Corporate Volunteers in Arts Organizations Giving Beyond Money; Volunteering Beyond Ushering

by Bridget Lee, December 2003
published with permission

Executive Summary

The arts are integral to a civil and productive society. The arts are integral for community growth. The arts are integral to life; however, the arts are suffering economically and productively. Entrepreneurship is the motivation behind a capitalist society; however, divergent thinking skills are lacking in businesses today. The arts and business communities need one another to move forward creatively and economically. But how can artists tap into the business community to get the skills they need? How can the business community be involved in helping develop the cultural capital of an area? By looking at the Business Committee for the Arts model, arts organizations and businesses can begin this type of relationship in their community. This report includes additional resources for businesses interested in this work and other models as well as case studies from a company and an employee who have engaged in the arts as volunteers, contributors, and corporate citizens.

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"Art and the encouragement of art is political in the most profound sense, not as a weapon in the struggle, but as an instrument of understanding . . . I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we too will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit. . ."

John F. Kennedy

The arts are integral to a civil and productive society. In the United States in 2002, nonprofit arts organizations:

  • Generated $134 billion in economic activity
  • Spent $53.2 billion
  • Brought in audiences that spend $80.8 billion on events-related items (Americans for the Arts)
  • Supported 1.3 million full-time jobs (Stener)
  • Contributed over $1.4 billion to the US economy in salaries, benefits, and payment of services (TCG).

The arts are integral for community growth. Richard Florida, the author of The Rise of the Creative Class, points to three areas needed for creative development of a city: technological creativity, economic creativity or entrepreneurship and artistic/cultural creativity. In the past, the majority of cities focused on the first two of these and completely ignored the third; however, "societies open to risk, to entrepreneurship, to new ideas have the same underlying characteristics. Forget your stadiums, forget your downtown malls. You have to build not only a business climate with tax incentives, but also a people climate, which attracts innovative, eccentric and sometimes downright weird people" (Williams). If businesses want to attract and retain innovative, committed workers, they need create opportunities to allow and encourage employees to be a part of an artistic community.

The arts are integral to life; however, the arts are suffering economically and productively. Entrepreneurship is integral to a capitalist society; however, divergent thinking skills are lacking in businesses today. The arts and business communities need one another to move forward creatively and economically. Leaders in the business community can promote the arts by encouraging employees to take part in arts organizations through volunteering. Not only will this benefit the business community but also the arts community and beyond. Investigating the state of affairs in the nonprofit theatre and the business community leads to an understanding of how they can benefit one another. Through organizations like Business Committee for the Arts, businesspeople and artists alike realize the exciting cross pollination between communities.

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Transforming the Nonprofit Theatre Community

According to the 2002 Theatre Communications Group (TCG) survey, 54 percent of the surveyed theatres ended the year in deficit, which may correlate to the only twelve percent of the surveyed theatres had staff solely dedicated to administrative duties. Most nonprofit theatres are managed by artists with a passion to reach the community, challenge our preconceptions, and provide insights to human experiences. Actors and designers leave university programs with a keen aesthetic sense of theatre but with little understanding of how to produce theatre. Theatre artists bring a wide range of skills to an employer; however, unless they have had specific training in business, rarely do those skills include marketing, strategic planning or development.

When looking at three theatres that I have worked with, the artists performed the duties of accounting, marketing and development. Leaders in the organizations had little business savvy and had no time to develop these skills. Artists posing as development directors were spinning their wheels. Designers forced to take on box office sales did not possess database management skills. These theatre artists are intelligent, entrepreneurial people but do not have any background in running an efficient business. How can these artists tap into the business community to get the skills they need? How can the business community be involved in helping develop the cultural capital of an area?

Most theatres have some sort of volunteer program. Rarely do these theatres use volunteers other than warm-body ushering. How can volunteers be used in theatre organizations-beyond ushering?

  • Serve on the Board of Directors
  • Manage finances
  • Provide legal advice
  • Develop marketing strategies
  • Create promotional material
  • Write grants
  • Fundraise in the community
  • Lead business workshops for artists
  • Connect theatres to the community
  • Offer an outsider's look at operations

By contributing to the arts organizations through volunteering, businesses can help nonprofits be fiscally responsible and sound; therefore, a company's monetary contributions can be stretched and used most efficiently. This encourages other companies and foundations to contribute to the arts. The arts organization learns more about sound business practice and uses resources more wisely and therefore is able to reach more people, produce more effective work, and take more risks. Now the cultural capital of a community is increased.

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Transforming the Business Community

In a survey conducted by the Points of Light Foundation, companies with employee volunteer programs reported the following benefits:

  • 94% said it "improves the company's public image."
  • 92% said it "enhances the impact of financial contributions."
  • 93% said it "builds employee teamwork skills."
  • 90% said it "attracts better employees because of image of community concern."
  • 77% said it "seems to lead to increase productivity of employees" (Forward, 224).

The corporate climate is much different than it was fifty years ago. Young professionals will have three to five jobs in their first ten years of employment. This nomadic nature translates to a disconnection from the communities they live in and isolation from their next door neighbor. By creating opportunities for employees to serve on boards or provide pro bono legal services or develop a strategic plan, employers encourage employees to engage in the community and be responsible citizens (Porter).

Research has proven the arts create stronger communities, raise students' test scores, and enrich the lives of participants. But what can the arts do for the marketplace? Thinking of the employee, "the arts develop the kinds of minds, the kind of thinker, the kind of manager that business must have more of if they are to remain competitive in the global marketplace" (Stener, 2). Thinking of a company's product, participation in the arts can raise awareness and credibility of a product through product placement and consumerism. Thinking of the company, corporate volunteerism can be a part of a public relations strategic plan to raise or improve a company's image as a good corporate citizen.

In her speech given at the Americans for the Arts Conference in 1999, President of Bravo Networks Kathleen Dore outlined "Five Key Traits for Employment in the Next Millennium." All the traits can be developed through engagement in the arts: ability to articulate a vision, high tolerance for ambiguity, orientation towards results, spirit of collaboration and empathy, and a sense of play (Americans for the Arts). Not only will the individual grow by volunteering at an arts organization, the company will benefit from that growth.

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The Intersection of Theatre and Business

Before an intersection between an arts organization and a business can happen, someone or something must raise the awareness of each other and establish a need by both parties. Typically based on a previous relationship, this awareness may be achieved by an employee, an artist or a third party like Business Council for the Arts (discussed below). Then the two entities must "court" one another to verify a perfect match. After both parties decide to follow through on the relationship, a business will contribute time and money to the arts organization. As the nonprofit learns from the business volunteer, it begins to run more effectively while spending its funds more efficiently. At the same time, the business volunteer is enriched by participation in the arts and other cultural activities. This results in an awareness of arts organizations and the participating business leading to the beginning of the cycle. [graphic]

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Matchmakers: Business and Arts

"I see myself as a Yenta," says Pat Porter, President of Dallas Business Committee for the Arts (DBCA). She works with 110 companies in the Dallas area matching business volunteers with arts organizations. Over the last 15 years, Ms Porter has placed over 550 senior executives on nonprofit arts boards. Fifteen years ago, an economic impact study showed that $3.2 million in cash and $1 million in in-kind donations were made to the arts community. This year $18.2 million in cash and $8.3 in-kind donations were made. She believes her organization has had a significant impact on the cultural economy of North Texas.

Ms Porter outlined the DBCA process [graphic]. First a business defines its target community and marketing focus. Then they set a budget for the business' contributions including both money from the business and time from the employees. Next the business presents this information to DBCA and the matching process begins. The DBCA identifies an arts agency based on the given information. Together the business and the arts agency decide on the initiative that they will pursue. This is when the relationship and the work begin. Finally, the business and the arts organization evaluate the relationship and work. At this point, either the business renews the relationship or redefines one of the first three steps.

The Dallas Business Committee for the Arts is based on a model that started in 1967 funded by David Rockefeller. Business Committee for the Arts is "a national not-for-profit organization that brings business and the arts together. It provides businesses of all sizes with the services and resources necessary to develop and advance partnerships with the arts that benefit business, the arts and the community" (BCA). Each region is independent of the national organization and responds to its community. Twenty five countries have BCA organizations while the United States has eleven regional organizations. Obviously there are many areas throughout the US that do not have access to this organization. One of the greatest achievements that BCA has accomplished since its inception in the 60's is "inculcating the current 'arts industry' environment: big business feels comfortable supporting the arts; arts organizations deem support by big business as an essential ingredient for financial success; and target audiences are made aware of the corporate contributions to cultural life" (Chong 47). Every community needs access to this way of interacting to increase the cultural capital and quality of life.

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The Difference between For Profit and Nonprofit

If an employee does have the opportunity to work with an arts organization, it is imperative that both the employee and the arts agency understand the difference between for profit and nonprofit. "By appreciating the uniqueness of the nonprofit sector, and the specific cause they have chosen to serve, business people can play a transformative role in strengthening the nonprofit sector" (Korngold). There are some obvious differences in the two types of operation of which most people have a general knowledge; however, when a for profit business employee volunteers for a nonprofit organization, it is necessary for a volunteer to consider the nuances.

The foremost difference is the focus. Generally speaking, in a for profit organization the financial bottom line is the motivation whereas a nonprofit organization is driven by the mission statement. This also follows when defining success for the organization. The nonprofit organization measures success in complex and sometimes elusive ways (O'Connell 119). For example, if a theatre has a mission to introduce the arts to "at risk" students, they may have an after school program in a poor neighborhood which makes no money, and may even lose money. However, they are fulfilling the mission of the organization and therefore are succeeding. As Korngold writes in The Nonprofit Times, "Keep in mind that if a food shelter could make money, it would be a restaurant; and if a homeless shelter could generate a profit, it would be a hotel" (2).

If a nonprofit arts organization wants to use volunteers in their operation, it is important to approach the relationship with an open mind. The volunteer is not there to save the nonprofit but at the same time the volunteer may have suggestions that could require the theatre to change its mode of operation.

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Case Study: CableRep Advertising, Inc.

Through the Business Committee for the Arts, CableRep Advertising, Inc. worked with arts organizations in Oklahoma City area. The company's objective in working with the BCA was "to enrich the quality of life of employees, to enhance the company's presence in the community, and to promote arts education and increased access to the arts" (BCA). Much of the success of this relationship was due to the employees' volunteering in the community. "CableRep's involvement with the arts encourages employees to volunteer their creative skills, which enhances the company's presence in the community and often leads to new business relationships. In addition, the company's involvement has consistently reduced operating expenses, increased ticket sales and boosted membership support for the many arts organizations" (BCA).

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Case Study: Laura Sandberg, Dell, Inc.

Laura Sandberg joined Second Youth Family Theatre shortly after they completed their first season. The company was started by three theatre artists who had little business knowledge. With her management, computer, and production background, she felt she could help. She is still with them 12 years later because "theatre was a major outlet that helped me gain confidence and presence in my everyday life, so I want to help bring that avenue to other youngsters as well" (Sandberg).

Laura is a full time employee at Dell, Inc. as a Business Analyst. Fortunately Dell, has a focus on the community and encourages employees to volunteer through and connect to the community. Dell offers flexible work hours because they want their employees to know that Dell's focus is "giving back to our community in whatever way we (the employees) find meaningful" (Sandberg). Laura spends anywhere from a few hours a week to 40 hours a week serving the theatre. When asked why she gave so much to this theatre she replied, "There is something for me inherently valuable about a collaborative art form and things that really encourage imagination and wonder in youngsters" (Sandberg).

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Resources for Businesses Connecting to the Arts

If a business is interested in connecting to the community through volunteering, the following is a list of organizations that can help connect businesses to arts organizations:

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The arts are integral to our world. As Kennedy stated, ". . . we too will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit. . ." Through the cross pollination of businesses and arts organizations, the cultural capital and therefore the quality of life of a community is raised. At this time of economic downturn and budget cutting, arts organizations need help with management expertise and businesses need divergent thinkers to solve problems. It seems to follow that they should be seeking one another. Whether a company uses the Business Committee for the Arts or seeks another way to promote corporate volunteerism in the arts, it is time to do the work. As Mother Theresa said, "Just begin . . . one, one, one" (Forward, 187).

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  • Americans for the Arts. 06 December 2003.
  • Business Committee for the Arts. 06 December 2003.
  • Chong, Derrick. Arts Management. New York: Routledge, 2002.
  • Forward, David C. Heroes After Hours: Extraordinary Act of Employee Volunteerism. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass Inc., 1994.
  • Korngold, Alice. "Making the Translation: When business people join nonprofit boards." The Non Profit Times. 17.8 (2003).
  • O'Connell, Brian. People Power. The Foundation Center, 1994.
  • Porter, Pat. Telephone interview. 08 December 2003.
  • Sandberg, Laura. Email to the author. 09 December 2003.
  • Stener, Gary P. and Julie Peeler. "The Benefits to Business of Participating in the Arts." Arts & Business Quarterly. (Spring 2001).
  • Voss, Zannie Giraud & Glenn B. Voss. "Theatre Facts 2002." Theatre Communication Group. 2002. 06 December 2003. .
  • Williams, Geoff. "Let's Get Creative: Creativity is what makes the world go round. How do you keep from missing the ride?" Entrepreneur Magazine. October 2002. 06 December 2003. .