Shaking up non-profits

I have written about this before. Non-profits such as museums and parks have to start to think about how they can be an organizations that at least can break even. The slog of raising huge sums of money every year to stay afloat is just not sustainable.

As pressure grows from the crowd organizations are losing top dollars by stepping away from what is perceived as “blood” money. The Sackler family is top of the list. This is not changing.

There was a huge piece in the NYTimes about this issue. Organizations need to rethink how they operate. They have to stop operating in a vacuum believing that there will always be another pot of cash to tap into. Stop thinking short term cash to make it through the year and start thinking long term ways to be more efficient and create a revenue stream. This is for museums and parks not necessarily small impact oriented non-profits although being efficient should be high on their list.

Darren Walker said it best.  “We need to define trusteeship beyond people of financial wealth. Expand the number of board members and bring in people with other assets besides money that the museum needs. What’s interesting to me is the lack of energy, focus and creativity to figure this out.”

I have been talking about this for years. I am not sure what more needs to happen for museums to start realizing that times are not only changing the time is now. I agree wit Darren…the lack of creativity around this is mind boggling. How low does an organization have to go to realize that the golden handcuffs way of life is over?

Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    In the conservation world, it is changing albeit not fast enough.Leadership of a number of groups from the UK Zoological Society, ACTAI, Ocean Elders amongst many are starting to embrace new ways to build communities through tech platforms, funding for profit startups to build out the ecosystem and more.

    1. Gotham Gal


      1. awaldstein

        With environmental/conservation/climate change I think it is easier cause it includes a big and growing slice of the mass market and also, part of the answer has to be new technology so it appropriates the entrepreneurial space.,Not so for museums and the arts unfortunately.

  2. Technorodent

    Try more innovative approaches, such as Donor-Advised Funds. Unfortunately there are no “off the shelf” or “shake-and-bake” software solutions out there (a “quickbooks” for DAFs if you will) for managing that sort of thing for museums and such.

  3. PhilipSugar

    Here is my only counter. Timing was perfect as my kids were doing some things like the Renaissance Fair… and Revolutionary War reenactment. https://www.visitmaryland.o…The first charges $30 to get in plus Disneyland Prices for everything, the second $5.When you tell these non-profits: Make money. They can just like Winterthur:…But one way the do it is to trade on their equity. Outsource it to a for profit entity, let them jack the prices and you will make money. Winterthur started charging PSLs for their event.For how long? I’ve watched some attendance plummet and then you are back to square one, keep charging more, and you change one master for another, the only people that really get screwed are the people that can’t afford but were willing to enrich their lives.I am not sure if you have Fred’s passion for basketball. Great exampleUsed to be a family could go to an NBA game and College Games were nearly free. The NCAA as a non-profit certainly makes money. I won’t go there and beg people not to high-jack this thread, but it is a great example of what can go wrong.Eventually this will hurt popularity. I am predicting it for pro-sports and if cable un-bundling happens it will be the needle that pops the ballon.I’ll counter my counter and say that we looked at branching out loyalty software to museums at the suggestion of a board member I went on the sales calls. We got in through connections to several places. Basically: “why the hell would we let unwashed masses see our stuff” (that is why CEO’s should go on sales calls so the rep doesn’t say: we have a chance to placate the board)Poster child was the Barnes Museum. Which was completely opposite of what Barnes wanted.…The Vogels gave away their works to prevent this:…BTW the University of Delaware has an unbelievable collection of African American Art donated by Paul Jones who wanted everybody to be able to see it for free “The Jones collection is considered the most comprehensive collection of 18th, 19th and 20th century African American art ”

    1. Gotham Gal

      Barnes Museum. What a mess

  4. pointsnfigures

    This is exactly what the did. They were forced to because in the infant stages of the museum a lot of challenges were pushed their way (Katrina, financial crisis). They were entrepreneurial. It made for a better museum. It’s an amazing place and one everyone should visit.