Stop Talking About Money

I know. You glanced at the title and ROFL’ed for at least an hour, before asking what sort of idiot would suggest we stop talking about money.

Let me explain. Any nonprofit organisation exists in a world of shortages. They are short of time, short of resources and short of money. How much money we have, or more likely, don’t have is a continuous conversation.

We invest considerable resources into getting revenue. Outside of commercial activities, we invest in building relationships with funding bodies, donors and philanthropic organisations. We invest time and resources into the preparation of funding applications, progress reporting and accquitals.

Boards and Committee’s often have a money focus. Rightly so, though many focus on the wrong aspect. Board members will spend a lot of time talking about how they might reduce a cost by 1% or 2%; while spending little or no time talking about how to increase revenue.

Management spend a lot of their time talking about how to shoehorn an artistic program into funding, or how to cover administration costs in line with funding requirements. Even in their commercial activities, the conversation will often be about how to reduce costs, rather than how to increase sales.

Conversations about how to manage spending must take place. This is effective risk management. Strategic risk management balances the conversation with a discussion on how to increase revenue.

The outcome is that conversations go something like this. We would like to do this sort of program but don’t have the money or we would like to do more marketing but we don’t have the money. This type of conversation is negative and depressing. When supporters hear this type of conversation they are being given a reason to avoid engage with your organisation.

So back to our title. Stop talking about money. What should you do instead?

Start by changing the conversation and the words used. As indicated in The Cycle long term planning for a great artistic program lies at the heart of a viable arts organisation.

When you plan long term, say 3-5 years in advance, then you create a different conversation. Instead of talking about what you do not have; you and your family of supporters talk about what will be.

Sure people will ask how you intend to do the things in your plan. When they do, you can open up a conversation as to how they, or others may help. You can have a conversation about the resources, the people, the time frame and yes, you can talk about the money you need. It is a different conversation. It’s a positive conversation. It’s a conversation of hope!

Boards set long term strategic goals. Financial managers prepare long term cashflow projections. Why wouldn’t the artistic department set out a long term plan for the artistic program?

People often say I don’t know enough about the future to plan that far ahead. That’s fine. Circumstances change; plans can be changed. When an unexpected opportunity presents itself, you can modify the plan.

Putting a plan to paper sets the scene; it sets in motion a process of getting things done. When you have a plan for 3-5 years ahead you begin talking about what needs to be done, people start to align themselves with the plan, your marketing people have interesting and exciting messages for your family of supporters and supporters have something to spend their money upon.

This is The Cycle. Start with great art, market aggressively, build support and generate revenue.

Organisations than plan ahead reduces stress upon the artistic and marketing teams. Instead of getting stressed over things that have been left till the last minute, people are doing things that need to be done while they have plenty of time. The relationship team have time to foster and nurture family relationships and the marketing team have time to plan and implement program marketing campaigns.

Consider this. Your plan calls for an event to take place in four years. In the early stages your marketing team can raise awareness and tease your family of supporters. They can create expectations and desire. One year out from the event they can begin to advertise early bird tickets. This can bring in revenue to help offset the cost of preparing for the event.

Your audience benefit from long term planning. They can see where you are going and they talk about what is coming up. They plan what events they want to attend. Once that decision is made they are unlikely to change their mind.

John Coxon is founder of art4u.australia, a consulting agency helping arts organisations to be viable and sustainable by applying The Cycle organisational model for arts organisations. Reach out to John to discuss how this model may help your organisation.

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