Case Studies

Get The Simple Things Right, First

A museum was trying to increase relevance by involving representatives of the community in exhibition discussions to develop ideas, content, and connection.  The problem was they were so far behind in their exhibition calendar that they couldn't make time to convene all the necessary meetings required to define a process between museum professionals and the "civilians" form the community.

What ended up happening was that the CEO would want focus groups and community input when there was not time left in a typical exhibition schedule. Due to the fact that Development needed context in order to fund raise, Marketing needed to know how to message the exhibition in order to meet deadlines, and Special Events, the Store, and Finance were all asking specific questions, the community meetings were put off in order to fast track the exhibition production schedule. The production schedule was behind because the CEO insisted on the community input until giving in at the last moment.


The museum leadership wasn't even conducting production schedules in a traditional fashion whereby Curatorial determines a show, then meets with Education in order to brainstorm multiple ancillary programs and events and then they meet with Marketing, Finance, Special Events, and Operations - well ahead of time - to provide all the necessary information. The desire to involve community, which is a good thing, impeded simple museum structure and process.  That, combined with meetings always involving everybody, whether they directly needed the information or not, slowed the exhibition planning to a crawl and created gaps in the calendar (which forces the "team" to run even faster).

When Personalities Determine Direction

A Human Services ​organization wanted to create an environment to stir fresh thinking when considering how best to help those they served.  The process had become stale and morale among some of the professionals was sinking. In consulting preparations to set the right course to help grow perspectives and after some time already spent on the probable causes for the environment, it was clear that a few strong voices were against a new approach and not just because they had done it a certain way for so long.


After some subtle questions, it was apparent that the more experienced professionals were not just lazy or unwilling, it was their sense of value to the organization was being challenged by newer employees and new systems. They were not unwilling as much as feeling unappreciated. The response to this situation requires time and a commitment to engaging the naysayers with the goal of moving them into a position of carrying a banner for the fresh look. Theirs is a symbolic impediment and no change in a structure or process is going to fix it. 

Volunteer Syndrome and How to Move Forward

A community theatre was built by volunteers and grew to some stature due to the tireless efforts of their volunteer corp.  In time, the organization had reached the predictable point when it must hire its first paid staff. Not long into the role of Executive Director, the new nonprofit professional soon ran headlong into the volunteer.  "That's not how we've done it here..."  or "That won't work because we tried it already..." was made more difficult by the combination of three things:

  1. Founder's Syndrome- while the volunteer wasn't really the founder, they felt as if they built the organization from the ground up.

  2. Volunteer Syndrome- Like founder's syndrome accept the communications network among volunteers can be challenging and, if not handled properly, can shut down an organization...due to lack of volunteers.

  3. Donor Syndrome- When funding is tight, how do you say "No" to the largest donor?


Much like we are seeing there is no quick fix or amount of money that will our diversity concerns throughout society, the "digging in of heels"  between professional staff and volunteers requires one thing: Building Trust.  This requires not only a commitment to the outcome, but whatever time it takes to achieve the common goal.  The winning first move for the staffer is to establish that both parties want the exact same thing...the best, most successful community theatre possible. Once agreement is made on that point, it becomes a matter of which path to follow...and remember that time plays into this. If life in your nonprofit runs with the idea that all priorities are Priority One, you will soon not have volunteers or staff.