How Doris Duke's "Change Capital" is Transforming Theater Groups Nationwide

Let's say you're an executive at a toilet paper manufacturing company. The latest sales report hits your desk and the news is very good: People are still using toilet paper. As you sit back and contemplate your next year's sales strategy, you can confidently embrace the whole if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fit-it philosophy. A few tweaks here and there, sure, but strategically speaking, as long as people keep using toilet paper, you don't foresee any drastic changes.

That executive is employed by a unique industry segment in which, thanks to consistent and predictable customer behavior, bold structural changes to the firm's business model are rarely needed.  Nonprofit organizations aren't so lucky. Many lack consistent funding. Many are competing against both private and public entities. And industry changes, whether technological, demographic, or operational, require an obsessive commitment to constant adaption and calibration.

But affecting change takes money, which is where the Doris Duke Foundation makes its niche. The foundation recently awarded five grants, ranging from $300,000 to $1 million, in the form of "change capital" to assist performing arts organizations in navigating changes in the arts marketplace.

For example, the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, DC will receive $800,000 over the next several years in order to address issues including retaining and gaining new audiences and developing new outreach strategies. The other companies receiving funds include American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA, Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR, the Boards in Seattle, and the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT.

Change, of course, isn't an easy thing in theory or practice, and we applaud these grants because they address nonprofit needs across the— for a lack of better term— "change continuum." For example, if you ask a nonprofit director about his or her plans for change, you'll likely get one of three answers:

  • We know we have to change, but don't know what, exactly, has to change.
  • We know what needs to change, but we lack the money to do it.
  • We know what needs to change, but lack the expertise to do it.

The foundation's grants equip each of these five organizations to effectively answer these challenges.

And one last point: change is also a relative thing. Changes that affect, say, the operational management of a ballet troupe in New York may not apply to a Midwest symphony looking to create compelling program offerings. The foundation's grants are devoted exclusively to theater groups in small cites, ensuring that recipient nonprofits will receive precise and actionable advice specifically aligned to their needs. (Click here for more information about the foundation's theater work.)