortfalls are common; they turn into cash flow crises when no one analyzes whether/when expenses will exceed revenues and there’s no plan to close the gap and minimize disruption.
  • Structural financial difficulties, when revenues and expenses remain out of balance over time, are not uncommon. They require the CEO and the Board to act with determination, planning adjustments to their financial assumptions, budgets, and business model.
  • Non-profits need to stay on top of changes in their environment, planning ways to respond and adjust in order to stay strong and sustainable. If the competition among vintage and used clothing stores in the GTA is growing, what’s the plan? If sales per square feet aren’t keeping up with rental costs, what’s the plan?
  • All non-profits and charities have a moral responsibility to be good and decent employers. In Goodwill’s case, their non-profit purpose lies in training and employing people with disabilities; their secondary purpose lies in selling used goods at affordable prices to people on low incomes; only coincidentally are they a source of hip vintage clothing for you and me. Their first priority should have been planning to protect their employees’ jobs and salaries.
  • The worst response to an organizational crisis is silence or looking like you don’t know what to say. A communications professional could have come up with a plan to respond honestly and openly to Goodwill Toronto’s public relations debacle. They accept public funding for their programs; they owe an explanation and an apology to the public.
  • Where was the Board’s plan to rebuild the organization’s finances and reputation? Did Goodwill’s Board members think they were avoiding legal liability or public outrage by resigning en masse?

You’ll notice that my baffled outrage doesn’t include questioning the CEO’s approximately $200 – 250,000 a year salary. Here’s where the critics have it wrong. This seems like appropriate, even modest, compensation for someone managing a $28 million a year organization…as long as their skills are up to the job.

By the way, while it’s a drastic error to stumble into a crisis without any plans in place, planning is also essential when the good times roll around. Any major change to an organization’s environment or business model requires thoughtful and detailed planning – in writing – or it won’t go well.

Surprising fact: Thinking and planning skills are centered in the prefrontal cortex section of the brain. Eat your Wheaties, with blueberries on top.

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After the chill

by Jini Stolk

Many of us are feeling a bit warmer…and freer…since Minister Diane Lebouthillier’s announcement calling off the Canada Revenue Agency’s political activities audits. This much criticized review of charities’ involvement in public awareness and advocacy was unveiled in the 2012 Federal Budget which provided CRA with $13.4 million to track down charitable scofflaws. The program always looked to me like a nationwide SLAPP suit, meeting its goal of silencing unwelcome political disagreement just by existing.

As expected, the audits uncovered few actual examples of charities breaking the rules around allowable political activities. Of the five completed audits that resulted in a determination to revoke charitable registration, my guess is that all five organizations will be exercising their right to appeal.

Ever since my August 2015 post on Fear of Advocacy I’ve been meaning to write again about why charities need to be free to contribute to public debate. I was going to re-emphasize that the CRA itself acknowledges (in its published policy CPS-022) that Canadian charities “have experience, expertise and ideas that should be used to help government develop better public policies and programs,” and that BoardSource just added advocacy to their list of the Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards. In honour of the rule that charities devote no more than 10% of their resources to allowable political activity, I was going to call my new post Getting to 9.9%.

But I couldn’t write it. I found that the political activities regulations and reporting procedures were so loosely defined, subject to arbitrary interpretation, and onerous that I couldn’t in good conscience advise organizations to push the advocacy boundaries. Schedule 7 of the T3010 charitable return requires charities to detail all “political activities” (without clearly defining what that means) and to assert that they haven’t engaged in anything that “explicitly communicates to the public that a law, policy or decision of any level of government inside or outside Canada should be retained, opposed, or changed” or “encourages the public to contact an elected representative or public official” and urge them to do so.

These requirements remain on the books, and serve to contradict the CRA’s assertion that “Canadian society has been enriched by the invaluable contribution charities have made in developing social capital and social cohesion.” Can we still do this while self-censoring and scrupulously monitoring our twitter accounts, blogs, and LinkedIn profiles to ensure that no one – not even in the comments section – urges public action or makes a statement that could be interpreted as partisan?

The next step for our new government is to rethink the role of charities in public discussion and advocacy for social change, and bring CRA’s rules more closely in line with countries like the Netherlands, Britain, and the United States. It’s another welcome change to see that Minister Lebouthillier is planning to do just that.

The Ontario Nonprofit Network will be much involved in this process but anyone with a lawyer/activist on their board might want to dive into this discussion. I’d be very glad to see arts organizations play a leading role: our sector, after all, has a long history of fighting legal challenges to free expression. Gallery owner Av Isaacs, who died this month, was a warrior for the right of artists to create and exhibit according to their own aesthetic and perspective, no matter how unpopular, shocking or even “disgusting” – or how far they went “beyond walls.”

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Exploring the Feasibility: 10 Feasible Tips

by Jini Stolk

You have a great idea. It’s been percolating for a good while now and you’re ready to take action. Does this idea have legs? Can you accomplish it? How do you move forward? It’s time for Exploring the Feasibility.

At Creative Trust we were very careful to figure out whether our ambitious Working Capital for the Arts plans made sense for Toronto. There had been other arts sustainability programs across Canada and the U.S. We did a lot of research, spoke to a lot of people, learned as much as we could about the successes and drawbacks of these other initiatives, and thought very deeply about how to create a program uniquely suited to Toronto’s performing arts community. In the end, the success of our 9-year $7 million Working Capital for the Arts program rested on our initial, thorough feasibility study.

The following tips are taken from the Creative Trust/Toronto Arts Foundation Open Source Took Kit Exploring the Feasibility – part of a larger initiative to share knowledge and learning from the Creative Trust experience with arts and other non-profit leaders in Toronto and beyond. Feel free to explore, borrow or adapt from it!

  1. Determine if there is a need. Research the field and be sure that there’s a need/desire for the work you are proposing. You don’t want to be duplicating work that another organization does well, or creating something that isn’t a high priority for your community.
  2. Research other models. Look at similar programs in other places. What’s worked? What hasn’t? Talk to people. Learn from them. People are your best resources.
  3. Begin to build a base of support. Begin outreach into your community. See if you can get people on board as potential champions, advisory committee members or even, down the line, board members. This will test your idea in the real world and help you begin to market the project.
  4. Decide whether your vision has legs. Is it practical? What’s the business plan? If funding is needed, do you know of any potential funders? Speak to colleagues and funders and figure out if there is financial support for your vision. Begin to make your case. Talk to the field and advocate for your project.
  5. Succinctly express your values and vision. Begin to articulate your specific values – the guideposts that will help you stay true to your mission. Map out your vision. What are your high-level goals? What is the ultimate change you want to make? Write this down! This will help you formulate the right model for your needs, help you keep your supporters close, help solidify your ideas and ultimately help you get needed funding.
  6. Outline your model. Once you know that your project is necessary and supported you can begin developing your specific methodology and model. Apply what you’ve learned from your research and adapt it to your specific situation. Make sure the model works for you, your constituents and your audience.
  7. Refine your model. Don’t let your first draft become set in stone. If it works, that’s great! But if you and your supporters have new ideas give yourself the freedom to refine. Always be sure to check in and make sure that the model is reaching the right people and doing what it is intended to do.
  8. Stick to a timeline. Determine a timeline for implementation and a launch date. Stay true to this timeline, but make sure you leave room for unanticipated events. We all know that nothing works perfectly, so give yourself space, but have that timeline always in the back of your mind – and share it with others! It will help you actually commit to fully launching your project.
  9. Determine your structure. What is the structure best suited to this project? Is it volunteer led? Will you need staff, an ED, a steering committee, a board, etc.? How can you put your plan into action?
  10. Report on your findings. Start building the case. Create a document that you can share with potential funders, board members, and advisory committee members. Make sure it articulates the genesis of the project, why your specific project/approach is needed, what your values and vision are, how your model is unique to your context, what your timeline for implementation is, how your ultimate structure and end vision will look. This document should outline all the important thinking that went into “exploring the feasibility” and will be your statement to the world. So make sure that it is well written, well designed and engaging.
  11. Good luck!

To learn more visit and read the full Exploring the Feasibility open source toolkit.


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Hiring well

by Jini Stolk

Hiring can involve both anticipation and anxiety. If you do it right, you can look forward to sunny days, basking in achievements and successes. If you don’t…it’s yours to fix.

Here are a few pieces of advice for managers and for board members undertaking what might be their most important job – hiring the right artistic or managing director.

This wonderful piece from Nonprofit Quarterly discusses the impact, positive or negative, of how a board handles a leadership hire, and provides step by step advice on how to get it right.

I’m entirely convinced by Vu Le’s arguments in favour of disclosing the position’s salary range in your job posting.

Apple’s Angela Ahrendt has developed guiding principles for hiring. She probes a candidate’s skills at collaboration and leadership, asking questions that reveal whether they’ll focus their energy on being an individual contributor, or on connecting and enabling a wider group, and whether they care more about their own success or about the greater good of the whole.

Adam Thurman suggests we borrow some of the criteria NASA uses to select astronauts when we select leaders and members of our artistic or administrative teams – including the ability to relate to others with sensitivity and regard; a sense of humor; an ability to form stable and quality relationships; and the ability to function normally despite imminent disaster (so genuinely useful in most arts organizations!)

This recruitment specialist emphasizes the need to listen, treat every interview as a meeting of equals, and stop asking stupid interview questions. Liz Ryan says that the interview as interrogation is a tired paradigm long past its prime, and that today’s employers need to “sell good candidates on your company,” helping them understand the culture and working style of the place from the get-go.

Here’s a hiring guide that discusses how to persuade candidates to leave their current jobs and work for you.

After conducting 10,000 senior staff interviews, executive recruiter James Citron still loves “the art of the interview”. This is a good and helpful read, whether you’re doing the interviewing or trying to land the perfect job.

Hiring for Keeps by Janet Webb was one of the Globe and Mail’s top leadership books of 2015. “One of the many ways we go wrong in hiring is not understanding the notion of fit; this book…explains what fit is and isn’t, how to build a job description that illuminates that critical feature, and how to conduct interviews that will reveal whether candidates actually fit the job and organization.”

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Gifts for you

by Jini Stolk

The joys of giving and receiving loom large at this time of year. And to my mind the pleasure of giving is much more rewarding than that of getting – happily for those on my seasonal gift list…and equally happily for those of us sending out our year-end donation requests.

I think most of us understand that charitable giving isn’t really about money. Fundraising is a way to “help…people follow their own interests, express their values, and advance their own aspirations” according to Simone Joyaux; our work as fundraisers is about emotional fulfillment. Studies have shown that giving makes people happier, and even improves our health.

So, for my personal well-being and because I wish to share the delights of the season with you, I’m offering the following hand-picked gifts:

This is for those of you who love opera, and are especially fond of Mozart’s Magic Flute.

Many of you have embraced the chills, thrills and sheer fun of improv; this will hone your competitive edge.

Orchestral music has a timeless appeal ; as does the magic of dance.

This package combines theatre, film, music and movement, with cats  – what more could anyone desire, in this or any other season?

Happy holidays to all.



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by Jini Stolk

We all make mistakes, but these are some I hope we can avoid in 2016.

Dropping past board members like hot potatoes. A number of people have told me they’ve been mystified when a charity they’ve been deeply involved with seems to forget them when they leave the board. Communication dwindles…invitations dry up…their major interaction now seems to be with the Development Office. (Trigger alert! I am NOT speaking about personal experience; fear not, my beloved former boards.) I’m pretty sure I’ve done this myself, without meaning to and perhaps without fully realizing it. I believe that Managing and to some extent Artistic Directors tend to focus on the things retiring board members will not miss (frequent meetings, committee obligations, financial worries, persistent fundraising from friends and family) rather than on the things they will (camaraderie and friendships, being close to artists who inspire them, collaborating with people they care for, and pride in helping an organization grow and thrive.)

It’s easy to avoid or reverse this mistake. DO forward special board communications and invitations to past members with a “thought you might be interested” or “hope you too can join us” note; always personalize fundraising requests to past board members; make time for an annual lunch; get their input into new strategies and plans; and ask for help (such as important hosting at openings and events) that they’re uniquely positioned to provide.

Best of all: Ask past board members to mentor incoming members – sharing organizational history, board processes, and advice enriched by years of close participation. This is a great way to keep past board close to your core, and to use their experience and wisdom to bring new board members closer.

Adding an in camera session to every meeting agenda. This was recently suggested as a way to ensure that arts and non-profit boards are fulfilling their governance and oversight responsibilities; I gather it’s a strategy gaining currency in the U.S., and moving into governance discussions in Canada. Before I had fully formulated my own objections to an idea that reaffirms hierarchy in a sector that thrives on trust and creative collaboration, I came across a piece entitled In Camera Board Sessions: Securing Confidentiality or Cultivating a Culture of Secrecy? There are certainly times when board member(s) or staff should leave the board room (when they are in a conflict of interest on an item being discussed) or when a board might want to discuss something in private (such as salaries or the evaluation of the managing director.) It’s also a tactic that can be used, once in a lifetime, to encourage a senior staff’s resignation.

Other than that, I can’t think of many reasons to forego a trusting relationship of professional equals, mutually responsible for the health and mission of the organization, in order to quell fiduciary and accountability concerns. While the details of board discussions (who spoke for and against a motion, for example) should be confidential, the article makes a neat differentiation between confidentiality, which “requires, but does not strain, trust” and secrecy.

It also offers some excellent advice about what should and should not be included in meeting minutes – a rarely discussed topic.

A friend whose arts organization adopted the practice, for a time, of regular in camera board sessions said that discussions at board meetings became muted and constrained. It turns out that board members were saving their important thoughts for the in camera sessions, rather than engaging in open and transparent debate about the complex issues facing their organization.

Using Raiser’s Edge: I know some organizations are happy with the program but this piece (from a competitor!)  summarizes many of the complaints and dissatisfactions I’ve heard over the years from Raiser’s Edge users: too big, not user-friendly, difficult and expensive to learn, not flexible, hard to design and pull reports.

Let the Fundraisers in our midst debate.





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