Huffpost Arts
Michael Kaiser Headshot

Avoiding Silos

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I have written often about the problems that emerge when silos develop within arts organizations; when artists, marketers and fundraisers stay in their own corners and do not collaborate with each other, the power of the cycle is lost. When artists do not communicate their plans to marketers and fundraisers, the opportunity to develop major marketing efforts, and cultivate the press and donors is lost. When marketers and fundraisers do not collaborate, it is impossible to coordinate the timing of special fundraising campaigns with major marketing initiatives.

But why do silos develop in the first place?

One obvious reason is a natural mistrust for other departments, especially when resources are tight.

Artists are naturally afraid of the executive departments; they fear that their pursuit of the mission of the organization will be compromised by the need to sell tickets or raise funds. This fear is not unjustified. In too many organizations, artistic ambitions are blunted by those trying to make "art that sells."

Marketers often mistrust artists because they fear artists are too idealistic and naïve about the interests of the audience. They are also typically not fans of the development people who hold lots of tickets back from public sale in case their donors want them, and who get paid better and dress better than their marketing counterparts.

And development people cannot understand why the artists and the marketers don't appreciate how hard it is to raise money and do not appreciate it when anyone gets in their way of reaching their fundraising targets.

This caricature of an arts organization is certainly not universally true; there are many organizations where departments truly respect one another and work well together to achieve the goals of the institution.

But sometimes even in these congenial organizations, silos can emerge.

Why?

When organizations do not plan their art far in advance, everyone is forced work with so little lead time that there is no time for collaboration between departments. Everyone is rushing to do what they need to do to get the show on that they simply have no time to think about ways to engage other departments in their work.

When artists only have a few weeks or months to produce a show, they simply do not have time for discussions with marketers and fundraisers about ways to develop support for their work from audiences and donors.

When marketers are given only a few months notice about the next production, they must develop their campaigns without a thought to the needs of the development staff.

And when fundraising personnel have little advance warning, they cannot cultivate new donors. The fear that existing donors will not give enough to meet the organization's entire needs exacerbates concerns that the department will not make its targets, making fundraising personnel less supportive of their co-workers.

Executive directors and artistic directors must foster communication and cooperation between departments. But they must also create a planning calendar that supports the development of a healthy, productive institution.