Too often arts organisations are forced into small thinking by the every-day constraints of funding, time, general risk aversion and the uniquely-Australian fear of being a tall poppy.
Following is an inducement to start thinking big, to solve problems once – and chase down opportunities that lie just beyond the horizon.
How Australia’s arts organisations got used to thinking small
The reality is that most organisations are hampered by under-resourcing: impossibly tight budgets and too few people to spark the gear shift required. We are fighting to live within our means and sometimes it’s hard to tell whether we’re really living at all.
Grant makers and the media have taught us that donors don’t want to fund administrative costs and so we absorb new programs and activities into existing headcounts. The organisation hollows out and we submit polite requests for enough support to get us into trouble – but not enough to get us out (because we know we’re unlikely to get the amount we really need).
If that’s not bad enough, we stop trying to make a noise about what we’re doing because that would involve a budget we just don’t have. And we forget to include things like brand equity, audience loyalty and institutional visibility in our project KPIs.
What happens when we think small?
With small thinking our excellent ideas are hobbled at the outset. We don’t furnish them with the factors they need to succeed. Instead, they become noble and earnest pursuits with outcomes that no one knows about.
Because we haven’t built in sufficient resources, staff become exhausted and disenfranchised… usually because they didn’t need something else to work on that’s just outside their skill set (and available time).
We’re so flat out making it happen that the usual revenue generating activities suffer. A monster has been created and very little – if anything – is gained.
When do you need to start thinking big?
You need to start thinking big when you know (or you’ve been told) that business as usual isn’t cutting it, when it’s always hard, and when your survival is genuinely at stake.
You need to start thinking big when your company is mature, plateauing and entering phase of strategic renewal.
And you need to start thinking big when you’ve had that transformational idea that you can’t leave alone. Or when a great, game-changing opportunity comes your way.
There is an element of truth in the adage that sometimes it’s easier to raise a lot of money than a little. Why? Because big ideas and ambition attract attention.
If the idea is well argued, adequately resourced, and run by qualified, talented people – people listen. And you have every opportunity to attract passionate investors and donors.
But they’ll want to see some important things first…
What donors or investors want to see
As with any investment decision, your audience will expect to see an idea that is a combination of artistically exceptional, ground breaking, transformational, high impact and ambitious. They’ll expect it to be thought through to its logical conclusion and carry a team with the vision and acumen to pull it off.
They’ll want to see how the idea is replicable or scalable, which is the way it’s going to create income and value for your organisation. And they’ll want to see that you have built in critical success factors such as marketing, communications, operating costs and man-power. They will already have thought about brand equity, audience loyalty and institutional visibility – so you must cover this off too.
And what they don’t want to see
No sensible donor or investor wants you to hollow out your organisation and burn your staff. They know that engaged people and a positive culture are the foundation of a thriving organisation.
Trying to attract support by being conservative, inexpensive and unscary won’t work. What’s scary is when a great idea, program, production, creative enterprise isn’t conceived with all the necessary components. That’s a truly risky proposition.
That old saying: success has many fathers but failure is an orphan – is important. Success begets success and investors will be proud to be part of something that does what it says it will do.
So don’t leave loopholes for failure in your business case. Do your homework and build the plan your artistic vision deserves.
It begins with artistic leaders…
Every artistic director we’ve met knows exactly what their transformational idea is. You have immense (if sometimes unconscious) power to draw others to you to make it happen.
So assemble your talented team and stop thinking small.
Think big, be brave, solve the problem once and resource it to the hilt (ALL of it). Make sure you build in the capacity to make a noise, celebrate success, and acknowledge your many fathers.