I often thing of arts organizations in terms of their budgets because it helps me to understand what their particular challenges are at any given time. Here's something for you to consider:
Level 1 (0 - $250,000 in annual revenue) - This is the fast growth stage. You're small, you have virtually no overhead, your expenses are low. You are probably just starting to attract the attention of foundations, who are funding you at relatively low (say $5,000 or less) amounts. If you are getting individual gifts, it's from a small group of people and the gifts are small.
Level 3 (750,000 and up) - This is the stability stage. By this time you have hired administrative help of at least some quality. You probably have your own performance venue, or at least a semi-permanent rental space. You have a base of individual donors. some corporate gifts and a Board with some fundraising skill.
You see I skipped that level in betwen. I did this for a reason, because it's the most critical level.
Level 2 (250K - 750,000): My friends, welcome to the artistic dead zone. This is the level where you are making just enough money to pay some people a salary . . . but it's not really enough for them to live on long term.
Some of the same foundations who funded you in level 1 are now either pulling their funding for a while, or capping their gift at a certain level. You are probably too big to have a Board of Directors that are all artists, but not yet big enough to have a Board of non-artists that can fundraise.
In short, this is the place where artistic organizations die.
And in the current economic climate these are the arts organizations that get impacted the most.
Now here's what I want you to think about.
If you want to build a strong artistic organization that thrives over the long term, going through the dead zone is just part of the deal. It's unavoidable.
What's also unavoidable is that if you want to make it through the dead zone your organization is going to have to change . . . fairly drastically.
The way you make decisions, artistic and otherwise will change.
The people who influence those decisions will change.
The people you work with will change.
The financial impact of your decisions will change.
In fact, the organization that enters the dead zone and the one that emerges from it often have very little in common.
Sure, they may still be doing the same type of work, but the way they function will be very different.
Now let's say that, for perfectly valid reasons, you don't want to make the sort of changes a organization has to make to get through the dead zone. At that point I believe you have two choices:
1. Shrink - Take your budget back to Level 1 stages
The problem is arts orgs that don't want to make major changes to how they operate don't do either of those things. Instead they try to hang around at Level 2, make no plans to get to Level 3 and think everything will be ok.
It will not be ok.
Eventually market forces, lifestyle changes for the people in your organization, etc. are going to force you to make a decision . . . and when that happens it's going to be ugly.