An Important Memo From Arts Administrator Linda Richman

To my nonprofit arts fraynd and geshvister: email me, we'll tawk. Don't be a zhhlub and go schnorring for shekels. Don't ask -- yet.

So, nu? Your show used to be hosted by your friend Paul Baldwin, but he developed shpilkes in his geneckte gezeugte and now you're face with being a more innovative arts administrator. Don't be verklempt! Photo: Creative Commons.

So, tateleh, your arts organization is hurting for money because you’re half-dependent on earned income and no earned income, no performances.

So, you’re thinking of laying off people — but they’re artists and you’re all mishpocha; you don’t wanna. You see these other nonprofits? They get foundation grants and government programs to keep their employees, which would be great if total income were all based on contributed revenue, but dahling, it isn’t, so a lot of those grants — not available.

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So, you start laying off marketing staff, development staff, all your crew members, and you cut your own salary to bare minimum. You did cut your own salary, didn’t you, bubbie? If you didn’t, you’re a goniff.

So, you cancelled your gala (or worse, you schnorrer, you “postponed” it) and now you have not much income. Your reserves are gone, your credit line is maxed (Bloomingdale’s does not count), and you have no experience whatsoever in how to handle this kind of a crisis because you weren’t alive during World War II. Oh, and my little tzadik — do you listen to yourself? You keep comparing this current crisis to 2008, but alas, is nisht.

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So, nu? No money coming in, no gala, no performances or exhibits, no one in the office and your staff is on unemployment. There’s a lot of tsuris out there. It’s not like buttah.

So, you got a board? Use them! Tell them everything. Not just the board chair, not just the executive committee. Everyone. The whole mishpucha. Tell them that the organization will close without their assistance, whatever that may entail. Don’t kvetch. Kibbitz.

And zei azoy gut — do not do your regular ask! Don’t even do a special ask.

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Here’s why, tzatzkeleh: your ask for gelt is competing right now with thousands of social-service nonprofits trying to provide food, masks, PPE, health and medical staff to millions of people in the US. That’s a lot of noise. There are only two reasonable outcomes if you ask for money while all of that is going on:

  1. Your request is drowned out by all the others, so you don’t look like a shmendrik.
  2. Your request will be seen as insensitive and selfish — you’ll look like a shmendrik.

Take this time to clean your lists, going into detail with your board members about every single donor (yes, I mean every one of them — you have the time now). Write non-mail-merged letters to your donors asking how they are and if there’s anything you can do to help them. Find ways to help all those social-service nonprofits (Atlanta Ballet’s costume shop making masks!) And for once, get out of your keppe.

Don’t resort to one-size-fits-all. Contact everyone you can think of to commiserate, to get ideas, to let them know they’re important to you — because they are. If you have trouble being on the phone or Zooming several times a day, get someone else to do it and you do all the background work.

And remember, things won’t be the same after the pandemic. Let me write that again:

Things won’t be the same
after the pandemic.

You can’t just go back to doing what you were doing.

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You’ve got work to do to build your company anew. Spend time figuring out what the new world looks like. Audiences will be different: Should you change your performance space to spread people out, losing capacity? Block off every other row, every fifth seat? What about your artists? Will they kiss on stage? Or even shake hands? Will you program escapist entertainment even if that’s not your mission? What is your mission? Stop looking at your pupik: Is your mission in the best interest of everyone over the next five years as this and possibly other viruses batter us?

I’m here to help, if you want. If you’re in greater Seattle, I’m physically here to help. Not for free, of course, because the $1,200 stimulus check I just got will be gone when rent is due. So you’ll click here and we’ll tawk.

Until then: zay gezunt, zol zayn mit mazl, tingz vet vern beser. And fregn nicht!

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