Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Arts and Business Council of Greater Philadelphia

Started originally in the early 80s as a economic (and professional) development program, the ABC responded to a growing need for tech support in 2001 by starting the Tech Connectors program. Neville Vakharia has developed an impressive program in these last 4 years, and when I met him at NTEN last year, he was just entering the pilot phase of their help-desk project, which has now gone live. I just talked to him about that project, and I'll post more on the details next time, but first I wanted to recap what's happening in Philadelphia.

Neville said there are about 800 arts and culture nonprofit organizations in the Greater Philly area, accounting for about 1,200 jobs. He guesstimates that 75% of these organizations have budgets of $250k-$500k or smaller, and many are somewhat behind their other nonprofit peers when it comes to technology. This mirrors my personal experience working with a wide range of nonprofits in the Bay Area.

He also offered an interesting opinion why that may be the case (I'm paraphrasing and embellishing here): While smaller organizations tend to have less - or no - on-staff tech support, the real issue may be that arts organizations typically do not have the same reporting needs that, for example, health and human service organizations do (this is also a function of size). In a social service nonprofit, the reporting database is your life - and usually the development director (if no one else) becomes the de-facto tech support person, because they have a vested interest in making sure the database stays alive. In an arts organization, it's the show that is paramount - I've seen a couple of arts organizations throw up their hands when they lose their entire contact database, but hey, they have a show to produce - a show that generates dollars.

I'm not saying arts organizations don't have reporting needs or don't take their fundraising systems seriously - and Neville was not suggesting that either. But when the central technology system in an arts organization is not quite as critical to the day to day operations as it is in other nonprofits, there is no critical driving force - and person - to advocate for technology.

Just a theory, but it sounded good to me.


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