Sharing The Burden
The concept of sharing is a bedrock principle of society. Private sector companies like Uber, Airbnb and Craigslist have embraced this notion through the sharing economy model. However, the nonprofit industry has been slow to join in.
ArtsPool is changing that. The newly established nonprofit cooperative centralizes the administrative processes to cut the costs, time and labor that artists invest in running their organizations, allowing them to focus on their true purpose: providing services.
“There is no advantage in keeping non- profit operating systems proprietary and in-house because these systems are not what make each organization special,” explained founders Guy Yarden and Sarah Maxfield in their original concept paper*, from which ArtsPool was born.
Yarden and Maxfield believe that by filling the “common needs” of arts organizations, such as budget planning, legal compliance and human resources, these organizations can apply more resources to fulfilling their missions.
“ArtsPool is focused on streamlining the areas of administration that can be systematized efficiently,” said the founders via email, “leaving more time and budget for those other elements that are inherently less efficient: the making of the art itself.”
A failure of the current nonprofits arts system, Yarden and Maxfield explain, is that it demands that nonprofit organizations operate within a “profit-oriented superstructure.”
ArtsPool provides a new structure. Unlike a third-party vendor, ArtsPool operates for the benefit of its members, not to make a profit.
The organization aims to leverage resources within the arts community to keep member costs low, a process Yarden and Maxfield call “insourcing.” Member organizations then recycle savings back into the arts field.
Also unlike a third-party vendor, the cooperative is co-run by its members. Elected members serve on ArtsPool’s governance committees on a rotating basis to review operations.
“[ArtsPool] implemented a member-driven governance process to ensure that [it] continually adapts to member needs,” the founders highlighted.
The cooperative is currently running its pilot program and is working with a selection of pilot members to provide targeted services.
“We’ve purposely started our service offering in areas that are highly regulated,” the founders explained, “[since] regulatory requirements create a common ‘needs framework’ across organizations.”
Member organizations work directly with ArtsPool’s management team, which includes the founders and devel- opment partner Max Dana.
“ArtsPool’s development team has 80 years of combined arts nonprofit experience,” the founders said.
Each manager specializes in a specific field, ranging from finance and operations to technology and marketing. Additionally, the cooperative provides access to Web-based tools that give members an overview of their data, allowing “members to make informed decisions about their business,” ArtsPool states on its website.
One ArtsPool member, Producer Aaron Mattocks of Big Dance Theater, said his organization has already benefited from joining the collective.
“Big Dance is a mid-size organization as defined by most funders, and there are no full-time staff members,” Mattocks said. “In this type of arts organization, everyone is piecing together different areas of operations. [ArtsPool has] really streamlined systems and put it into a digital space,” he continued. “It’s so much easier to get a holistic view of the organization given the way that they have amalgamated all the data on the organization.”
In addition to providing administrative services, ArtsPool is working to implement a co-employment model that will allow for the work of certain employees to be shared among member organizations.
“Our goal is to use co-employment to facilitate, in a more reliable and structured manner, the sort of informal labor sharing that already exists in arts nonprofits,” the founders explained.
While Yarden and Maxfield are still working to create a structure that facilitates a self-sustaining co-employment model, they have outlined their goals for the program.
On their website, they outline that they are working to create a model that eases short-term, project-based hiring while providing long-term stability; capitalizes on a full-time worker’s “down time” so that it can be efficiently applied at another organization; and leverages reduced costs with vendors and provides access to professional development through collective bargaining.
“It’s not uncommon for an artist to supplement their income by picking up administrative work for other art com- panies on an ad hoc basis,” the founders explained. “Access to benefits for that worker may be nonexistent, even though she’s working a combined equivalent of more than a full time job for the arts field as a whole.”
ArtsPool was designed specifically to service arts nonprofits, though Yarden and Maxfield believe that the model can be replicated nationwide and throughout nonprofit industries.
“Because our baseline service provision is tied to core nonprofit compliance requirements, many aspects should be replicable in any nonprofit arena,” the founders said via email.
ArtsPool is, however, based on a local model.
“Specific aspects will need to be shaped around any additional/different compliance requirements that another sector, state or locality demands,” the founders explained. “But such an adaptation would be about adjusting, not reinventing, the framework that we’re putting in place.”
*"Collective Insourcing: A Systemic Ap- proach to Nonprofit Arts Management" by Guy Yarden & Sarah Maxfield can be found at www.art-newyork.org.