RSS

Show Me the Money: Nonprofit Theatre and the New Overtime Rules

After reading through the official Department of Labor’s brief on the new overtime rules and the non-profit sector yesterday, I made the mistake of tweeting my first thought. I don’t call it a mistake because I said something I regret or because some people had a knee jerk response but rather because 140 characters is not nearly enough to truly examine all the implications this new rule brings. It isn’t a matter of “just pay them more” or “just let them go home after 40 hours.” It is, like most things in life, much more complex than that, much more complex than a couple of tweets can handle.

Let’s start with a broad view of the current “normal” for work. I haven’t worked a 40-hour week since I was paid hourly a couple decades ago. I don’t know anyone who works a 40-hour week most weeks, much less all weeks. This isn’t just in nonprofit theatre, this is in most industries today. I’m not sure that a 40-hour week has ever been the norm in nonprofit theatre.  Think about it, working from 9:00am to 6:30pm Monday-Friday (or 10a-6p Tuesday-Sunday) would put you at 47.5 (or 48) hours.  At the ASC we try to compensate for this by having a very flexible paid time off policy with no set limit on the number of days a full-time employee can take off in any given year.  We know we all work harder during portions of the year so we try to make sure to balance it by taking the time we need in our slightly less crazy times of year.  The new overtime rule does not take any of this into account.  It simply demands that we completely change our business model by December 1, 2016.

That’s my next issue: the time frame for compliance.  For most rules issued by the Federal government we see a “ramping up” period of at least a couple of years.  Not so for these new rules.  They double the salary at which overtime exemptions come into play and says that they go into effect six and half months from the date of the announcement.  The move from the previous threshold of $455/week ($23,660/year) to $913/week ($47,476/year) is tremendous and not easy to make up.

If we continued to operate as we do now, assuming that our (as of Dec 1) non-exempt employees currently average 48 hours/week, paying for eight hours of overtime per week would add over $20,000 to our MONTHLY payroll.  Almost $250,000 per year.  To put this in perspective, that is equal to 8% of our total budget.  We have worked extremely hard over the past six years to get into the black and stay there, to pay off a sizeable amount of debt, and to start investing again in our people and our programs.  Our success in these areas is due to very careful budgeting.  We currently project being able to grow our expense budget by 2.6% next fiscal year if we want to stay in the black.  This is not something we can turn on a dime.

The next answer I hear is “make your employees stop working after 40 hours.”  Again, this is not something that can be reversed in a blink.  We all have more work than we have time to do it in already.  That is one of the reasons we are currently examining the costs and benefits of all our programming.  Can we get the programs down to a level that can be sustained on 40 hours a week and still make the revenue to pay for those people and programs?  I currently have no idea.  Again, I’m not saying that it is not a worthy goal or that every single employee doesn’t deserve every single penny that this new rule requires.  I’m saying that a fundamental business model change, an industry-wide cultural shift, takes longer than 6.5 months to figure out how to fund.

I’m even more concerned with smaller organizations.  Sure, this rule doesn’t apply to companies with under $500,000 in business revenue (not including contributions), but what about those with $525,000 in revenue?  Many of which have executive leaders that are suddenly non-exempt.  How can they continue to function?  Some of these are organizations that are scraping by with 2-4 employees doing all the work.  This could very well put them out of business.

We need to improve wages and honor the time put in by everyone.  However, this rule is too big an increase and too quick a turnaround.  I’m very concerned we are about to see the next wave of nonprofit theatre closures (to say nothing about other small businesses).  Is job loss better than incremental wage improvement?  I think not.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 20, 2016 in Arts management

 

Tags: , , ,

Did they just say that? Embedded Sexism in Daily Life

o-SHOCKED-WOMAN-facebook

A number of weeks ago this post got me thinking about my time waiting tables throughout my high school and college career.  Yep, there were times that it sucked because of the sexual harassment some men felt was their right as a paying customer of the restaurant.  I’m delighted this particular pub owner publicly said, “enough.”  I’m also delighted his rant was shared so many times; more visibility is better when it comes to these things.

However, the post also got me thinking about the less blatant sexism that is around us and tolerated (or celebrated) every day.  It is time to shed some light there too; start another, possibly more complicated, conversation.

Exhibit One:  Last month, on the first “shorts weather” day of the spring, I was walking away from an Earth Day celebration downtown, one kiddo holding each hand.  A guy passing us in his truck slowed way down, made eye contact with me, let his eyes drop to my toes and then back up, smiled, and then picked up speed.

Exhibit Two:  A few weeks ago a talented artisan presented a program at a local civic club on the gorgeous Native American flutes he carves by hand.  He mentioned that originally they were used in courtship.  A male voice from the back yells, “hey, can you carve one for me?  I need a wife!”  Another voice responds, “How much for one that will get me a pretty wife?”  A third, “You can’t afford that!”  General laughter.

Exhibit Three:  Just days ago, sharing a picnic with a group of friends.  A couple of them started talking about teenage boys they knew and how only one had a girlfriend.  “How’d he get a girlfriend?” “Oh, you know [insert name of school] girls.”

None of these instances are earth-shattering.  None of them caused me permanent psychological damage or extended grief.  And I can hear the cry from a certain sector already saying that this is all ‘political correctness’ B.S.  However, each and every one of them points to a bigger, foundational problem in our society.  Female objectification is not just a problem of pop culture or the mass media, it is with us constantly.  I used to brush these  things off as generational…that’s the way “those” men were raised, the younger generations know better.  My experience at the picnic, for one, shows that is not true.

The beliefs underlying these situation, unconscious as some may be, have real consequences.  They affect who we hire, who we elect, how we raise our children…

I want to raise my daughter knowing to her core that she does not exist to provide an attractive resting place for the male gaze.  I want to raise my son knowing to his core that the girls and women in his life are equals and should be treated as such.  In order to do this fully, I (we, women & men) need to stop giving a pass on these seemingly small slights.  The uncomfortable silent acknowledgements across the lunch table with other women aren’t enough.

It is not about shaming, it is about educating.  It starts with individual conversations, in the moment, so that we all start to open our eyes to the effect our words have on others.  I absolutely recognize how charged this approach can seem.  We all want to be accepted, part of the ‘club’.  And when it feels systemic, we look at it as a problem too big for any one person to conquer.  A few years back I did pull a civic club President aside and suggest that, since his club included a strong contingent of women, perhaps he should not tell sexist jokes from the podium.  It was challenging for me, and I know I blushed to the tips of my ears, but I did it and he changed his behavior.  I’m disappointed with myself for not saying anything over these past weeks when the examples have been piling up.  But, there is a new chance every day.

I also recommend a wide distribution of the Women’s Media Center’s Name It Change It Media Guide for gender neutral coverage of women candidates and politicians. (really, this isn’t just for journalists, it highlights all sorts of sexist language that is used in and outside of the media).  So much of this issue is a result of pure ignorance, not malice.  But we need to shine a light on that ignorance in order to change it.  One person at a time can change the tide.

Please comment below if you have found ways to shift this ignorance to wisdom and understanding.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on May 10, 2016 in feminist theory

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Treating Yourself to a Retreat

Today I head back to my regular life.  For the past five days I’ve been on my own little retreat, hidden away in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.  All by myself.

On top of Siler Bald on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina

On top of Siler Bald on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina

When I first started talking about this plan I received a lot of responses like, “wow, you are so brave!,” “gosh, I wish I could do that,” “good for you for being selfish!”  I could write a whole post about how and why self care became “brave” but this note is to a different purpose.  This post is about “selfishness,” specifically how this brand of selfishness is the only way I plan to function from here on out, and a suggestion that you might want to try it too.

I planned this trip not long after my mom passed away last fall.  I felt overwhelmed and my caretaker gene was completely burnt out.  I knew I needed a break.  A break from everyone and everything…anything that “needed” me whether in reality or only in my perception.  Fast-forward four months and I was in a different emotional place when I actually took the trip than when I booked it.  The blessing of this is that I realized that I (you) shouldn’t wait until I (you) break or come close to it before I (you) do what I (you) need to rejuvenate myself (yourself).

This being the first time I’ve taken this kind of trip, there were a number of parameters that I set up for what I wanted.  Although I made these parameters up as I went along, most of them turned out to be pieces I want to keep for future retreats:

  1. Just me
  2. A location unconnected to my regular life
  3. A kitchen so I could be self-sufficient 
  4. At least five days
  5. Access to outdoor physical activities

The length of time turned out to be quite important.  I had originally thought I should only go away for three days…there’s always another deadline at work…I don’t want to force single parenthood on my husband for too long.  However, once I found the place and realized it would take me six hours to get there, I decided I could take more time.  Six days to be exact, including travel days.

Now, this may change as I retreat more often than once every 41 years, but it took me three days just to get past all the distractions that vied for my attention.  Granted, the first 36 hours were more or less given up to the stomach bug my darling daughter shared with me as I left, but even so, it took me longer than I anticipated to truly relax into a place where I could breathe deeper and focus on the things I wanted to dig into during my time away.  I turned off all notifications on my phone as soon as I got to the cabin, but it took another day to not continuously feel the pull of “should I check my email?”  Even after I got closer to conquering the digital distractions, there was so much “busy work” that I kept feeling like I needed to do rather than sit down and read or write or crochet.  The need to do has powerful momentum but it is awfully hard to find clarity while doing all the time.

It took a six mile hike on Friday to Siler Bald (location of the photo) and a four mile hike up Scaly Mountain on Saturday to help me settle.  This turned out to be important too…being physically active, but in a different way than usual, broke me out of routine and released a lot of the antsy energy that I’d been holding onto for…ummmm…the last fifteen years?  OK, maybe I didn’t release that much, but it was a really good start.  So much so that when I woke up on Sunday all I wanted to do was finish the book I was reading (Rhythm by Patrick Thean…hat tip to Jill Robinson at TRG Arts) and organize my thoughts for our next four Department Head Meetings (sorry, team…actually, I’m not sorry, I CAN’T WAIT to get back!).

Yes, I said Sunday.  My last day away.  It wasn’t until then that I was ready to really dig into the stuff that I had planned to do throughout the trip.  Even if I do get better at letting go of the distractions faster and easier (and I certainly hope I do!) I will continue to take this type of break every year for at least five days.  My body, my brain, and my spirit needed refreshing and this is one thing I can’t rush or make more efficient.  There is a different rhythm in the woods and I desperately needed it…not to go all Thoreau on you, but it is true.

This is all to say that maybe once a year you deserve to just be you, on your own, answering to no one, breathing deeper, and taking hikes.  I am going back rejuvenated and refreshed and excited to join life again.  I can’t recommend it more highly

.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on February 22, 2016 in leadership

 

Tags: , , ,

Artists and Administrators: we really are all on the same team

I’m not sure why Mike Daisey’s article from February 7, 2008 has been making the social media rounds again, but I’m reminded enough of the ire I felt when I first read it in 2008 (and saw his production of “How Theatre Failed America” during NPAC in Denver that same year) that I am back here blogging again.

I’m not going to spill a lot of ink on the article itself or Mr. Daisey’s specific arguments because (1) it was written 6 years ago, before the “Great Recession” hit that autumn and changed much of the landscape, and (2) I feel Mr. Daisey makes so many leaps of ill-focused logic and presumptions that it is a waste of breath to enumerate all the flaws in his argument.

I do worry, however, about the perception that the resurfacing of the article may encourage: that (1) “large” organizations (broad and ranging definition depending on who is speaking) do not care about the art or the artists and (2) arts administrators are evil delusionary autocrats deliberately seeking to cheat artists (“they are a dime a dozen”) and fill their own pockets in the name of supporting the edifice of “the institution.”  Granted, I am an arts administrator, so it would make sense that I would take offense to this…no one, not even the most universally reviled criminals would probably paint themselves as a villain.  However, I have spent almost two decades in the non-profit theatre industry and I have yet to encounter one single person who was deliberately trying to find ways to cheat or devalue artists for their own gain.  The sooner we all stop demonizing each other, the sooner we will start to realize there are numerous theatres existing right now that are trying to do what’s right by all their employees and the communities they serve.  When we do that, we can start talking about what works in various communities, why it works, and how these strategies can be modified and replicated in other communities that haven’t found their model yet.

The first, and most important, thing to note is that we really are all on the same team.  The vast majority of us, artist or administrator, came to this industry through a love of theatre.  We have a deep, burning need to share that love with our communities, to help them know how much more beautifully rich our lives are with theatre in them.  That love is why we put in the umpteen extra hours, work for significantly less pay that we would find in the corporate sector, and (for me, anyway) stay awake at night trying to find more ways to make our employees’ lives better.  In the years since Mr. Daisey wrote the aforementioned article, the answer to that last issue has rarely included increased salaries.  We’ve all spent the last six years finding our balance and learning to be better stewards of the public’s funds (we are, after all, by definition of “non-profit corporation”, in the public trust).  We know that our people are the backbone of our organization and, there is no question, most of our theatres rode out the recession on the backs of our people, artists and staff alike.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned in my career and I hear echoed in the conversations of my peers:

  • Your mission, vision, and values must be your guiding light.
  • Great employees (artists and admin) are the only way any organization survives, much less thrives
  • All great employees should be valued, regardless of title or union affiliation
  • Respect is the Golden Rule.  Why on earth would anyone put up with everything else related to working in non-profit theatre if they weren’t at the very least respected for their unique contribution?
  • When there is a choice, you should always prioritize people (we will give raises rather than getting a color copier until all our employees are paid fairly)
  • Sometimes it does come down to “we have to fix the air conditioner” and there is no other choice.
  • It is almost never a question of black and white; so many factors go into every decision (budget, casting, marketing, staffing) it is always a matter of degrees, timing, and competing priorities.
  • Transparency should be the law of the land.  Without accurate information folks are free to jump to whatever conclusions pop into their brains, just as Mr. Daisey did.
  • You have to bring in more revenue before you expand the budget.
  • Breakeven is never good enough.  We’ve allowed ourselves (often encouraged by funders) to believe that if we aren’t “re-investing” every penny we make this year into this year’s expenses then we are not using our funds wisely (and we don’t need their funding).  We must eradicate this thinking.  It is only by establishing cash reserves (not endowments) that we can take the artistic and programmatic risks we all want to support.
  • It should not be a question of “if” but “when.”  Just because you can’t fulfill the organizations wildest dreams (or even more pedestrian ones) tomorrow doesn’t mean you give up and condemn “the administration” for killing your dreams.  It does mean you need to plan out how to take all the steps needed between where you are and where you want to be.  We’ve all been so busy making sure our checks didn’t bounce, it has been hard to lift our eyes to the horizon and even think about dreams.  I’m encouraged by the fact that I am hearing more and more conversations about strategic planning and mapping out strategies to move our organizations to the next level (including the next level of support for our people).

I honestly believe that most often the fault lies not in administrators’ motivations, nor even in the specific budgetary priorities of an organization, but rather in a severe lack of transparency.  Without transparency, there can be no appropriate oversight.  Without transparency, you lose vital opportunities.  Without transparency, there can be no trust.

Articles like Mike Daisey’s encourage and support a culture of fear in an industry where our best work can only be created in a safe environment.  We, as administrators, must lead the way to reverse this culture of fear and the surest way to do this is by sharing what you know and all the plans.  By doing so, we invite in every person in the organization to be part of the solution.  We are better together.  In fact, we can only exist as a team.  Let’s stop fighting and start working towards a better artistic world for us all.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on October 9, 2014 in Arts management, risk-taking, theatre

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Hire for Human Connection: Lessons from Trader Joe’s

Trader JoesI recently read this post about one woman’s emotional connection to the guys who work at Trader Joe’s.  Yes, the end made me cry, but the piece also reminded me of all the reasons I love Trader Joe’s.  Sure, they have good gluten-free spaghetti for 80% less than Kroger, but it is more than that.  Much more.  As the author of that post highlights, every time I walk into a Trader Joe’s I feel seen.  I feel like I am a human being recognized by other human beings.  I feel like I’m welcomed and appreciated and acknowledged.  All of this simply from eye contact, a smile, and a hello?  Yep, that’s the magic of Trader Joe’s.

I can’t say that I get that same feeling when I walk into most theatre lobbies and offices.  Why is that?  What does Trader Joe’s have that our theatres don’t?  They are just as busy (or more so) as we are but they create a completely different atmosphere.

I went to the source: a friend who works at my customer service Mecca.  I asked, “What is it?  How do they train you?  What materials do they give you?  How do you create this amazing environment in what could just be a crowded grocery store?”

His answer?  “It is really about the hiring process.”

Really?  Just hiring?  No sample scripts?  No role playing?  No complicated brainwashing?

Really.  They put the most energy into what Jim Collins calls “getting the right people in the right seats on the bus.”  Each potential hire is interviewed by 3 or 4 people.  They are looking for innate qualities of kindness and human connection, not lines on a resume.  They don’t do much training at all.  As my friend said, “it is hard to teach someone to be warm and friendly.”  The fit is the thing.

I’ve read that so many times over the years but too often we hire for one of three reasons:

  1. They are our friends
  2. They are the person available and we don’t want a hole in the organization
  3. They have tactical experience, regardless of “soft” skills

Not everyone is the right fit for every organization and it takes discipline to hire for fit and not for “we think they can do the job.”  It takes fortitude (and everyone pitching in) to keep a position open until you find that right person.  And it takes courage to make a change if you make the wrong hire.  But, just as with the good-to-great companies in Jim Collins’ book, that is the essential first step to becoming a great organization.  You can have the clearest vision for the company possible, but if you don’t have the right people in the right seats, you aren’t going to achieve that vision.  Compromising on who you hire is the first step to mediocrity.

We also need to work on the other thing my friend mentioned about Trader Joe’s:  they take care of their people.  Yes, that means good pay, 401(k), vacation time, holidays off.  Even more than those, he says Management is encouraged to care for the “whole employee.”  They treat each other with as much respect and humanity as they treat their customers.

Theatres are (can be) community-building, inside and out.  The relationship that can form betwixt and between audience members and artists is beautiful.  What Trader Joe’s shows us is that this human connection isn’t the sole purview of the theatrical production.  We can build community from the very first contact of someone walking into the box office, the classroom, or the administrative offices.  We can build it among ourselves within our offices, conference rooms, and rehearsal halls.  In order to do that you have to bring your humanity to work and welcome the humanity of those who enter our potentially magical spaces.  Connection is a vital thing to our well-being.  Let’s not wait for the show to make that connection.  It starts with us.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on October 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , ,

Choices: A response to Louis C.K.

This may seem off topic, but it has been on my mind and I want to write about it.

If you’ve spent any time on social media in the past week or so, you’ve probably seen this bit from Louis C.K. on why he hates smartphones.  A lot of my friends are posting (and reposting) it and I understand why.  Louis C.K. is witty and articulate and what he says is real.  If you look around you can see evidence that supports his argument.  

But, you know what?  We all have a choice of what we give our attention to.  Do you know what I see?  

I see the boys on my son’s peewee football team, on which he is one of four second-string players, helping, encouraging, and teaching him.  I see children at my kids’ school supporting each other as they figure out together how to deal with conflict.  I see colleagues at the ASC, friends at Rotary, and folks in the community reaching out and helping each other in tiny and enormous ways.  I see our theatre community sharing, communicating, and collaborating with each other in ways and on a scale that would have been unthinkable a dozen years ago.  This is all real too.

Have you noticed that when you are irritated more irritated people show up in your world?  Which reality do you want to promote?  What do you want more of in your life?  Recognize that you are making the choice.  If you want more disconnection, keep posting that video, keep telling that story.  I know what I want.  I choose joy.

 

Image

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

Interviewing for the big job

Michael Kaiser’s recent article in the Huffington Post got me thinking about what skills we need to make sure the future leaders of our arts organizations have; how can we help them be prepared to take the reins?  Then last week a friend asked for advice on interviewing for her first Executive Director position.  I’ve talked through this process with other friends over the years but this is the first time I’ve written it all down.  Much of this advice is applicable to the second round of interviews, but it is all good to think about even before your first talk with your potential new artistic home.  I hope this gives some framework to what I feel is important knowledge for an incoming ED/MD to have.

Interviewing for the job of Executive or Managing Director

Remember, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you; you need to make sure you go into any ED or MD position with your eyes wide open. They may not have everything in formal written form, but what they do have will give you a good idea of the infrastructure you would be jumping into.

  1. Most recent two years’ financial reports (Income Statement vs. Budget, Balance Sheet, and Cash Flow) … what is their revenue split between earned & contributed?  Do they have consistent earned revenue or have their ticket/event sales been erratic?  Within contributed, how much is in grants, corporate, government, and individual?  Are funds from a capital campaign artificially inflating their Balance Sheet or are they making the numbers work on the operating side in a straightforward manner?
  2. Current budget (and cash flow projections for the fiscal year if they have them; it would be very helpful to know how cyclical their cash flow is and what they currently do when faced with cash troughs)
  3. Latest audit
  4. Current Strategic Plan
  5. Development and Marketing plans for the current year.  What has been their approach to marketing, both event and institutional?  Do they see any issues with their current branding or brand awareness? (or do you?)
  6. If they don’t have a formal written development plan, then you’ll need to ask if they have any special campaigns going on right now or planned in the near future (is there a balloon debt they are going to need to retire in the next two years?  Do they have their hearts set on an endowment?  That sort of thing.)  What is the average individual gift? ($200k in $50 increments takes a whole heck of a lot of time & work!)  What is their current rate of retention for patrons and donors (churn) year over year?
  7. Ask about their Board structure: number of Directors, term limits, standing committees, how active are they?  Do they have a formal Board Promise or a specific give & get?  How much of the annual fundraising comes from the Board?  What kind of pipeline do they have for future Board members?  What will be your role in cultivating new members?  What is the term for the Board Chair? (will you be training a new Board Chair as you are learning the ropes yourself?)  What is the Board orientation process?
  8. Do the ED and AD report directly to the Board?  Are both leaders voting members of the Board?  What evaluation process do they have for the executive leadership?
  9. How big is the staff and how much is the Board a “working” board?  What about performance evaluations for the rest of the staff?

Be ready to talk about your experience with fundraising A LOT.  Be sure to have examples demonstrating your comfort level with engaging folks of all backgrounds in conversation and communicating the mission.  Be ready, if asked, to give feedback on their current marketing messages & materials.  Also, give thought to where you would want to focus when you first join the team:

  • Does their budget process need to be revamped? (are they consistently coming in under projections?  Do they have an accumulated deficit?)
  • Is there a segment of their audience that needs more attention?  Have their communications been consistent?  Have they become stale?
  • Do they need to go into a strong Board development phase?
  • What role does the AD currently play in fundraising and how can you use her/his “stardust” to the greatest impact?

Do your homework and you will know if you and the organization are the right fit.  You will also show your potential employers that you are serious about the commitment you will all be making to each other if a job is offered and accepted.

As I mentioned in my earlier post on the next generation of arts leaders, if you are an emerging leader and you see items in this list that confuse you or areas in which you know you need more experience, start now.  Join a non-profit Board to see things from the other side.  Take fundraising and/or marketing courses.  Take a look at the Nonprofit Finance Fund and BoardSource for help in beefing up your financial and Board relations understanding (also, read Governance as Leadership.  Really.  Do it now.).  The great thing about being a Managing or Executive Director is that you get to be involved in every facet of the administrative side of the business.  The hard thing about being a Managing or Executive Director is that you need to be familiar and comfortable with every facet of the administrative side of the business.

Please continue this conversation in the comments below!

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,