I was interested to read that André Gremillet, the Executive Director of the Melbourne Symphony in Australia is attempting to get his board to contribute personally to the organization. Mr. Gremillet most recently ran the New Jersey Symphony where board members, of course, are expected to contribute annually.
This story seems like a first salvo of many: the notion that board members should contribute their own funds to their organizations is certain to be raised across the globe. As governments worldwide cut their level of subsidy to arts organizations, these same organizations are increasingly turning to the American model of private arts funding. And a substantial amount of this funding is typically given, or raised, by members of the board.
This is not a common concept in most of the world where boards were designed to oversee operations and to be stewards of government funds; they were not expected to engage actively in fundraising from the private sector.
But should others give to an organization if board members themselves do not contribute? Certainly those board members of means should be expected to give? Well, yes and no. Yes, board members should want to help those organizations they govern and should recognize that it is difficult if not impossible to raise funds from others if the board itself is not generous. And, no, if someone joined a board years ago expecting simply to be a good steward, it is not necessarily fair to require them to make a financial contribution if that was not part of their original understanding.
As fundraising becomes a necessity in most nations, therefore, board membership is likely to change dramatically. In many cases, this will not be an easy transition. Those with historical ties to an organization may not give up their seats without a struggle.
In fact, the chairman of the Melbourne Symphony suggested that, while he hoped his board would be generous, there was no way that he would impose a required level of giving. Despite these protestations, experience suggests that, over time, a required level of giving will have to be imposed if the board is to become more generous.
Of course, board giving does not increase simply because a new requirement is announced. The chair of the board must be a strong leader and role model. And, ultimately, board contributions only rise (and often exceed minimum requirements) if the organization's programming is exciting, the institutional marketing campaign is aggressive and donors are treated well.
If board members find board service unrewarding or worse, if they are embarrassed by the art, financial health or operations of their organizations, there is no incentive to remain on boards once a financial commitment is required.
Don't be surprised, therefore, to see a series of evolutionary steps in the coming decade: from encouragement to become generous, to requirements to become generous, to increased pressure placed on executives to earn this generosity.
In the end, this would not be a bad thing at all.