Skills Day Connects Business Volunteers
When I joined Business for Culture & the Arts (BCA) in Portland, Oregan in March, one of my first tasks was to organize and produce the day-long extravaganza, Skills Day for the Arts, which took place May 28 at Northwest Natural. I use the word extravaganza because it felt like a big, juicy, diving-off-the-deep-end kind of undertaking in my first days on the job.
Skills Day grew out of BCA’s highly-regarded Business Volunteers for the Arts (BVA) program, one of a number of BVA programs around the country. The BVA programs are beloved, but from what I've gleaned talking with current and former BVA managers, times they are a-changing.
When I started managing our BVA program, I was given a hefty binder containing the BVA "Operations Manual," used as a guideline for nationwide BVA programs. It was full of wonderfully designed orientation meetings, forms and processes. Yet this model of gathering up a cohort of business volunteers each year and soliciting projects from arts groups to pair with these volunteers was not really working how it has traditionally worked. Both volunteers and arts managers have less time for orientations, meetings, planning, etc. While the needs still exist, it requires a more responsive and more efficient approach.
BCA's Executive Director Deborah Edward and Susan Myers, our former Associate Director, came up with the idea for the one-day skill-building event last year.
Susan recalls, "We were trying to capture the expertise of a group of consultants in one place, so that arts organizations could get questions answered on the spot. Because nonprofit professionals are so busy, this seemed like a practical and efficient way to spark information sharing between sectors. We also thought it could lead to deeper connections down the road and potentially engage new business people with our efforts."
We wrapped up the second rendition in May and found that Skills Day was well-received in both sectors. It is a model we can build on to engage business volunteers with arts and culture organizations.
With a very affordable fee, the one-day conference attracted staffers from a wide range of arts and culture groups, including Curious Comedy Theater, Kúkátónón Children's African Dance Troupe, Late Night Library, as well as brand new groups like Pop & Paint and DanceWire. The majority of attendees came from very small to mid-sized organizations.
Building on the momentum from last year, this year we put together a dynamic, jam-packed combination of one-on-one consulting sessions, skills-building workshop presentations, round table discussions and a keynote speaker. You can see the full list of presenters and consultants in this Skills Day Preview blog post. Topics included fundamentals such as employees vs. contractors and financial basics, to more innovative thinking about corporate sponsorship and planning using visual tools.
Feedback from the arts managers reflected a hunger for more access to these opportunities to connect with business experts. One attendee wrote, "All of the consultants I met with were great. I would have loved more time with each of them." Others noted that simply meeting all the attendees–both fellow arts and culture staffers and business professionals–was valuable.
From our business volunteers, we heard likewise that making connections with new people and organizations is a valuable part of the experience.
And being able to offer a number of one-on-one consulting sessions is a great use of their time. Our finance volunteers from KPMG had such a good time, they even wrote up an article about their experience at Skills Day to share in their staff newsletter.
We will continue to develop new ways of engaging business volunteers to directly impact the work of our arts and culture organizations. In the future, we may look to bring our connections in the business community in partnership with other local organizations who are offering professional development opportunities for arts managers. Or we may try organizing a skills building event on a more focused topic like human resources or marketing or finance. Any other ideas on how to maximize business volunteer time? Share your ideas here.