Art of Governance survey findings

In preparation for my Bundanon residency in May 2022, I launched a survey asking the Australian arts sector to share your experiences of being on, employed or contracted by, or reporting to arts, cultural or not-for-profit organisations governed by managing Committees or Boards.

I am so very grateful to all those who shared their time and thoughtfulness (and, in many case, trauma) to contribute to the survey, which will provide the basis for my ongoing work in this area – including an initial analysis coming soon. And, as promised, a summary of the survey’s key findings follows here.

Respondents

290 people completed the survey in April and May 2022, including:

  • 52% aged 46-55, 40.5% 26-45, 6% 66+, and 1.5% 18-25%;
  • 72% who identified as female, 18% male and 3.5% non-binary or gender diverse;
  • 22% who identified as LGBTQIA+;
  • 8% who identified as culturally or linguistically diverse;
  • 6% who identified as Deaf or Disabled;
  • 2.5% who identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander; and
  • 2% who identified in other ways – mostly variations on the above (respondents were able to select more than one).

Respondents included:

  • 74% current or former not-for-profit Board members or equivalent (213);
  • 62% current or former employees or contractors of organisations governed by not-for-profit Boards (179);
  • 60% current or former CEOs or equivalents, including:
    • 49% reporting to not-for-profit Boards (141); and
    • 11% members of the not-for-profit Boards they report to (31).
  • 24% current or former volunteers or interns of organisations governed by not-for-profit Boards (69);
  • 22.5% current or former artists contracted or commissioned by organisations governed by not-for-profit Boards (65);
  • 17% current or former founders of organisations governed by not-for-profit Boards (50); and
  • 9 respondents who identified different roles – mostly variations on the above (respondents were able to select more than one).

Board performance (overall)

When asked to rate their overall performance of the not-for-profit Boards or Committees of Management in their experience, respondents said:

  • Boards were strongest in being positive ambassadors for their organisations (though ‘strongest’ does not mean consistently ‘strong’, with only 33% respondents said their Boards did so all of the time, and 41% sometimes).
  • Followed by:
    • Carrying out their role appropriately; and
    • Contributing to a positive and productive Board and operational culture.
  • Boards were weakest in contributing directly to organisations’ financial sustainability – by fundraising, soliciting donations or donating themselves (including 30% of respondents who said this never happened, and 41% only rarely).
  • Followed by:
    • Understanding what the organisation needed from them; and
    • Understanding what the legislation, Rules or Constitution required from them.

Board performance (in response to sector need)

When asked in which areas Australian arts organisations needed most additional assistance:

  • Boards were seen to be most effective in Strategic Planning (though only 14% said always and 37% mostly).
    • Followed by:
      • Oversight and compliance;
      • Policies;
      • Risk or crisis management; and
      • Visioning.
  • Boards were seen to be least effective in data, research and impact management (with less than 0.003% saying always and 1% mostly).
    • Followed by:
      • Diversity and representation*;
      • Advocacy and lobbying*;
      • Audience development;
      • Income diversification and generation*;
      • Community engagement and outreach;
      • Profile, marketing and reach.
  • * This unfortunately includes many of the areas in which organisations need most assistance/input, starting with Income diversification and generation (fundraising, soliciting or making donations, etc).
    • Followed by:
      • Advocacy and lobbying;
      • Diversity and representation;
      • Strategic Planning; and
      • Visioning.
  • And organisations were seen to need least assistance/input in some of the areas that Boards are most likely to provide (or to want to provide), primarily generating artistic, program, project or service ideas.
    • Followed by:
      • Profile, marketing and reach;
      • Oversight and compliance;
      • Community engagement and outreach;
      • Stewardship;
      • Audience development;
      • Policies; and
      • Risk or crisis management.
  • Respondents also identified a number of other priority areas – mostly variations on the above (respondents were able to select more than one). The most common of these were:
    • Human Resources, including support and management of CEO, provision of policies, systems and processes, succession planning, professional development, and creating a safe and productive Board and organisational culture.
    • Cultural safety (beyond diversity and inclusion), including accessibility, cultural competency and centering of First Nations peoples.
    • Business and financial planning.
    • Effective and ethical decision-making, including delays in decision-making.

Board issues

When asked what respondents had observed or experienced as the key issues or problem areas with the Boards in their experience (respondents were able to select more than one).

  • 58% said not understanding what the organisation needs from them (164);
  • 54% said involvement in operations/programs (151);
  • 52% said lack of diversity (146);
  • 51% said lack of governance knowledge (144); and
  • 50% said issues within the Board going unaddressed (141).

Followed by:

  • 48% said issues within the organisation unaddressed (136);
  • 46% said lack of not-for-profit business experience / understanding (129);
  • 44% said not understanding what the Constitution / Rules requires of them (124);
  • 43% said lack of arts sector knowledge (122);
  • 42% said not understanding finances (117);
  • 40% said conflicts of interest (113);
  • 40% said not reading meeting papers in advance (112);
  • 38% said poor cultural competency (108);
  • 38% said not understanding what the legislation requires of them (107);
  • 37% said lack of required skills (103);
  • 37% said poor recruitment and appointment processes (103);
  • 36% said poor behaviour – bullying, lack of duty of care, etc (101);
  • 36% said meetings are poorly chaired (101);
  • 33.5% said lack of accountability / transparency (94);
  • 31% said Board time mostly spent on areas that aren’t the most helpful to organisations (87);
  • 31% said lack of artistic representation / understanding (86);
  • 30% said inadequate cash reserves (85);
  • 27% said lack of consistent training (75);
  • 27% said not understanding or managing risks (75);
  • 26% said meetings are too long (74);
  • 26% said poor crisis management – including crisis communication (74);

And then:

  • 22% said Board terms are too long / low turnover (61);
  • 21% said not everyone’s contribution is valued (58);
  • 19% said meetings are unenjoyable (54);
  • 17% said not everyone gets to contribute (47);
  • 15% said unavailability outside of meeting times (41);
  • 13% said time commitments were too great (37);
  • 11% said meetings take place too infrequently (30);
  • 10% said meetings take place too often (28);
  • 7% said Board time mostly spent on areas that aren’t of interest to Board members (20); and
  • 4% said Board terms were too short / high turnover (10);

Internal stakeholder issues

When asked what respondents had observed or experienced as the key issues or problem areas between Boards and internal stakeholders in their experience:

  • 49% said putting unrealistic expectations on staff (131)
  • 44% said micro-managing CEO or equivalent (118);
  • 44% said creating a stressful or unhealthy working environment for the CEO or equivalent (117);
  • 44% said not providing clear HR policies and oversight to ensure professional and ethical treatment of staff, artists and contractors (117);
  • 40% said not providing clear vision, direction or policies for staff to implement (106);
  • 39% said excessive reporting requirements (104);
  • 37% said not managing CEO or equivalent (98);
  • 33% said not paying staff, artists or contractors appropriately (89);
  • 26% said bypassing the CEO or equivalent (69);
  • 44 who provided different observations – mostly variations on the above (respondents were able to select more than one).

External stakeholder issues

When asked what respondents had observed or experienced as the key issues or problem areas with the Boards and external stakeholders in their experience:

  • 68% said reluctance to ask for money (184);
  • 58% said not attending organisation events (156);
  • 56% said unclear understanding or ability to speak about the organisation (152);
  • 54% said reluctance to donate money themselves (145);
  • 48% said not attending other events on behalf of the organisation
  • 40% said reluctance to share personal contacts (106);
  • 21 who provided different observations – mostly variations on the above (respondents were able to select more than one).

Board motivations

Those who had been Board or Committee members were asked what led them to join:

  • 176 said they joined to make a particular organisation better (63%);
  • 151 said they joined to make the particular sector better (54%);
  • 141 said they joined for their own professional development – knowledge, skills and experience (50%);
  • Many were motivated by the desire to offer support or ‘give back’, including:
    • 136 who said they joined to give back to a particular community (49%);
    • 124 who said they joined to give back to a particular organisation (44%); and
    • 118 who said they joined to give back to a particular art form or the artists that worked within it (42%).
  • 82 said they joined for their own networks and contacts (29%);
  • 70 said they joined to represent artists (25%);
  • 63 said they joined to represent their particular community or demographic (22.5%);
  • 39 said they joined to represent members (14%);
  • 31 said they joined to represent another organisation (11%);
  • 6 said they joined to receive access to social events, free tickets, etc. (2%); and
  • 15 who provided different motivations – mostly variations on the above (respondents were able to select more than one).

Good and bad practice, and alternative models

Respondents also generously provided a range of good and bad practice examples, and suggestions for alternative models for governance, oversight, compliance and stewardship. Some of this learning may be able to be aggregated and/or shared in the future, pending further discussions/permissions with those involved.

Watch this space. And thanks again.

Support Kate’s research.

Author: katelarsenkeys

Arts, Cultural & Non-Profit Consultant. Reader. Writer (Our Hybrid Future, The Relationship is the Project). Researching the art of arts governance. larsenkeys.com.au

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