Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Grant us this Day our Daily Nuggets

Ah, life in the fast lane. I can tell we are all getting ready to wrap up the spring and head into Summer. The season of barbecues, shorts, and swimming. It is also the season of grants. A time to take a break from the business of the year and prepare for the next. So in preparation for the season, here are a couple of nuggets I learned about the grant-making process after attending the Arts Council Silicon Valley's panel review for their Community Arts Fund.

How you look is so important!! People size you and your organization up first by what they see. The other four senses rarely get the first swing at the bat. So, always have lots of photos (color preferably), video, and text that is easy to summarize from a first glance. Time is such a commodity these days, so it is critical for a company and especially an arts organization that presents musical (audio-driven) performances to display a clean and consistent look that speaks to the organization's quality, mission, and passion. In our YouTube world, the people that evaluate you–reviewers, colleagues, and the general audience–need to see the most compelling visuals possible so that they can break from their routine and pay attention.

"To be a good non-profit, you should embrace your mission passionately and reach your constituents effectively. To be a great non-profit, you should do the same and have the documentation to back it up." I'd say we're right in between. And after seeing the panel at the Arts Council Silicon Valley meeting stress the documentation that was or wasn't provided from each applicant, I realize that this piece of the puzzle is critical to folks that can't be there on the front lines to observe all the good that is happening. After visual aids, this is the second highest item on the totem pole for the uninitiated. Whether it be surveys, first-hand accounts, or reviews, an outside observer needs to weigh in to provide creditability to a project. After all, it makes sense. Think about the last time you saw a movie. You caught an ad on TV, saw a billboard, or watched a preview in the theater. All visual stimuli. You may have read a review in the paper or had a friend tell you how great it was. Both are reviews (documentation). Then you decided to see the movie. I'll bet that 9 times out of 10 these are the two primary reasons we are motivated to go to a theater. Things like subject matter and skill are important, but I think visuals and reviews set the stage. If the visuals and positive reviews aren't there, it is going to be a huge challenge for the subject matter or skill to overcome the first impression.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Systems and Language

Occasionally I muse about curious things. At least, I think they're curious. For example, why do fences matter to some and not others? Or, who was the first person to say "by jove?" This week my thoughts fell upon systems and language.

I've become a big believer in systems. Should you take a stroll by the QUADRE office, you'll notice that my fervor is born out. Major things have binders. To be a major thing, you have to belong to either sales, grants, or general admin. Each binder has a to-do list so I can keep track of everything. And each item on the to-do lists have a priority and ease number associated with it. A 1 priority is urgent, 5 not so. A 1 ease of use is simple while 5 is hard and complicated. Dates are attached to everything as well.

There is also a Macro To-Do List to keep track of the big things that need to be done over the course of the year. This includes conference, major grant and advertising deadlines as well as event details that recur every year. Since every to-do item is associated with something, there are also files to store this information. The files include jobs (past, current, and proposed); marketing; contacts; clients; grants; fundraising; publishing; non-profit governance; resources; and my personal favorite, miscellaneous.

With limited time every week in the office (got to continue to make a living doing other things for the time being), I make sure to tackle all the lists regularly and consistently. As much as I would love to do all the easy things first, the hard stuff is usually what makes the difference in the long run.

I find language to be such a tricky thing. Being as sarcastic as I am, I know I don't help matters. However, with email, phone, and text messaging being so prevalent today, it is so important to be clear in our language to convey accurately what we mean. In my case, I know that I have emailed every member of QUADRE at some point and-in my zeal to express myself completely-have managed to convey the opposite from what I mean.

Why? Because words are tricky. They can be interpreted two or more different ways half the time. For example, let's take the common phrase, "See you later." Do I mean that I will actually see you in the future? And how soon will it be? If I just mean "see" in a figurative sense, how will the communication continue instead? Also, what tone was used? Did I say it with a happy spring to my step or as a depressed and tormented artist? If you type it, one never knows.

To add to the confusion, I suffer from what some of my friends call "Daniel-isms." simply put, I use words that very few other people use or that don't exist at all. Two recent examples that I'm trying to coax out of my vocabulary include "irregardless" and "gals." My colleagues have fun with them and thank goodness they know me. The rest of the public at large, however, probably just think I have a screw or two loose. In turn, when I talk or type to this population, I end up being interpreted incorrectly or get written off as a dodo. Ah, what to do.

So, the moral (or as I used to say, morality) of it all is, speak and type like Ernest Hemingway. Keep it simple. Have a great day. Enjoy your week. Try to use "gal" in a sentence. Cheers.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

By Hook and By Crook, By Bell and Buy Book

This week's focus revolves around two interesting issues that look seemingly unrelated, but have more in common than we care to think. The issues revolve around how philanthropy can change a community for the better while at the same time our society's value-to constantly achieve and want more-blinds us to these positive changes. So I give you a book and a bell.

Another wonderful reference from our volunteer, Sharlene Gee, this text speaks to how donors, boards, and nonprofit organizations can transform communities. Written by Kay Sprinkel Grace and Alan L. Wendroff, you can learn more about the book and order your copy by clicking here.

Mat Croft, one of QUADRE's artists for those not in the know, sent me the following article from the Washington Post. The paper tried an experiment. What if you took one of the world's greatest violinists, Joshua Bell, and had him play for spare change, incognito, outside a bustling Metro stop in Washington DC on a multimillion-dollar Stradivarius. Would anyone notice?

Click here for this fascinating read complete with hidden camera footage of what took place. It is a truly amazing and telling snapshot of contemporary American life. My hat is off to the wonderful writer of this article, Gene Weingarten.