Many of us rail against the functionality of the nonprofit business model in the theatre, but seasoned arts administrator James Undercofler has a nice provocative post providing an actual reasoned argument:
Is the traditional not-for-profit, 501(c)3 (NFP) so cumbersome in its structure as to actually impede the very promise of its original intention?Hmm, remind you of any certain large but inert nonprofit theatre companies?
In the arts world, an odd personalization of the NFP has evolved that has accelerated their growth in numbers. Creative artists from all areas want to create their own organization, so that they can create their art. It's almost as if one step has to precede the other. Yes, it likely grew out of the need to raise money, and a somewhat unfounded belief that no one would give to them without the imprimatur, but back to my initial premise, the creation of an organization before the art itself proves my point, that the NFP impedes its very promise.
While at the start-up level the NFP structure presents a visceral challenge, as organizations grow larger, the effects of the structure are more subtle, more insidious. In larger NFP's, because of the need to raise larger budget percentages of contributed revenue, boards of directors become exceedlying large, as does the administration needed to service them. These boards rarely universally possess knowledge of or passion for the mission itself. At the very least they may understand a small portion of the mission's program activity. With these large organizational entities, flexibility is lost, and mature organizations quickly move into decline, as they cannot address the changes presented to them in their communities, from their audiences, and external factors. These organizations become "too big to succeed."
Indeed the whole 501(c)3 was created to help "charities" not art, right? (Insert "art as charity case" joke here.) So, not that this is a time to get anything changed in Congress, but... how about a new tax code just focused on accomplishing what artists need most: the ability to attract donations and rent discounted space in exchange for not personally profiting. That would be a start, at least.