Practical advice for sailing an arts org in rough financial waters

“I don’t think `the economic situation is` going to get that tough,” Kronkosky Managing Director Palmer Moe told the Current during an interview for this week’s story about local arts funding during the recession. “I don’t envision any arts organizations failing.” Especially if they think and plan strategically, he and our other interview subjects stressed. The most common recommendation: Don’t start new programs or initiatives that fall outside your basic mission.

“Stick to your core values, your core programs that you’ve had in place for extended periods of time,” said Office of Cultural Affairs Director Felix Padrón. “Don’t create anything new, because I don’t think there’s gonna be resources and support to accommodate that growth.”

That advice was also offered in the October 2008 newsletter of the Arts Consulting Group, Inc. (, which listed a dozen steps to take during lean financial times. Stay in touch with donors, it suggests, and make sure they know they’re appreciated. If you’re in the middle of a major fundraising drive, monitor it closely and honestly, so that you can make adjustments if you’re falling significantly short of the goal.

“The other challenge, obviously, that the `San Antonio` nonprofit sector is gonna be faced with — and I’m being inclusive of all the non-profits when I make that comment — is that there’s a lot of fundarising going on in this community right now,” said Padrón. Like Moe, Padrón worries about the unprecedented number of capital campaigns underway — from the Briscoe to the Witte to the Bexar County performing-arts center — at a time when Kronkosky, the San Antonio Area Foundation, and other major funders are acknowledging their gifts will be down next year. “So, the question is, do you still move forward with `e.g.` a $20-million vision, or do you move forward with a reduced scope of work?”

In addition to perhaps thinking smaller, or “cooling our jets a little bit,” as Witte President Marise McDermott put it, Moe suggests thinking creatively. “I think there are opportunities for arts organizations in our community to merge,” he said, “and you would remove the administrative layer of expenses with respect to a couple of those organizations, or at least a significant portion of it.” He declined to suggest examples for fear of spurring shotgun weddings, and emphasized that such a move would have to make sense on programmatic and services level for it to work.

On a related note, Jump-Start Education Director Steve Bailey says that he has taken note of grants that invite collaboration between organizations who provide similar services, or address the same populations – “in other words, two or three organizations going in together on a project they might have done separately.”

Reduced funds necessarily means reducing expenses, and Moe makes the common-sense recommendation that organizations develop “a contingency plan in the event that some of their events or annual-fund dollars are less than what they had been experiencing. And look ahead to what they can cut and still not hurt the fundamental mission of the organization.”

To that last suggestion, Reggie Williams, president of the San Antonio Area Foundation, adds a cautionary note to keep the future in mind, even when the present is gloomy. “Don’t make decisions based on panic thatyou wil have to redo in three months, six months, a year,” he said. For example, “You’ve got a great team,; you destroy the team because you’re moving folks around. I don’t think that’s a smart thing to do unless it just gets to the point where that’s the only option. But in my mind that should be one of the last things. If you’ve got solid infrastructure and a solid team, then I would say you want to hold onto that until you just can’t support it financially."

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