January represents the midpoint in the season for many United States arts organizations. By this point, many of us know whether the year is progressing as we had expected when we developed the budget for the year.
For too many of us, the news this season isn't good. A major grant may have been lost, a production may have died at the box office, or a project went wildly over budget. For most organizations, at least one element of the fundraising campaign is not meeting target. At this rate, many arts organizations are headed for a serious deficit for the fiscal year.
So what do we do?
One thing we cannot do is 'hope' that things get better. They rarely do by themselves.
Too many arts managers simply accept the fact that this season is not going well and believe that next year will be better. (And a good percentage of these managers base next year's budget on this year's budget, rather than this year's actual results; this makes next year's budget even more difficult to achieve.) These managers are often so busy planning for next year they forget that there is work to be done to salvage this year.
This month we must split our focus. Of course we must plan for the season ahead, develop our subscription brochures and finish (start?) our budget for next season.
But we must also change course midstream for this season if the results are not good enough. We must cut budgets and accelerate the search for new contributions and new audience members. If we wait until spring, it will be too late to make meaningful budget cuts and to implement revenue-enhancement programs.
Because I talk publicly so often about not cutting programming or marketing in the face of fiscal challenges, some people believe that I don't cut budgets at all. This is, of course, untrue, as my staff will readily attest. Virtually every year, somewhere from December to February, I cut the budget if I see that revenue is not what we had expected or costs have gotten out of control.
We cannot wait for our boards to demand cuts; we have to make them ourselves.
I, personally, cannot sleep when I have not figured out how to balance my budget. This is not a happy way to live but it is a healthy one for the organizations I manage.
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