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28 Mar. 2018 | Comments (0)

Without a sustainable revenue model to support a compelling mission, nonprofits’ funding will dry out. Sadly, many nonprofits today face this dilemma. Gina Gibney, artistic director and CEO of Gibney Dance, based in Lower Manhattan, has a story that has a number of valuable lessons for foundations and the nonprofits in which they invest.

A few years ago, Gibney revitalized a Lower Manhattan facility by reconceiving the notion of a dance center. She created a strong business model that maximized earned revenue from studio rentals and other entrepreneurial activities. She also reconfigured the physical layout of the space to maximize its potential to generate revenue or house mission-based programs. In the dance world, space is at a premium and Gibney created a plan to harness this valuable resource.

Gibney’s vision also included a commitment to arts to address social justice issues: to use dance as a vehicle to “empower survivors of interpersonal violence through multiple platforms.” These platforms include:

  • Movement workshops for domestic violence survivors,
  • Global community action residencies that share Gibney Dance’s model and practices internationally
  • The Community Action Hub and its resources for social change-minded artists; and
  • Advocacy initiatives that spread awareness and mobilize artists to respond to social issues.

Most significantly, Gibney built a powerful and deeply committed board of directors that would work with her to ensure that the nonprofit would have a financially sustainable revenue model. I posed some questions to Gibney about lessons she could share with nonprofits that struggle and the foundations that are investors.

Q: What information led you to believe that your new vision for the dance center would attract the necessary funding, from the outset and for the longer term?

A: Space is an incredibly powerful resource—not only because it is scarce and necessary, but because it is a connector. Everything we have built at 890 and 280 Broadway is based on the needs of the dance community, its dire lack of space and infrastructure, and the fact that it has long lacked a central home. Space is key to the creation of dance, and while there were many risks taken along the way, our entire business model is based on the fact that dance artists need a very rarified type of space to create and present work—and moreover on the necessity that that work be supported and find its audience. Both in performance and in practice, dance has the capacity to transform lives, promote tolerance and create social change. So for me, it’s not so much about attracting funding, but about addressing need and fueling change.

Q: What were your thoughts about building a new board. What were you looking for and why?

A: We don’t really have a new board, we have a transformed board. About half of our board members have been with us for over a decade, have participated in our growth, and have taken a series of leaps with us. The other half joined a very different organization with an expanded mission and profile, a budget that has increased tenfold, and a lot of responsibility! Most important was to bring the original members forward in a way that respected and valued their contributions, but also to allow room for new ideas, energy and resources.

Q: What are your concerns—the challenges—going forward, and what are your thoughts about how you might deal with them?

A: Having just opened our Next Phase Space, which was a huge challenge on many levels, we are now turning our attention to a number of important concerns. First and foremost, we are looking to build an organization with long-term stability. We want to make certain that we are not here just for today or next year, but that we are here to serve the city for decades to come. Also, having experienced several phases of iterative growth, we’re planning out at the big picture. What are our combined resources? How can we best position, package and leverage these resources to best serve dance artists and audiences? What are the unmet needs of our field and how can we have the greatest impact? We are keenly aware that our field has much to offer but is hindered by a dire lack of resources and infrastructure. We need to make sure that our work has the most impact possible.

When you consider at the larger social context and the challenges we are facing as a nation, it’s imperative that we realize and activate the power of the arts to effect social change. We really do hold in our hands the power to open minds and soften hearts, and what could be more important at this moment in history.

  • About the Author:Alice Korngold

    Alice Korngold

    Alice Korngold advises companies and NGOs on strategy, board governance, sustainability, ESG, and diversity and inclusion. She is the author of  A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solv…

    Full Bio | More from Alice Korngold


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