Meet the "Fixer" Providing Free Consulting to Detroit Arts Organizations

We recently looked at how the Pittsburgh Symphony is balancing their books to qualify for a $5 million grant from the Heinz Foundation. This story underscores the severe financial challenges faced by nonprofits, and how philanthropic organizations are demanding even greater levels of transparency and accounting acumen.

And while 99 percent of nonprofits would happily take a check to plug their financial holes, money alone can't paper over endemic structural problems within an organization— things like poor donor communication, sub-par fundraising, high overhead costs, etc. In other words, to realize a truly sustainable future, nonprofits need managerial and organizational excellence. But how can they accomplish this? They're cash-strapped, overworked, and there are only so many managerial white papers they can read before their eyes glaze over (trust us, we've tried). Enter the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

The institute recently awarded 12 small- and medium-sized Detroit arts organizations a total of $1.2 million in free consulting services over the next year and a half. Each group is expected to receive about $100,000 a piece. The institute provides consulting services across six critical areas: 

  • Creating strategic plans 
  • Building projects  
  • Establishing joint ventures  
  • Annual fund-raising  
  • Board engagement

What's interesting about the institute's consulting services is that they aim to assist organizations regardless of their managerial maturity level. For example, relatively new organizations can receive critical strategic planning advice while more advanced nonprofits can be a bit more precise in terms of required services. Recipient organizations include the Charles H. Wright Museum, the Arab American National Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

So you could consider DeVos the "fixers" of the nonprofit world. Their charter is to address the "gap" between rapid technological change and existing nonprofit management deficiencies. In this way they are no different than their consulting contemporaries—McKinsey and Company, Accenture, Deloitte, etc.—in the for-profit world. What's less clear is how the nonprofits applied for the funding. After all, it would be a strange twist on the typical grant solicitation process. Rather than boast about their incredible programming, financial stewardship, and effective cost management techniques, nonprofits instead have to bluntly say, "Hey guys, we need help."

Of course, in the ever-challenging nonprofit world, there is nothing wrong with asking for help. And thanks to the Devos Institute, 12 worthy organizations in Detroit will get it.