Today’s New York Times reports on the high “price of admission” to serve on some of the most prestigious cultural boards in New York City, with some requiring give/gets (the combination of what a board member contributes and raises) in the millions of dollars. Examples include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The New York Public Library, The Museum of Modern Art, Lincoln Center, The Metropolitan Opera, and Carnegie Hall.
The major institutions discussed in the NYT article have budgets in the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet these organizations are actually among fewer than 4% of nonprofits. For those who seek to engage on nonprofit boards, the remaining 96% of nonprofit organizations have budgets under $10 million. These nonprofits, including cultural organizations, are very much in need of board members, and their “give/gets” run the full gamut–many in the range of $2,500 – $15,000 annually. (By the way, many companies match employee contributions, so that a gift of $5,000 amounts to a gift of $10,000, totaling $10,000 as a give/get, even before you even ask your friends to attend the gala.)
Furthermore, the remaining 96% of nonprofits, including cultural organizations, very much need board candidates who have diverse backgrounds and perspectives as well as experience in strategic planning, organizational development, public relations, law, finance, accounting, education, cultural arts, the environment, philanthropy, governance, and so on. Examples of organizations include many of the nonprofits involved with the Arts & Business Council of New York, many of the performing arts organizations that partner with the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington, D.C. (see Fast Company), as well as Friends of Materials for the Arts (see Fast Company), Art Education for the Blind, Creative Alternatives of New York, and Music Bridges International.
All of these nonprofits do in fact depend on philanthropic support from board members and others as one of their revenue streams. And isn’t it logical that members of the board, who are the legal fiduciaries of the organization, who are presumably passionate about the work of the organization, be eager to do all that they can to support the organization personally and also to vouch for the organization to foundations and others? In fact, outside funders are prone to ask: if your board members (members of your own family) don’t give, why would you ask me (an outsider) to give.
I am grateful to the generous people who serve on the boards of the lofty cultural arts boards. Their beneficence makes it possible for many of us to attend concerts, operas and dance, and enjoy museums at a fraction of the true cost. It is good to see that the most strategic of these institutions understand the importance of reaching beyond traditional audiences by engaging young people from diverse and underserved communities in addition to further broadening the repertoire of performances and exhibits to enrich and educate all of us. This is a matter of serving the community as well as organizational sustainability. Foundations have been supportive of such efforts as well.
Kudos to board members of cultural institutions who ensure that our lives are enriched with the education and inspiration of the arts. You are role models.