In a room full of art enthusiasts at the 2nd Arts Innovation Day conference, art organizations throughout Connecticut, and surrounding states assembled to share their experiences, and tell their stories. This inspirational gathering was created to brainstorm together, share best practices, and gain knowledge to allow each person to walk away with valuable tools that will help their establishments thrive. The day is split into two sections with a total of four panels to participate in. As the Director of Community Engagement for a local nonprofit arts organization, I was eager and excited to learn about Business Volunteers for the Arts Program at the “Partnerships that Work” panel.
As a small arts organization that runs mostly on volunteers and a modest staff, you know the struggles that can present themselves when you’re wearing many hats, and juggling more than one task at a time. The end result- vital projects neglected-to tend to immediate concerns.
What if you had access to a volunteer that was committed to helping your organization grow? An individual dedicated to your mission and goals in a way that was unique, but vital to your organizations existence? These magical humans exist, and you can get connected with them by applying to Greater Hartford Arts Council’s Business Volunteers for the Arts program. This Pro Bono partnership allows you to submit a project proposal for one of five categories: business planning, communications auditing, financial reporting, accounting systems review and marketing plans. Once accepted, with the help of your experienced volunteer, you will create a plan and work alongside each other to accomplish your project goals.
The process started with each volunteer identifying opportunities for the organization. They stressed the importance of building systems that would outlast the current volunteers/staff and also emphasized the need to recognize the significance of sustaining and growing as an organization. In order to achieve these goals, they needed to think outside of the box and diverge from the status quo. Ray (BVA) asked Windsor Arts Center “What do you want to be? Where do you want to go?” This presented the first step to building a marketing plan with purpose, and opportunity. The cohesive plans created by the BVAs for both the Windsor Arts Center, and for Arts League of New Britain identified critical needs and brought forth an action plan to reach a new demographic, and increase revenue and exposure. Surveys were created to determine what individuals wanted from the Arts League of New Britain. This brought to light new ideas for both sustaining and improving the existing membership. Creating value in membership became an important focal point for these two organizations. It is with these fresh pair of eyes that these organizations were able to create and identify areas of opportunity that would help ensure continued success for their branches for years to come.
With the assistance of the BVAs, all three organizations were able to strengthen the communication between staff members, board members, members, and volunteers. The volunteer partnerships helped these organizations look outside of the immediate group and seek out new volunteers and members. The partnerships also re-energized their board and staff members. This highlighted the importance of clear and concise communication between individuals within the organization, as well as with those from the outside community.
The strong partnerships established gave the organizations the confidence they were lacking to start new initiatives, and to feel comfortable with the decisions they were making. Establishing a sense of serenity in knowing that everything will catch on- it just takes some time and patience, has served as a key take-away for these three institutions.
The end results for all three of the organizations were strong partnerships, stronger methodologies, and a personal coach for the directors of the organizations. Jennifer, the Executive Director at Noah Webster House, said she looked at her volunteer, as a personal coach. She still reaches out with questions even though they completed their project months ago. The experienced professionals helped these small organizations realize that it is important to change one thing at a time, and to be a support system for them on topics that they are inexperienced in.
The knowledge I gained from this workshop will undoubtedly help my organization for years to come. If you haven’t checked out Greater Hartford Arts Council’s BVA program yet, click this link https://letsgoarts.org/bva and educate yourself! Your arts organization will be grateful that you did.
Written by Brittany Gauthier