Congratulations, Here's Your Grant. Now Eat Your Broccoli

During his tenure as mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg earned the not-entirely-flattering nickname "Nanny-in-Chief" due to his public health proposals, which included smoking bans in public parks and beaches, placing cigarettes out of sight from customers at city stores, and his effort to limit the size of soda cups to 16 ounces, which was subsequently rejected by a state court. 

On the heels of recent news that his Bloomberg Philanthropies awarded $30 million in grants to 262 arts organizations through its Arts Innovation and Management (AIM) Program, we're wondering if recipient organizations, while thoroughly grateful for the money, may consider the foundation slightly, well, nanny-like, due to some of the strings attached to the gift.

We'll get to these strings in a second, but first, let's look at the program itself.

We last looked at AIM back in May. That was when Bloomberg Philanthropies announced it was expanding AIM due its success in driving measurably positive outcomes at recipient organizations. These outcomes included improvements in audience development, board engagement, and fundraising over a two-year tracking period.

At the time, we noted that the development was precisely what one could expect from a foundation named after a philanthropist who made his billions by religiously tracking business performance and embracing transparency and "best practices." Some foundations cut checks, walk away, and say, "Have fun with your money." Bloomberg Philanthropies isn't one of those foundations. Like it's namesake, it believes strongly in performance measurement, benchmarking, and best practices. It also sees this kind of rigor as the key to bolstering the cultural sector. 

Which is why AIM's support of small-to-midsize recipient organizations need to buck up and embrace certain string attached to Bloomberg money. These include:

  • Getting involved in the Cultural Data Project, which enables organizations to collect data, benchmark their performance against peers, and efficiently manage resources.
  • Taking part in two workshops funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies in cooperation with the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland. The workshops will focus on best practices for community outreach using the arts.
  • Finding matching funds and generating 100 percent board support for fundraising.

Taken in total, none of these strings are particularly arduous or time consuming. But for nonprofits accustomed to foundations that take relatively hands-off approaches toward operational management and improvement, it marks an incremental shift toward greater transparency and quantitative benchmarking.