Archive for the ‘Business and Entrepreneurship’ Category

Investing in my skills to pay the bills

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

I am a huge continuing education advocate. One of the best things I’ve done while living in Orlando is pursue formal training in fundraising, philanthropy and development to broaden my knowledge and understanding of the field at large since all of my experience has been specific to the arts sector.

Fortunately for me, I discovered a fantastic resource in Central Florida for nonprofit management advice, fundraising best practices, continuing education programs and access to professional consultants. It is the Rollins College Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership Center, housed within the Crummer Graduate School of Business.

I’ve been taking classes in pursuit of a Certificate of Fundraising and Development, which I am proud to say I received yesterday. The teaching staff at the Center are absolutely top-notch and for all Central Florida nonprofits, this is a tremendous community asset. Nonprofit professionals and volunteers can join as a member (which I did) and receive even more benefits, including discounted tuition.

I learned so much by taking these classes, which included many hands-on activities working through real world scenarios that we regularly face as professionals – from proper income classification to ethical quandaries relating to donor intent. I am so thankful that a place like the Center exists here and that I was able to complete this program in just under a year.

PS: It’s been too long since last I blogged and the reason is simply this: Life got in the way. Great and terrible things have happened and blogging is what I allowed to “fall of the table”.  In the last year, I met the man of my dreams whom I am marrying next month, but our joy has been tempered by suffering the unexpected deaths of both his Mom & Dad. During this time I’ve also been traveling almost monthly between Florida and NYC to participate in a strategic planning program through The Kennedy Center for Incubator Arts Project. I will be posting regularly again soon.

 

 

February workshop: Project Proposals & Pitches

Friday, January 14th, 2011

In February I will be teaching a four week workshop for The Field, one of my favorite arts service organizations in NYC. If you are interested, full details & registration information is below. This will be a working group tailored to serve attendees individually as much as possible, so I encourage you to enroll if you’d like some direct feedback on existing materials or guidance for future projects.

This four-part workshop covers the tools needed to garner support from institutions, appeal to venues and producers, and write/talk effectively about your work. It gives an introduction to proposal writing with a focus on project descriptions, how work samples are handled in panel, and how you can put your best foot forward. We’ll cover pitching the work and building relationships with theaters and funders alike; best practices for seeking opportunities and for following up on leads.  Throughout the workshop participants will develop and receive feedback on their own materials.

The dates are Thursdays 6:30-9pm, Feb 3, 10, 17, 24. The cost is $160 for non-members, $100 for Field members and you can enroll here.

Vision Disturbance

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Blog silence of late is the result of a super-hectic producing schedule. I’ve been busy working with Richard Maxwell’s New York City Players to produce a new play opening next week at the historic playhouse in Henry St. Settlement’s Abrons Arts Center.

From our press release:

A new play by Christina Masciotti, Vision Disturbance is about two people whose structured lives suddenly fall apart and who are vehemently looking to find new ground and belonging.

In Vision Disturbance, Mondo, a middle-aged Greek immigrant woman living in smalltown Pennsylvania, is going through a divorce from her traditional, Greek husband. The resulting stress detonates an eye disorder that features a loss of depth perception among other perplexing symptoms. She seeks treatment from Dr. Hull who uses an unorthodox approach involving music therapy to help her regain her eyesight.

Vision Disturbance features Linda Mancini as Mondo and Jay Smith as Dr. Hull. The set and lighting design is by Adrian W. Jones, costumes by Victoria Vazquez, and sound design by Ben Williams.

The play starts September 1st and runs through September 18, Wed-Sat, 8pm at Abrons Arts Center, located 466 Grand Street in New York City. Tickets are $18 and may be purchased by calling 212.352.3101 or at www.theatermania.com.

Vision Disturbance
Written by Christina Masciotti
Directed by Richard Maxwell
80 minutes, without intermission

Wed- Sat, September 1- 18, 2010, 8:00pm
Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street, NYC
Tickets: $18 | For tickets call: 212.352.3101 or www.theatermania.com

I know Christina from my days at Fractured Atlas and I was thrilled when NYCP asked me to produce the show, which has been in development for about two years. We had a reading at New York Theatre Workshop last May, after being featured in CUNY’s 2009 Prelude Festival.

I love this play, we have an amazing cast & crew and I am so proud to be working on it. There are production elements that excite me so much I want to spill the beans about them here & now, but I won’t. To do so would ruin the experience, so you’ll just have to come down and see for yourself. We have limited seats available (hint hint) so don’t miss it!

Marketing advice from the big-wigs

Friday, May 7th, 2010

A few weeks ago I was able to attend this year’s Global Marketing Summit, an annual event presented by the International Advertising Association‘s NY Chapter and sponsored by Bloomberg Business Week, CNN International and Google. Big thanks go out to marketing diva Ciara Pressler for the ticket.

We spent the day listening to some serious VIPS in the marketing world address the thorny topic of “The New Normal”. I believe the title was in reference to an article written last year by Ian David, worldwide Managing Director at McKinsey & Co (free registration required). Mr. David expounded on what he called “not merely another turn of the business cycle, but a restructuring of the economic order.”

So what is the new normal?

In this context, the “new normal” refers to a shift in consumption patterns by the U.S. consumer. The experts agreed that value(s) and trust are twin forces to be reckoned with during this period of adjustment. They sense a growing distrust from consumers towards big business, big media and the government (which interestingly, the PEW Research Center just echoed and quantified in this scary report). Gee…I wonder why?

Consumer behavior has changed in response to the information technology revolution we are living through. Increased access to information has helped give rise to virtual communities, independent journalism, consumer research, self-produced media and so on. Marketers have to back up their claims now, which means some massive message restructuring.

The New Normal also refers to a rise in consumer frugality and saving in response to the financial crisis. Consumers are scarred and scared, many of them much poorer than they were a few years ago either due to real estate deflation or high debt levels. Between wage stagnation and high unemployment, many are pessimistic about their future earning prospects. People are looking for high quality in tandem with low prices and we are much more reticent to part with our hard earned cash for non-essentials than in the recent past.

All this spells disaster for people who market products that aren’t necessary for survival.

Here are a few things I took away with me.

Value + Values: Consumers want something of high quality that ALSO reflects their personal values whenever possible now that they can do a ton of research prior to purchase. There is increased consumer scrutiny when money is tight and information is everywhere.

Constant Change: The info tech revolution is still underway with more futuristic technology right around the bend. Marketers who want to do things the old way or the “way we do them” will be in for a bumpy ride. The possibilities are endless but resources are finite, so building flexibility into all communications planning and organizational strategy is key. In addition to creating products & services that present a smarter solution, we need to work smarter to get the message out effectively and when something isn’t working, change it.

Intrusion vs. Engagement (aka Push vs. Pull): The old way is to push your product to large groups of people as often as you can afford to using traditional mass media like radio, newspaper, television. The new way is to create a feeling – of excitement or intrigue or reliability or respect or trust – about your brand/product/service in a consumer who has been specifically targeted using technology and existing data.

As we should all know by now, things on the media landscape are changing rapidly (some not for the better). People are spending lots of their time on the internet and marketers want to be there. But the old way isn’t working well in the brave new wild west and very few have worked out the etiquette of the sale yet. Privacy concerns are huge and consumers are more media savvy than they’ve ever been.

Best case scenario is when people come to you via referral from an existing customer. Relationship building through reputation and personal connection is the engagement marketers seek. What they are experimenting with now is: how do they become your trusted friend?

Other thoughts from my notes:

  1. Brand is about what you do, not what you say. Since it is difficult to differentiate yourself by what you do when others do the same thing, what truly differentiates you is WHO you are and HOW you do what you do.
  2. Understand your customers and build the customer experience around them.
  3. Advertisers need to be content creators for the brands they represent rather than messaging architects (ok artists, we should EXCEL at this one).
  4. A free white paper titled “The Authentic Enterprise” was mentioned as an excellent resource. I look forward to reading it.
  5. Word of mouth info sharing is possibly the most powerful force in the universe.

What do you think?

Vital service via VITA

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Given that tomorrow is Tax Day, I wanted to write about a volunteer project I’ve been doing for the last few months.

For three years I have been an active volunteer with the amazing New York Cares, which is a volunteer-aggregation organization. If you are local to NYC, or have been through Grand Central Station anytime during the holiday season, you may know them for the Winter Coat Drive program which provides gently used outerwear for free to homeless people. In the past, I’ve helped out with a gigantic Easter egg hunt in Prospect Park and did a one month stint in my neighborhood at a special ed high school helping teach life skills to kids through an after-school cooking club.

In this time of growing economic insecurity, I felt compelled to do something more, so I joined the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Preparation program (aka VITA) to serve low-income New Yorkers by helping them file their taxes for free. Sexy, no? I have done my own taxes for years but this was taking my penchant for completing forms to a whole new level. I had to take an extensive online course through the IRS and do in-person training to cover the NY state & city forms. I spent the week after Christmas getting deep into tax law – what better way to start the New Year than dissecting recent Congressional revisions to the tax code!

I was scared at the beginning – I’ve never done any economic development work and the constituents of this program are people I rarely comes across in the gentrified world of the performing arts. Reaching out to help people who live radically different lives than my own was actually the biggest attraction.

This is the final week, and while I don’t have totals yet for the whole season, I can tell you this (from the NY Cares program director):

As of the beginning of March, halfway through the season, New York Cares volunteers have completed more than 4,600 returns. You have helped return $10.6 million to low-income New Yorkers, about $6 million of which is from the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The average refund is about $2,300.

Total refunds secured through our program are up by over $2.5 million from this time last year. In the current economic climate, this will have a great impact on our community and will change the lives of many of the families you have served.

My tax site specifically (housed at the wonderful Brooklyn Cooperative) got this progress report last month:

As of the end of February, New York Cares volunteers at the Bushwick site have completed 432 tax returns for a total of $875,469.

We were also visited by an IRS quality control agent and received exemplary remarks and ratings based on interviews with folks we helped and a random audit of returns we prepared – no mistakes at all.

I didn’t realize how rewarding it would be to help someone who qualifies for the Earned Income Credit, or work with a young adult who is filing their taxes for the first time, or help a retired widow collect her refund. We in the arts often live on meager income and develop resourceful strategies to get by, but it is a whole different thing when you meet a someone in their early 20s who qualifies as Head of Household by supporting their parent & siblings on less than $20,000 in NYC.

This program was an amazing learning experience for me on many levels. Do you volunteer and if so, what kinds of programs do you like to participate in?

Bonus link: I recently found another great resource for artists & taxes. Check out the FREE worksheets that the fantastic folks at Riley Associates PC have put together to help artists keep accurate records for tax purposes.

Writing an effective appeal

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

I promised the participants of my recent appeal letter workshop that I’d share two great resources we discussed.

First, we have an academic examination of the typical language included in appeals. I found this fantastic linguistic analysis last autumn and was surprised it didn’t get more notice in the arts blogosphere (the intrepid Artful Manager covered it). Written by Frank C. Dickerson, Ph.D., the work is based on doctoral research he conducted while attending Claremont Graduate University’s Peter F. Drucker School of Management. Mr. Dickerson has an extensive resume and decades of experience working in fund raising, so we would do well to heed his warning.

What is he saying exactly? Well, the title says it all when it comes to the direct appeal (also known as an “ask” or solicitation letter): “The Way We Write is All Wrong“. He argues that most appeals are written in the style of an academic treatise or worse yet official government documents, which creates distance and alienates the reader. He proposes that we write with personal passion and infuse our appeals with stories that connect emotionally to the reader instead. As a measure of his commitment to public service, he has made several important documents available for free on his website. For that, I’d like to say “Thank you, Frank!” on behalf of independent artists everywhere.

The other important resource is a recent market research report called “The Next Generation of American Giving“.

A landmark research study into the charitable giving behaviors and attitudes of Gen Y, Gen X, Boomer and Mature donors from Convio, Edge Research and Sea Change Strategies. The art and science of fundraising, as we know it, is undergoing rapid and permanent change driven by technology, the imperative to attract new donors, and by the evolving traits of different generations of supporters. This report is a contribution to understanding this change and offers some strategic guidance for fundraisers who are struggling to keep up with it.

This is huge to anyone undertaking an individual campaign – especially given the rapid evolution of fund raising trends & techniques as we now straddle the worlds of the old school (unsolicited direct mail form letter) and the new school (online & email appeals, donating via text messages, Facebook causes etc). You have to provide your contact info to download the report, but in my opinion it is WELL worth it. Nonprofit marketing expert Nancy E. Schwartz agrees and offers a quick summary of the findings.

When looking at these resources together, I think two big takeaways are:

1. when asking for money, effective writing for individuals is completely DIFFERENT than effective writing for grants, so do your homework and figure out how to tell a compelling story (as opposed to demonstrating your capacity for program success via measurable criteria);

and

2. appeal letter writing/campaigning might require just as much work as writing a grant if you want to do it right, given technological advances in digital media and the range of generational preferences relating to communication channels.

What do you think about these reports? Any additional appeal letter resources we should add into the mix?

A quick guide to online publicity

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

I found this some time ago – it was a guest post on one of the finance blogs I follow – and I meant to write about it, but somehow forgot. So, here it is, better late than never.

The author provides a great list of Do’s and Don’ts when trying to cultivate online press contacts and woo the blogosphere into covering your product/service/show/album/whatever.

It is specifically written for people who work in PR & publicity, but I think Lindsay outlines some great principles that independent artists can adapt and apply in cases where the PR/pub duties fall to us.

My favorite tips are these two:

2. Pick Eight Blogs

While the rest of the publicists in her company were sending out mass emails to everyone, hoping to get bites from Perez Hilton, Gawker, HuffPo, or wherever, this publicist focused on a lower traffic tier with the (correct) understanding that these days, content filters up as much as it filters down, and often the smaller sites, with their ability to dig deeper into the internet and be more nimble, act as farm teams for the larger ones. A site can be enormously influential without having crazy eyeballs, because all eyeballs are not equal.

4. A Monkey Can Send a Mass Email: Build Relationships and Understand What Your Real Job Is

I don’t know why one of the oldest truisms of publicity, marketing, salesmanship, and basically every other field is ignored by online publicists: it’s about relationships! I can find my own content without the help of any publicist — any blogger worth his or her job can. I just get annoyed that my time has been wasted. If a publicist shows that they know what they’re doing, the resulting surprise on behalf of the blogger/reporter/editor will lead to more attention paid to that publicists offerings. Duh.

Amen sister! The original post is a really quick read and if you are dealing with online publicity, I suggest you check it out.

Improve your financial literacy

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

In this post, I’ve included links to some important financial resources that were mentioned in Saturday’s workshop. Among them, you’ll find some of my favorite blogs and sites, as well as a gigantic financial glossary, three articles on how to hire a financial planner and some handy tools and calculators (loan, savings, retirement) courtesy of FINRA.

Banking & Lending

Bankrate is the place to get the best available rates on just about any kind of consumer financial product; Mortgage 101 is an educational site for potential home-buyers; if you’ve gone to college recently and wanted a scholarship, you probably remember filling out a nightmare of a form called the FAFSA; and if you are looking for basic, general information about all-things-banking why not head to the source and check out the educational resources provided by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City?

Credit

Be sure to review your credit history each year using Annual Credit Report (it’s FREE); learn how your credit score is calculated and what affects it by visiting MyFICO; if you are trying to avoid debt collectors and bankruptcy, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling can put you in touch with a free credit counselor; if you are new or just inspired to learn more about how the game works, visit Credit.com; and next time you are ready to shop around for a new card, be sure to check out Card Ratings first.

Insurance

Such a topical issue given the health care “debate”…If you are an artist looking for health or liability insurance, you can find it at Fractured Atlas; if you are any kind of freelance worker looking for health, dental, life or disability coverage, check out Freelancer’s Union.

Investing

If you are curious about or ready to take the plunge into investing, here are some resources to help you learn the lingo, grasp key concepts and demystify the complicated world of “Wall St”: Investopedia, The Motley Fool, Morningstar, and Mutual Fund Education Alliance. The topic of peer-to-peer lending as an investment strategy came up, made famous by the international organization Kiva.

Retirement

The U.S. Social Security Administration sends you a statement twice a year to report on your taxable income and projected benefits. If you haven’t received one in a while, you can request it online. Be sure it matches your tax statements – I found they missed crediting me over $15,000 of income one year!

And obviously Social Security won’t be enough to support those of us under 40 when we reach collecting time, so you should consider participating in an employer sponsored plan (usually a 401K or 403B) and maximize any matching funds opportunities they provide. If that isn’t an option, consider an Individual Retirement Account.

Taxes

Why not start at the top and just contact the IRS (or consult their new YouTube channel – seriously!) with your questions? In preparation, you might want to spend some time on these blogs: Don’t Mess With Taxes and TAXGIRL.

Personal Finance

My top blog picks are The Simple Dollar and Get Rich Slowly – I have been reading both for years now, and think they are two of the best places online to find tips, tactics and techniques for reducing debt, saving for retirement, learning to craft a frugal lifestyle that doesn’t cramp your personal style and more. Of course, what is theory without practice, so be sure to investigate the free money management tools offered by Mint and Wesabe.

Finance, Economics, Policy

Here a few of my favorites blogs: naked capitalism, The Big Picture, and The Baseline Scenario. These are serious blogs written by serious minds who really know their stuff. Sometimes I don’t follow every little detail, but reading them has helped me dramatically improve my understanding of macroeconomics, fiscal and monetary policy, and the financial calamity we are currently living through.

Business

SBA stands for Small Business Administration – it is the part of the Federal government designed to help support small businesses; SCORE is an amazing national organization that provides business education, resources, templates and even mentoring in locations around the country; and if you are looking for general business advice, check out inc.com or allbusiness.com.

If there are any questions we didn’t have time to cover in the workshop, or follow-up thoughts or resources you’d like to share (whether you participated or not), please post in the comments section.

I want to thank everyone who braved the storm-that-never-came to join me.

Finance workshop for artists

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

This Saturday February 6th, I am teaching a brand new workshop - Finance Basics for Artists – at The Field.

Here is the description:

From planning your next project budget to managing your personal finances, join us to explore tips and tactics to help maximize your financial resources. We will discuss basic principles of saving, investing, budgeting, short-term vs. long-term planning, frugality, goal setting, personal risk tolerance, cash flow, bartering and other practical techniques to help cut overhead costs and meet your bottom line.

If you are in the NYC area, and want to get your finance on, please join us. You can register here and there is a small fee to participate.

Dear Foundations: Help us help them!

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Early this week, the Wall St. Journal’s Personal Finance section had an interesting article written about how to fix some of the most common problems that plague the philanthropic and non-profit sectors with regard to charitable giving.

For anyone who has worked in the sector for a substantial length of time, these suggestions are kind of a no-brainer, but it is good to see them in print in the WSJ nonetheless. The article also includes an interview with the author (in which he digs into the issue of how wealthy individual donors direct their support) and some great charts.

It is a quick read and it makes some fine points. Some suggestions (see #7) are already being implemented in certain sub-sectors (namely ours!), for example, the Cultural Data Project – a streamlined online application and data collection system developed and launched in Pennsylvania and now used in California, Ohio, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland.

Here is a quick list of the suggestions made the author, Pablo Eisenberg, who is is senior fellow in the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership at Georgetown Public Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.:

1. Increase the Distribution Percentage (Referring to how much of their assets Foundations are required to grant out per year – this is my favorite suggestion)

2. Increase General Operating Support (A topic those of us in the arts have been talking about for years)

3. Increase Multiyear Funding (Yes, yes, yes – foundations offering financial stability year over year – what a concept!)

4. Adopt Rolling Grant Making (Especially given the range of fiscal years that exist, it would be helpful with planning & cash flow)

5. Allocate More Funds to the Truly Needy (I can get behind this given our current economic contraction and high unemployment – but take it from somewhere else besides the arts orgs!)

6. Reach Out to Local Groups And Underserved Regions (We are all in this together people – think Purple, not Red vs. Blue)

7. Simplify Application and Reporting Procedures (Amen, hallelujah!)

8. Improve Public Accountability (I don’t think the non-profit sector are the ones who need more accountability right now – how about going after the banking and finance sector first?)

9. Fund the Watchdogs (Having working for an arts service organization for the last 4+ years, I wholeheartedly agree)

To me, the elephant in the pie-chart is the unavoidable fact that the largest percentage of charitable giving goes to religious organizations who often operate a lot of programs for the poor & needy. I can’t figure out why Pablo doesn’t address this and instead lumps together “higher education, health, the arts and culture” (in the interview) as the largest recipients of individual and institutional support and suggests that support should be redirected for more “charitable purposes”.

His statement about the largest recipients doesn’t agree with the charts included in the article that are sourced from Giving USAif you add the percentages listed (education 13%, health 9% and the arts 4%) you only get 24% of total giving going to these areas which is hardly a whopping majority. Maybe he is including the religious organizations in his definition of “culture” and if so, then he is absolutely correct, but this should be clarified if that is indeed the case.

What suggestions would you add to the list?