Trillium Foundation grants preview

trilliumThe Ontario Trillium Foundation is rejigging its programs. Below is a summary of how we see things shaping up and our (highly subjective) thoughts  about what they are looking for.

The focus for all public funders today is economic development, i.e. job creation and stimulus, especially directed towards youth, seniors and constituencies facing acute political, social, physical or economic challenges.

All funders also want to see impacts beyond the money spent by the grant, whether in the form of projects becoming self-sustaining or by producing measurable economic benefits that advance self-reliance in the targeted constituency.

If you don’t know anything about impact measurement, it’s time to learn what GIIRS, GRI, IRIS and SROI stand for.

To approach Trillium for funding, here are the basic steps:

  1. find the right funding category – there are three now, SEED, GROW and CAPITAL;
  2. make sure your project is targeting at least one of Trillium’s desired “priority outcomes;”
  3. find the program area that fits what you do – there are six: Active People, Connected People, Green People, Inspired People, Promising Young People and Prosperous People – all interesting terminology  for what, back in the day, they would have simply called Sports, Seniors, Environment, Arts, Youth, and Employment
  4. ensure your project is doing the kind of work Trillium will support (they are being very specific) and that it will produce measurable impact; you will want to be counting, counting, counting not just the number of people engaged and dollars spent/earned,  but the number of job placements, clubs and leadership positions created, square feet of building, facilities, etc.

Funding levels can be expected to be somewhat lower than before considering both Kathleen Wynne’s continued cuts to the Trillium budget (amounting to $20m over the past 4 years; 2012-13 budget was approximately $125m), and the fact that demand is always rising.

There are three grant streams: Seed, Grow and Capital.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 5.02.43 PMSEED grants are for early-stage development projects:

Activities funded include:

  • Conducting new research or feasibility studies
  • Testing new approaches
  • Hosting discussions about emerging issues or new opportunities
  • Developing a new idea
  • Launching a new event
  • Convening people together

AMOUNT: From $5,000 to $75,000
TERM: Up to 1 year

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 5.27.17 PMGROW grants are for more substantial projects:

Activities funded include:

  • Replicating, adapting or scaling a proven model
  • Piloting or demonstrating a tested model

AMOUNT: From $50,000 to $250,000 per year
TERM: 2 to 3 years

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 5.02.26 PMCAPITAL grants are for buildings: improving access, or energy efficiency, renovating, repairing or building new.

Activities funded include:

  • Buying and installing equipment
  • Doing renovations, installations and repairs
  • Building structures or spaces
  • Making better use of technological resources

AMOUNT: From $5,000 to $150,000
TERM: Up to 1 year

TYPES OF PROJECTS

Trillium funding is targeted. They know the types of projects they want to support and the impacts those projects should produce.

Let’s look at just three of the six funding streams.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 5.31.12 PMThe Trillium category ACTIVE PEOPLE is for sport/play projects. In terms of impact, they are looking for:
– high quality and inclusive programs
– engaging more people
More specifically, they are seeking projects that will:
– produce qualified or certified trainers and coaches
– be deeply inclusive: the key words here are “fairness” and “age and ability appropriate”
– create infrastructure for unstructured and structured play/sports: an interesting word here is “unstructured” – they are looking for things that increase physical activity but not necessarily conventional sports.

If you have a project that is going to:

  1. produce new coaches/trainers
  2. in a new kind of structured or unstructured sports/play activity
  3. that is reaching into a community with sports/play deficits

then this is the category for you.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 5.31.34 PMThe Trillium category INSPIRED PEOPLE is for arts projects. In terms of impact, they are looking for:
– new and improved facilities
– transferring knowledge from older to younger generations
– arts-based learning and compelling cultural experiences, which both translate into not simply increased visitors or audience but a level of active participation.

So, for example, if you have a project that is going to:

  1. add to or rejuvinate or build a new facility
  2. with programs that are committed to using art as a tool for learning not just about art, and
  3. that uses art and artifacts in an active, not passive way

then this is the category for you.

Check out the metrics Trillium envisions you producing in the Inspired People stream.

The last category we’ll look at here is one that is close to our hearts.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 5.31.23 PMThe Trillium category CONNECTED PEOPLE is for programs to overcome social isolation and alienation. In terms of impact, Trillium is looking for:
– giving people a say in developing meaningful programs;
– cultivating leadership and taking leadership roles in the community
– bringing diverse communities together to share services, work on common goals;
– creating places and programs where people gather.

So, for example, if you have a project that is going to:

  1. bring together people who are isolated
  2. to create their own programs and take on leadership roles
  3. that also crosses the race, class, ethnicity, economic and other  boundaries that keep people apart

then this is the category for you.

Read Trillium’s backgrounders on the Connected People program and expected impacts to get the full picture. Below is an example of the metrics (measurements) they are looking for in this stream.
Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 5.38.21 PM

Finally, NEW to the Trillium process is the preliminary self-assessment tool. That can be intimidating but it is only a tool. If you have a project in mind, it is always a good idea to call Trillium first and talk to one of their friendly and helpful officers. If you would like help planning a project  and preparing an application, please give us a call 647 929 0466 or email info@socialenterpriseadvocates.ca.

Four social enterprises for art museums

Art. Future. Change. Canada Council for the Arts report on the state of the visual arts in Canada, 2015The Canada Council for the Arts publication of a major report on the state of the visual arts in Canada (discussed here) inspired us to look afresh at how social enterprise concepts might play in the arts. This quote from the report was the spark: “[M]uch can be learned from innovative strategies in start-up culture, social enterprise and experimental development; as well as emergent non-profit business models that are being explored across other sectors.”

What are the startup and social enterprise strategies the report is referring to? And what is to be learned from them?

The mantra of social enterprise is “people, planet and profit.” And for both startups and social enterprises, success has to be measurable, producing both social and financial returns for investors and the enterprise.

Globe_reconstructionSocial enterprise is defined in this this Reuter’s article as “a business that solves a social purpose.” The article is about the UK’s Globe theatre raising £5m (CAD $7.5m) through a “social impact bond” (SIB) issue.

The UK government has 31 SIBs as of this year, more than there are in the rest of the world combined. A government issued SIB is typically calculated to produce a return on investment in the form of savings on how government is currently doing things. For example, a bond issued to support home care over hospital care, will produce savings in overall health care costs. As performance goals are met, bond holders receive financial returns proportional but not eating up all the savings. Everybody wins, maybe not as much as in the private investment world but enough to make a difference.

For Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, it is not yet clear whether the bond will be designed to produce actual financial returns or is more like philanthropy by a sexier name. But in terms of “social return on investment” or “social impact” the Globe’s impact looks impressive: in the first six months of a 24-month world tour launched in April 2014, 89 performances of Hamlet were staged in 54 countries to approximately 54,000 people.

Taking social enterprise literally

A more literal approach to using startup and social enterprise strategies would be to try them out. There are a host of enterprising things museums do already. To be strategic, pushing toward the triple bottom lines of people, planet and profit, would take just a little tweeking:

Hospitality Industry Training

Dress these folks in black and turn those smiles upside down and you'd have something like a group of shot of museum professionals
Take off the hats and turn those smiles upside down and these folks wouldn’t look too different than a group of museum professionals.

Typically, services in public institutions like museums and art galleries are “extra.” The primary tasks are to collect and preserve and present artifacts or art. Guests are welcome but secondary to the primary mission. Financing similarly is not tied to the mission. There’s a correlation of course between donors, sponsors and visitor support and the quality of program but it is indirect. No-one buys a curator’s decision to show a particular artist, least of all the public.

All that is fine, but when it comes to visitor services, public galleries have learned that numbers matter and holding numbers requires more than simply delivering great exhibitions in great, well-kept spaces. Increasingly, they are required to pay attention to the “visitor experience.”

Receptionists and docents know just how often they are asked for directions to restaurants or other attractions. Yet, few people working in the arts are properly trained in how to anticipate and respond to visitors. This is the territory of “customer relations,” and “hospitality,” familiar in the travel and accommodation industries. This is not to say that today’s museum goer is not welcomed and helped. They are. And museums are increasingly attentive to, and developing expertise in this area.

At the same time, there is also a need for trained people in the tourism and hospitality fields. As Richard Florida pointed out over a decade ago, the whole economy has shifted toward services. As manufacturing moves offshore and leisure becomes more important for a larger, aging and relatively financially secure demographic, services training is needed.

Museums could strengthen and broaden their public role by focusing on, and enhancing, visitor services. To be able to invest in improved services, an entrepreneurial approach could be taken. Museums could create visitor centres that are a training grounds for tourism and hospitality workers. They would simultaneously get the benefit of the people learning on the job while also producing people with experience and enthusiasm who are 100% more  likely to search out or even create new opportunities to put their greeting/hosting/serving skills to use.

Official Guide Training Program

The institutional credibility and intellectual pedigree of museums make them a natural seedbed for highly specialized training.
The institutional credibility and intellectual pedigree of museums make them fertile ground in which to grow highly specialized training programs.

In the UK, Blue Badge guides are among the most respected people working in the hospitality and tourism industry. The training is rigorous: they study for up to two years at university level, taking a comprehensive series of written and practical exams which qualify them to become Blue Badge Tourist Guides.

Art museums already train and use docents, and increasingly are looking at digital audio/media supports for the visitor experience. For sure, digital media are intriguing, for now, but nothing compares to the caring and knowledgeable personal guide. A program that trains people, older and younger, to develop their knowledge and presentation skills to encyclopedic levels would prove its value in two concrete ways: enhancing workforce skill levels but also by adding credibility and respect to the institutions that would employ those people. In the highly competitive tourism marketplace, distinctiveness and quality are prized and hard to achieve.

Art Bank

Browsing the Art Bank collection during the 40th Anniversary open house or shopping for something to take home?
Browsing the Art Bank collection during the 40th Anniversary open house or shopping for something to rent and take home?

Started in 1972, the Canada Council Art Bank was as innovative a social enterprise concept as you are ever likely to find. Artists would “bank” their work there, having been paid well for it, retaining a right to “withdraw” it at any time for the same price. The presumption was that years later, the value of the work having gone up substantially, the artist would be able to buy the work back at cost and sell it, capitalizing on the increased market value.

For the Art Bank, the money wasn’t in the escalating price of the work but in renting it out while they held it. Government and corporate offices throughout Ottawa showcased the best work being done in Canada. It was stunning and a model that worked fabulously well for many years, producing surpluses year after year. Eventually, however, the model failed. The vaults kept growing, storage and maintenance costs ever increasing, but the rental market was saturated and redemption was rare. Most Canadian art isn’t worth more than it was the day it left the studio.

Today the Art Bank is still struggling to find its way. But it has created a fine history of respectable failures to learn from. One obvious lesson is that an enterprise that hopes to succeed in the marketplace needs to have the agility to move with it. Failing to change its art acquisition policies when the rental market was saturated (and in fact started to collapse as government cost cutting eliminated rental budgets) was fatal.

The most important lesson of the Art Bank lies in the relationship between collection and marketplace. Many art galleries have rental services but the work they rent is generally not very valuable and not very good. One assumes the reasons, risk of damage, theft, insurance costs. Yet the Art Bank was able to place artwork valued in the 10s of thousands in public and private buildings, often in high traffic areas. Why shouldn’t artworks in museum collections be rented out directly to conscientious patrons, businesses, organizations and local government?

Or how about this even more radical idea? Imagine a dystopian Fahrenheit 451-ish future in which collections are distributed among the people, housed and cared for piece by piece; it would be the “museum” as it started, with the impulse to collect, conserve, study, only distributed and organized as we are able to do now in the 21st C.

Sunday Painters

Winston Churchill was a Sunday painter. The important thing isn't whether he was any good, but that he thought painting was worth his time. You can't tell me that isn't a lesson museums are trying to teach.
Winston Churchill was a Sunday painter. It isn’t important  whether or not he was any good, but that he thought painting was worth his time. That’s a lesson all museums are trying to teach.

The art world has spent the past 30+ years learning not to judge everything from the white European male perspective. Just as barriers to women, black, hispanic, gay and other artists of all kinds fall, perhaps the final frontier of inclusiveness will be opening the doors of privilege to the genre and amateur artist.

It is difficult for art museums to show local amateur artists, except maybe once a year, in hallways. Wildlife artists like Robert Bateman continue to be ignored despite their global popularity. What’s going on? It’s not like the “high arts” can’t handle a challenge. In fact, critical challenge is what the best of the arts are supposed to be good at. As Andrew Hunter, now curator of Canadian art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, showed in his early curation-as-art practice, art is liminal, an effect produced at the interstices of place, object, object and encounter, i.e. contextual.

I know it sounds improbable, but the assumptions around things like Sunday (and other genres of) painters warrant testing. There is something so obviously “social” in these practices. And engaging audiences more as active producers than passive spectators can’t be a bad thing. It’s a clumsy idea. It’s unclear where the “enterprise” part might come in. Some amateur work is produced in gallery art classes for which the artists already pay. Wildlife or naturalist artists like Bateman would draw staggering numbers of visitors of course, selling out the gift shops. I have no conclusions in this final example. I’m just throwing it out there. Perhaps you see it more clearly.

The point of this exercise, these four ideas, has been to look at things differently. Social enterprise is about finding ways to accomplish important social purposes in ways no one has thought of before. It’s willing to risk failure for the chance to do something unprecedented and remarkable.

In startup land, there’s a lot of buzz around concepts like “disruption.” Many things that we assumed had to be the way they were, aren’t that way anymore, bookstores for example. This kind of change may not always be good, at least not in the way we have defined “good,” but it is always interesting, which is, as artist Don Judd once said, the whole point.

Measurables and milestones and economic impact analysis

Libraries contribute to the quality of life in neighbourhoods and as an educational resource but also in real economic terms. Look at the numbers associated with library use. Borrowing and reading a book is an economic activity.
Libraries contribute to the quality of life in neighbourhoods and as an educational resource but also in real economic terms. Look at the numbers associated with library use. Borrowing and reading a book is an economic activity.

Impact is a word you hear often these days. For social enterprises, non-profits and charities it tends to be teamed up with “social,” as in “social impact,” referring to the good you are doing. For business it tends to be partnered with “economic,” as in how much money you make, how many people you employ, plus also how your business stimulates other businesses, contributes to consumer spending power and the overall economy (GDP). Most of us would like to think they are the same thing: that qualitative effects can be evaluated in terms of quantitative results or even dollars, but that isn’t always the case, and I don’t think it should be, if only for the sake of clarity.

We recently completed a business plan for a non-profit community organization that needed to show its funders that it has capacity for real economic growth that will help it be financially sustainable for the long-term. Our research found that, while it will never be free from needing grants, it has a strong track record of private support from donors and sponsors, which when coupled with consistent results in winning grants makes it possible to predict with confidence that it has capacity to do more, to grow these sources of revenue and diversify them. We also found considerable potential to increase self-generated revenue from existing programs and by adding new facilities and programs. Here, however, even though we were talking about very concrete, business-like things, it was difficult to project results with confidence. Two things were lacking: data about how the organization is already working from a program/services earnings perspective, and in-depth understanding of the marketplace, who and how it is serving.

These are concrete and measurable things but the reality is that most non-profits haven’t the time to stop and gather data about their programs or the inclination to study the community they serve as if it were a market, evaluating what is working to determine how to improve or what more/different might be needed. Intuition tends to guide them and quite reliably so, thanks to the caring expertise of the people who work there. But in today’s world where measurables and milestones are the order of the day, more is needed.

I think there’s some fear that using business tools (for looking at social enterprises from a market and revenue perspective) is like joining the “forces of darkness,” that principles, mission and ethics will be compromised the moment you associate dollars with them.

Information graphics are great tools for showing where the money is.
Information graphics are great tools for showing where the money is.

Before you judge, it is worth looking at the tools, some of which have been developed by the communities that use them to help put dollar values on the indirect “intangibles” that non-profits deliver. One example, is this calculator created by Americans for the Arts (AFTA).

Economic impact calculators use multipliers based on detailed study of various industries. The AFTA calculator produces suspiciously big numbers for indirect and “induced” (even less direct, like ambient) impacts of arts organizations like museums, until you consider that cultural industries actually produce bigger impacts than traditional industries like manufacturing. The multipliers used for the auto industry, for example, take into consideration indirect impacts on parts manufacturers and materials suppliers and even less direct (“induced”) impacts on industries that in turn supply them. But arts organizations engage more and more varied kinds of industries, many of which are closer to the surface of consumer society. Impacts are felt far beyond supply, in adjacent creative industries like fashion and design, and flowing right through to consumer products and the media; film, television and new media. (As discussed in this UK study.)

Another interesting tool to look at is a calculator called the Tourism and Recreation Economic Impact Model (TREIM) created by the Government of Ontario. Its multipliers are much smaller than those used by AFTA, but still produce impressive numbers for organizations for whom audiences or visitors are a primary driver. Audiences are measurable and so are their impacts, and organizations can set goals for themselves, milestones that will verify their assumptions and validate their strategy, or, if the numbers don’t materialize the way you hoped, allow you to course correct and try something else, just like businesses do.

In the end, the important thing is not whether you have 15  or 500 people you serve (clients, customers, visitors or whatever) but whether you can verify the number before you start and measure how it changes because of your program or project. If you can do that, and measure other impacts, you will not just be satisfying a funder’s seemingly arbitrary requirements;  you will find it useful, helping you to do a better job achieving the goals you set.

Capturing organization history

It has always been challenging for arts organizations to write and then keep their histories current:

  • Organizations are paid to deliver programs today, not reflect on the past, so there’s precious little time to dig around in the archives.
  • Organizations don’t usually have a historian or archivist on staff either. Sorting out what’s important from the dross of organization work is difficult.
  • The purpose of a history is rarely clear and never urgent. For grant applications, it’s useful to have a brief description of the organization that includes when it was founded and perhaps its original mission, but beyond that the usefulness of a fuller history is not readily apparent. Who started an organization, their motivations and how the organization evolved over time appear to be of mostly academic interest.

Pit these arguments against those in favour of having a good organization history and keeping it up to date:

  • As they say, those who ignor history are bound to repeat it. Organizations often repeat the same cycles over and over. Usually they are aware they are doing it but also feel stuck, helpless to do things differently. To do things differently, you need to see what was done before so you can identify where it tripped up or failed or where the cycle repeated instead of moving forward.
  • All kinds of goodies are likely buried in your organization’s archives, including hand written letters and notes by prominent community members, fascinating reports on particular dramas or crises, plus charming vintage logos and graphics and nostalgic photos, all of which serve to bring history alive in the present. They show the organization’s depth and add immeasurably to its value.
  • The better the history is, and the more people who have read it, the more likely it will be carried forward through stories and anecdotes to new and younger members, again adding depth to everyone’s experience of the organization.
  • Organization history is the substance of organizational confidence. Strutting your stuff is just hubris if its not backed up by a track record that extends beyond your most recent (albeit amazing) accomplishments.
  • One of the more important, but often taken for granted, roles of organizations is to work together with other organizations. Networking, collaboration and partnerships are more than popular buzzwords, they are actual measures of organizational effectiveness. An organization’s history will show evidence of the networks it belongs to  and how it functioned in them, providing good guidance for present-day community initiatives.

Conclusion: Invest in your history and you are investing in your organization’s health. The rewards may be difficult to measure but they will be unmistakable when you learn to see the effects in the depth of programs, quality of governance decision-making and membership participation.