A visual arts organization
in transition

A mid-sized museum has a new building, new programming, and has survived years of planning as its principals have managed (and governed) these challenges.  Its Board is still raising funds to pay for all this, but it is proud of the expanded space and increased attendance that have come with the changes.  The community’s response to the new exhibition and education spaces has been enthusiastic. Museum staff is motivated by new opportunities, although they are under pressure to do much that is new to them. The annual gala is sold out early for the first time.  The Board is preparing for the work it will take to stabilize and sustain the future of this bright, big new place.

Now the Museum’s Director—the engineer of the changes and the spirit of the new place—has announced his intention to leave in a year. The Board is surprised, concerned and divided about what to do.  Some trustees, including some who are very strong-minded, want the Director to go immediately.  Others consider the museum to be mid-stream in a new mission and fear leaderlessness. New trustees, especially those recruited by the Director, are tense.  Others are relieved and actually eager for new leadership in the new space.  No one has dared calculate the possible costs of trustee uneasiness—will wealthy trustees hold back contributions?  Will celebrity trustees resign if there is controversy?  Will the press watch; will the community be patient?

The Director hopes for affirmation and understanding, but suspects there is resentment. And he knows that he and the Board must both be concerned about keeping the friends, donors and government officials that he has personally enlisted in the new Museum’s cause.

The NEXT consultants are brought in to help the Board organize around this unanticipated change and find ways of dealing with it that will ensure calm, well calculated forward movement and a positive future for the relationships connecting  Board, Director and staff members. The Board also asks NEXT to provide special counsel to the ongoingBoard chair in this time of change, and to consult with the outgoing Director about his motivations and direction as they may affect the Museum’s contacts and aspirations.

NEXT moves ahead, bringing its team of cultural professionals into play.  Two members of the NEXT team have been funders of museums; two have been on Boards of institutions with similiar scenarios; one has direct museum management experience.  They come with an arsenal of skills.

Philanthropy in flux
at a foundation

A regional foundation, the most respected in its part of the country and a leader in philanthropy nationally, has worked in specific areas of need throughout its history—building social services for the elderly, strengthening cultural institutions and parks, providing access to health services for the underserved.  It has enduring and positive relationships with its grantees and has underwritten major programs.

It also has a bright new trustee, a member of its founding family, who will be its next president.  He is vigorously questioning the foundation’s practices and priorities. He examines by-laws and board composition.  He asks about the credentials of staff members, about how grant results are assessed. He asks whether grantees are held accountable.  He asks whether investments in non-profits really pay.

No one denies the legitimacy of the questions, and no one knows what to do.  The staff tries to provide answers.  The President wonders just where the center of authority is in the institution.  Trustees are intrigued.  Some grantees are wary and worried.  And the press is eager to interview this bright and questing young leader.

This is an opportunity for institutional self-examination. It is also a challenge to the foundation’s known, well-honed, embedded values. Both the foundation’s President and its faithful, if weary, Board Chair (also a family member) have to acknowledge the energy and provide a framework for this trustee, who will be their leader.

They need to mobilize as a thoughtful, conscience-driven, accomplishing philanthropy in a new time. They need outside help to do it.

NEXT is asked to work with the staff and with the Board, separately and together, to deal with the transitional thinking required. The NEXT team is asked to examine the relevancy and reach of the lines of work. NEXT will interview the principals about the importance of history, of grantee relationships, of communal connections.  NEXT will help phrase the most pressing questions—which may be the balance between change and constancy, between endurance and experiment, between building on what the moment holds, and building on what has been motivational over time.  The NEXT team will guide discovery and facilitate discussion—meeting the challenges of this institution’s time of  transition.