04/08/2013 08:13 am ET Updated Jun 08, 2013

Executive Directors Need to Dream Too

I have written many times that artistic leaders need to dream well into the future about the transformative projects that will excite and surprise their audiences. In fact, the most damaging impact of the current economic challenges facing the arts today is that artists are forced to focus on money as much, if not more, than art. As a result, too many organizations are not producing big, exciting arts projects. By playing it safe they are in danger of losing the interest of their audiences and donors.

But I am now also convinced that executive directors need to dream as well. They need to dream about the funding base, the composition of their boards and the public profile they hope to enjoy five years from now.

Too many arts managers develop strategic plans that suggest incremental changes to funding levels. Rarely are these plans sufficient to support the artistic dreams of the organization. Arts managers must be willing to work backwards: imagine the funding stream that you think your organization should have five years from now and then work backwards determining the steps required to get to that funding level. For many arts organizations, this means increasing the potency of the campaign to raise money from individuals substantially. For others, the corporate sector must be approached in a far more aggressive fashion.

Dreaming of a far larger donor base requires, of course, a complementary vision for board composition. I recommend designing the 'perfect board.' How many members can contribute at basic levels? How may are needed to give at higher, perhaps heroic levels? What are these levels? How many board members should be artists? Business leaders? Socialites? Should some board members come from specific industries or professions? When one delineates the ideal board, it is far easier to work towards creating it. Too many plans simply call for "strengthening the board;" this is too general to be a true roadmap for the organization or its nominating committee.

These pictures of future fundraising streams and board composition are most effective when they are linked to the artists' dreams for future artistic projects and the marketers' dreams of potent institutional marketing campaigns.

Many planners incorporate these dreams for the future in a vision statement. In fact, many think of a vision statement as a substitute for the mission statement. I think the two are quite different. The mission is the way we will measure success: what we will do, who we will do it for and where we will operate. The vision statement, however, delineates how we will work towards achieving this mission. I prefer to place the vision statement at the beginning of the strategies section of a plan since it provides the over-arching picture of the way the institution will function. All of the specific strategies that follow are important elements of that vision.

Without a clear vision for the future, executive directors are doomed to making marginal changes that do not truly move their organizations forward. And without a bit of dreaming, it is difficult to create this vision.