April 14, 2016


The topics under N that I cover in the A to Z of Arts Management are Negotiation, Networks and the place where I have spent most of my working life: the not for profit world.


Whether it’s nonprofit or not-for-profit, unfortunately the phase that defines so many arts and cultural organisations is a negative one (Drucker 1990). It describes what it’s not rather than the rich panoply of what it is. Peter Brokensha, a great teacher and adviser on arts management, described why he moved out of the corporate world to the world of the arts in his biography Coming to Wisdom Slowly:

“I had come to realise that I wanted to contribute to the society something that was distinctively mine. In the corporate world there is rarely very little of a lasting nature that any executive can point to as his or her personal achievement. A brilliant chief executive can turn a company around from disaster to profit but this can be illusionary as non-controllable external factors can wipe out the achievements overnight…..The lubricant that enables most organisations and large corporations in particular not only to run but to be successful is the ambition of its supervisors and managers . This drove me as I climbed the ladder of success from plant foreman to Director but when I got there I found that the god of success I had worshipped for so long turned out to be a false idol…one soon learns that ambitions can be realised and rank and success achieved only by conforming to the rules and traditions of that particular organisation or company…What finally dawned on me was that I was becoming very narrow and inwardly focussed and that my creativity and imagination were being inhibited by being narrowly focussed on my work at Caltex” (pp. 81, 83).

It’s reasons like that which lead many of us to make active choices about working in the non-profit world.

The United Nations defines nonprofits as “organisations that do not exist primarily to generate profits, either directly or indirectly, and that are not primarily guided by commercial goals and considerations” (quoted in Bowman 2011, p.3). This doesn’t mean that in some years, perhaps every year, nonprofits don’t make surpluses. It’s just that those surpluses aren’t distributed to trustees or directors or shareholders; rather, they are accumulated and reinvested in the process of achieving the mission of the company. Bowman (2011) says that social values are the business of nonprofits and Drucker (1990, p. xiv) says that the nonprofit’s ‘product’ “is neither a pair of shoes nor an effective regulation. Its production is a changed human being.” That’s certainly the story that Peter Brokensha tells about himself.

Other differences that writers point to between the for-profit and the not-for-profit world include the pre-eminence of the mission, a multiplicity of stakeholders with conflicting needs and expectations, the difficulty in judging performance due to often intangible outcomes, high accountability and the complexity of resource generation (Tshirhart 1996; Courtney 2002;  Inglis & Cray 2011). In terms of the people who work for them, there is the tradition of unpaid board members, a higher proportion of women leaders and worker commitment and motivation which isn’t primarily about money (Nair & Deepti 2011).

Bowman (2011, p.3) says that nonprofits practice “value centred management” and Courtney (2002) describes the culture and values of such organisations as more participatory and egalitarian than for-profit companies. However, it’s not all sunshine and light. Nonprofit arts organisations face a number of challenges such as never having enough money, paying people poorly, having to deal with politicians, bureaucrats and the wealthy, operating in a risky business with long lead times, inflexible deadlines and uncertain demand. Having said that, a number of for-profit managers would say they have to deal with many of the same issues but we deal in making and sharing art which is risky by definition. However we do share some qualities with for-profit companies. Although nonprofits are not in the business of making money, they are in business because they are hiring, organisation and directing people to produce goods and services (Bowman 2001).

The core difference between the two types of organisations is the motivation of the people who choose to work for them. In the nonprofit company, people are usually working for love and not particularly for money. They choose to work for us because they want to contribute to the making of a rich and vibrant community. Their motivational rationale will have an impact on the operation of our organisations because they are more like to want to participate, to be inspired, to have meaningful relationships with their peers and their leaders than to be told what to do by more controlling managers in hierarchical structures.

Because of the nonprofit’s multiplicity of funding sources, stakeholders and outcomes, as an arts manager you need to be able to deal with diversity, complexity, uncertainty and risk. And ultimately you are there to serve the artist and the audience first and the financial stakeholders second.


Bowman, W 2011, Finance Fundamentals for Nonprofits, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken NJ

Brokensha, P 2007, Getting to Wisdom Slowly, Peacock Publications, Adelaide

Courtney, R 2002, Strategic Management for Voluntary Nonprofit Organizations,  Routledge, London

Drucker, PF 1990, Managing the Nonprofit Organization, HarperCollins, New York

Inglis, L & Cray, D 2011 ‘Leadership in Australian arts organisations: a shared experience?’, Third Sector Review, 17.2

Nair, N & Deepti, B  2011 ‘Understanind Workplace Deviant Behaviour in Nonprofit Organizations’ Nonprofit Management and Leadership 21(3): 289-309

Tshirhart, M 1996, Artful Leadership, Indiana University Press