Thursday, August 05, 2010

Good Advice, Served up on a Very Bitter Cracker

The Guardian offers an op-ed by Rena De Sisto, global arts and culture executive at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, on how arts organizations should re-think the way they interact with corporate sponsors. On the surface it seems to be a common-sense opinion piece on "know your customers' needs." Here's a bit [via artinfo.com]:
Importantly, cultural institutions must understand that the days of arts support based on executive whim are over. Companies have many people to answer to – shareholders among them – and must extract sound business benefits, such as access for employees, brand visibility and client outreach opportunities. This need not be a Faustian bargain, but a mutually beneficial one. Treat your funders like valued clients and, like all satisfied clients, they will become more loyal. Some organisations, such as the Old Vic and Tate, do this very effectively and make it easy for Bank of America Merrill Lynch to continue our support of them. Going beyond the big financials and the energy companies will diversify institutions' revenue bases. These are sound strategies for most businesses, certainly for financial institutions. So why not for the arts sector?


I wouldn't disagree with the essence of that sentiment. Understanding your clients' needs is step one in developing how to serve those needs. And I agree that if states are having to cut back on arts funding, it is a very good thing for corporations to step in to help keep institutions afloat.

What I find particularly shocking about this essay, though, is how anyone in the banking industry would, so soon after the historic tax-payer-funded bailouts that saved them from absolute oblivion, already feel so cock-sure about their own insights as to to lecture other industries on what makes for "sound" business strategies. Mind you, I'm not saying BoA isn't savvy...they managed to make the most of the available government bailout money, but as one commenter on the Guardian put it:
Now let me see why is it exactly was it again that Arts funding is being cut?

Ah yes the 'Masters of the Universe' noses in the trough Credit Crunch.

Thanks for the advice Bank of America - but get your own house in order before offering 'no pain no gain advice to everyone else'.

Without you there wouldn't have been pain.
From all accounts, BoA has gotten their own house in order again, but then I think that almost any company would have, had the US government offered them access to hundreds of billions of dollars to do so.

They might have waited just a bit longer to climb up on that soapbox, or at the very least acknowledged the taxpayer help they received before lecturing others.

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9 Comments:

Anonymous Stephanie T. said...

What that little statement represents is not necessarily BoA/ML telling nonprofits to get themselves in order, per se. I think that nonprofit development officers depend on too narrow a target audience and too few corporations and individuals with deep pockets. Senior development officers aren't always business savvy -- I learned this from unpleasant experience. trying to start a young patrons group at a small but significant museum, I made no headway with the hidebound upper management of the development department, who were more interested in wringing every cent they could out of the alter kocker crowd. Perhaps this not-so-subtle statement is more of a kick in the pants to complacent institutional fundraisers to DO something different, not depend on the same old money from the same old funders. that spells death to a nonprofit.

Just MHO...

8/05/2010 09:56:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I agree that that's what the advice boils down to, Stephanie. It's simply how much it must sting if you're an institution seeing your state funding being slashed to have someone from the industry most responsible for the worldwide crisis (and hence the need for the slashing) lecture you on how to fix your business.

8/05/2010 10:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Stephanie T. said...

it's cruel, but some of the less- or non-entrepreneurial minded development officers in cultural institutions need a stinging wakeup call like this. sometimes that's what it takes -- a very polite bucket of cold water over the head is harsh after all that champagne!

(BTW love your blog. you smart. really great. thanks for taking the time to do it)

8/05/2010 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It's not that it's cruel. The advice is sound.

It's that it's somewhat rich for a bank that only survived itself because the government stepped in to save it to lecture others on how to survive without government help.

8/05/2010 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger annell said...

Maybe the arts should get equal funding as the banks. That sounds good! But of course that isn't how it works. But arts organizations can dream. Haven't they always had to make-do, maybe they should lecture the banks?

8/05/2010 11:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Stephanie T. said...

Actually, BoA itself did not need the help. It was Merrill that needed saving. The fed stepped in to support that transaction. BoA did not need Merrill, Merrill needed BoA. It was complicated.

if this statement came from Citigroup or Goldman, I would be throwing things at the screen.

8/05/2010 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

While indeed BoA bought Merrill Lynch (in November 2008) because ML needed BoA, nine months earlier it was BoA who lobbied Congress for a bailout and all but wrote themselves the bill Sen. Dodd eventually drafted.

So although it's rather difficult to sort the whole thing out, even if BoA never officially needed any bailout money to save themselves, they were clearly instrumental in securing the bailout for the banking industry, again, making their lecturing the art industry on how to live without government assistance very rich indeed.

8/05/2010 02:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real problem is that there aren't enough people with financial resources who are interested in art apart from commerce. It would be nice if the governement could support art without having its hands tied with regard to public backlash, however that's wishful thinking (thanks Jesse Helms). I definitely wish that the government would take a more active role in supporting the arts, but that all results in a lot of bitching and moaning when people disagree about who received the funds. In the end internal fundraising will always be the most important financial lifeline of arts institutions.

8/05/2010 04:39:00 PM  
Blogger Administrator said...

Indeed, only government could create and expand monetary base and markets for art, same as they funded Google and Microsoft. in country where everyone in debt- no place for art, don't expect it coming

8/18/2010 06:25:00 PM  

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