Situation

In its fifteenth year of existence, this performing arts organization depended heavily on the direct participation of its board members in fundraising to match its ticket income of several millions of dollars, and in volunteering to assist in its special fundraising events. As in its peer companies in other cities, staff members felt they were underpaid and overworked. Added to their stress were their resentful feelings that some of the board members had a cavalier and interfering attitude towards staff. The board members, in turn, felt they had contributed great amounts of their own money and time, only to encounter disrespectful and uncooperative staff members. Despite these difficulties, the spectacles put on by the company were admired by the public who responded by means of repeated sold-out performances, in the largest and most prestigious venue in town, if not the country.

Action

Over the course of several meetings, the expectations of board members were articulated both qualitatively and quantitatively. More important, the role of the board members was broken into two parts, one comprised of board members responsible for governance and the other of volunteers responsible for fundraising. In this latter capacity, the roles were reversed–the board volunteers reported to staff members. Board members were educated on how to maintain clarity of the distinction between the two roles and to remain aware of which hat they were wearing at any moment. A timetable of events for the year was established, telling which roles board members would be assuming with each. A feedback system was installed to measure how well each board member was participating and how well each was able to be integrated into the new arrangement. The feedback was tied to a system that would react to those board members who might fall below defined acceptable performance levels.

The Results

Previously unheard of degrees of cooperation between board and staff manifested itself in not only reduced conflict between the two bodies, but also more efficiency in the office, as well as increased fundraising. The performances themselves also raised the bar to even higher levels of artistry, which some people attributed to the new “attitudes behind the stage.”

 

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