Overview: Empowering Your Organization

Cultural organizations, even relatively small ones, impact their neighborhoods and their communities. In particular, they affect communities facing the challenges of a shifting economic base or changing community demographics. They have an economic impact on their community through their annual budget as it circulates through the local economy. They impact their community by making it a more attractive place to live, by offering educational programming, by being a local gathering place.

Cultural organizations often impact their communities by becoming part of the social fabric or network of the community, strengthening the communication and resource web that allows a community to respond effectively in times of crisis or opportunity. Importantly, but more subtly, they can also be part of a process of regeneration of a new community identity, one that is based on creativity, inclusiveness and the arts.

Outcomes are often difficult to measure, especially outcomes related to economic and social impact on a community. Whichever evaluation framework you chose, tools are required for measuring outcomes. Many cultural organizations have expressed concern over the lack of such tools to evaluate their general impact on the community, or the success of programs that target community regeneration. What cultural leaders desire is a range of practical evaluation tools from which they can choose strategies that best fit their needs and situation.

We present here a set of such tools. Our choice is based on the results of a series of studies we have undertaken of cultural organizations around the country. We have listened to these organizations to determine which evaluation options are most useful in particular situations. Of course each community has its own challenges, its own history, and its own political realities. You may find that some of the suggestions we make work well outside the areas in which we place them.

Our goal is to promote and develop tools that are straightforward, inexpensive, easy to learn, and persuasive in the context of strategic planning and advocacy. Tools that do not meet these goals are not included here, although they may still be extremely valuable for understanding and advocating for the arts in a broader context. We have developed some tools on which we continue to work to simplify so as to make them accessible to most cultural organizations.

The common theme we have heard from arts administrators trying to measure and present their community impact is that they do not have the time, money, or training to undertake this process to the extent that grant providers and local governments are more and more frequently demanding. The strategies presented here can be learned and utilized in a relatively short period of time. In working with organizations, we are sensitive to the skill-sets the staff brings with them. We do not ask one person to master all of the tools. Specific individuals will clearly be more comfortable with some tools than with others.

The goal of what follows is to empower you to make the case for your organization, whether it is before your fellow staff, board of trustees, city council, state arts agency, or private foundation. You know the good you are doing in your community. These tools and suggestions will help you communicate to others the economic and social benefits you bring to the community.

Site © 2007 Zack Sheppard and the Center for Creative Community Development