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Doug Stannard, president of the Louisiana Art Guild board of directors, will be part of a special session on governance at the 49th Annual Conference. He is shown in his shop.

Governance Versus Operations

Carl Lefko
USITT President

USITT is actively preparing for its 50th Celebration in 2010. This marks a major milestone in our history and symbolizes our bridge into the 21st century as well as the many changes we have seen in our growth to this point and the new directions being pursued that will undoubtedly solidify our future for the next 50 years.

This past October – and yes it was even over Halloween – Lea Asbell-Swanger, Chair of the Transition Advisory Committee; Carol Carrigan, Administrative and Financial Manager; and I attended the 2008 BoardSource Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. While we could have had our pictures taken with either Barak Obama or John McCain in the lobby of the hotel, it just did not seem an appropriate use of our time.

We were there to glean as much about governance boards, executive directors and financial issues surrounding not-for-profit organizations as we could. The sessions were informative and reaffirmed the work of the Institute over the past two years from the White papers in Las Vegas to the McCarthy Arts Consulting report and the recommendations of the 21st Century Task Force and the Transition Advisory Team. Believe it or not, all of these reports strongly support the Board of Directors' charge for change. As always the question is what will that change be?

It is impossible to summarize the collective material we gathered at the BoardSource conference. Among us, we attended over 16 workshops in just a short 36 hours. It's an organization that likes to meet as much as USITT does, or more! While the economy provided an undertone to each of the sessions, it was far from doom and gloom. Each session provided valuable information on how to do our jobs better. The basis to this theme was always governance.

We learned about the critical role the executive director plays in communicating with the volunteers, staff, and board of directors. The most constructive partnership is a board and CEO working together in a collaborative effort. The CEO runs the day-to-day activities and manages the staff. The board is responsible for strategic planning and assessment. Working together but maintaining an environment that allows the CEO to manage and the BOD to govern is key to the healthy growth of any organization.

We learned the importance of board thinking and deliberating on three different levels: fiduciary, strategic, and governance. Being able to separate each mode facilitates assessment, oversight, and forward thinking. It allows the CEO and staff to do their jobs and more effectively serve the membership. The result is a more active board that has a clearly defined role based on accountability.

Sustainability over another 50 years will require changes to certain areas of the Institute. Many of these changes will need to target the new generations of the 21st century. In order for us to position our board to meet these new challenges, it will be important for us to actively solicit input from a more diverse constituency. "Diversity and inclusion are an action not an idea." The actions must be woven throughout the culture of the organization.

A major change for not-for-profits is driven by the 2009 IRS form. There are new questions regarding the organization's mission with new questions. The questions ask about potential local chapters and their governance policies, and about documentation related to a conflict of interest and a whistleblower policy. In order for us to maintain our tax exempt 501C3 status, it is critical that we work diligently to meet these new Federal guidelines.

Obviously, change is in the air and the Board of Directors, Transition Advisory Team, and Finance Committee are working diligently to figure out exactly what change is needed to carry us into our next 50 years. If you would like to view the complete report to the Board of Directors from our BoardSource meetings please e-mail

As we continue to learn about the values of a new governance structure with an Executive Director, the Transition Advisory Team will sponsor initiatives at the Cincinnati 2009 Conference & Stage Expo. They have invited Doug Stannard, president of the Louisiana Arts Guild board of directors, Michael Peitz, executive director for the Educational Theatre Association, and Pam Meister, executive director of the Upcountry History Museum in Greenville, South Carolina. Each recently made the transition to a governance structure and will talk about those experiences.

The panel will make a presentation to the Institute's Board of Directors on Tuesday and are presenting an open session titled, Transitioning USITT's Organization from an Operations Model to a Governance Model with an Executive Director, scheduled for 2 to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. I encourage everyone to attend if at all possible.

Any member of the Transition Advisory Team will be glad to speak about the process. Look for prominent GOVERNANCE buttons and enjoy a great discussion.

Albert Einstein on insanity
"Doing the same thing and expecting a different result."

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