Thoughts on the Organization Structural Change Grant

How do we prepare for what feels like the inevitable?

Sara Bateman

Let me share something I have been thinking about in the last few months. If 30% of small businesses have had to shutter due to the pandemic, and the forecast for arts organizations in the UK and US has the same 30% closure rate, why hasn’t there been a similar impact in the non-profit arts sector here at home?

Arts organizations have navigated the major impacts in the arts with earned revenue losses, staff layoffs, and other tough decisions facing similar realities that the small businesses endured as well.

Is it because the non-profit sector has an infrastructure of grants, and stop-gaps which are designed to prevent the closures? In our May/June 2020 survey to COVID impacted organizations in Calgary, 50% said it would be unlikely that they would survive six months but here we are and with minimum (if any) closures in Calgary.

Let me be clear, it’s not that we want closures, but I am wondering how we prepare for what feels like the inevitable for some organizations based on the data.

For now, my current hypothesis is this: It’s daunting and a bit scary to think about being in leadership of an organization when a decision is made to cease operations or change the organization’s structure drastically.

It can be so confusing to navigate all the financial and legal hurdles facing your organization. And I wonder if maybe the board of directors just doesn’t even know what questions to ask itself. The Muttart Foundation recently released two great publications about all the things organizations should consider in times of crises:

They should be required reading for all non-profit boards but especially the arts as COVID-19 will have a longer-term impact to our sector since we will be one of the last sectors to re-open.

During my years as a funder, I have noticed that there is not a natural life cycle for non-profits due the vicious cycle of grants, fundraising, and other aspects of the non-profit industrial complex. During COVID-19’s massive jolt to our society, maybe this is a time to really look at our organizations and see whether our mandate has been accomplished, what is it we want to achieve in the future, and if we have the people resources or financial means to do so. Or is it an opportunity to see where there are long term strategic alliances, partnerships or mergers so the visions of two organizations can be combined or coordinated in order to become more resilient and sustainable together?

When an organization decides it is time to close its doors for whatever reason, they will need support, honor and resources to do it well. This is why Calgary Arts Development is introducing an Organization Structural Change (OSC) Grant in 2021. In recent conversations with a number of sector-serving organizations, we know that this type of support may be needed for organizations looking to navigate the unfamiliar waters and uncertainties that come with big structural change.

As we developed the OSC Grant, we were driven by these principles:

  • To help art-centred non-profits in Calgary be prepared for the anticipated organization changes.
  • To hospice with care any closures in our arts community.
  • To ensure the contributions of the organizations are acknowledged and preserved.

Because we approach our work as a funder and the arts development agency from an ecosystem perspective, we will be a partner that can walk beside you to ensure that your organization’s contribution in our community is honored, remembered and if there are cultural assets or wisdom, that they can be preserved appropriately. We also know that each circumstance will be unique, and perhaps Calgary Arts Development can help find solutions with a one-size-fits-one lens for organizations making big changes to their structures.

Check out the recent Globe & Mail article about the OSC Grant too. They seem to think this is a critical tool of support for those applicable arts organizations.

A photo of Sara BatemanSara Bateman (she/her/hers) is the director for community investment and impact at Calgary Arts Development. With 15 years of experience in corporate community investment, evaluation, and social innovation, she leads the team providing meaningful grants and capacity resources to Calgary’s arts organizations and artists.

Her team also demonstrates the impact of the arts to Calgarians and our city. As a graduate of the Social Innovation Graduate program at the University of Waterloo, Sara brings an adaptive strategy and system-thinking lens to her work.

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