Monday, December 12, 2011

The "business" of non-profits

Should non-profits be operated as a business? Or does their mission-driven nature somehow exempt them from such a standard?

I am a big fan of the writings of Peter F. Drucker (1909-2005), the author of 39 books about organizational effectiveness. Often called a “management guru” – a term he hated (remarking once “that we are using the word ‘guru’ only because ‘charlatan’ is too long to fit into a headline”) - he was particularly appreciative of the importance and difficulty of work in the non-profit field. One of his legacies is The Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University (CA) where he taught for years. Each year the Institute sponsors three Nonprofit Innovation Awards, the winner of which receives $100,000.

In 1973, I received a MBA degree from the Harvard Business School. I entered the two-year program from the non-profit music field with the intention of returning to non-profit work, which I did. As far as I could tell only a handful of the 750 students in my class had the same background and goal. Harvard teaches using the case method and at that time there were very few cases dealing with the nonprofit field, so I had to engage constantly in mental translation of, say, a marketing case about Smucker’s jams into the not for profit arena. There were very few instances where I found this was impossible.

Here’s a provocative idea from the excellent “The Daily Drucker” (Harper Collins 2004). Drucker was fond of the concept of what he called “systematic and purposeful abandonment.” He was referring to casting off old and non-productive products and services in order to free up resources, especially people, to focus on the opportunities of tomorrow. It is especially difficult for an organization to abandon the “cherished” activity, one that has been in place for years.

He urges a systematic approach where regularly and dispassionately, if that is possible in a non-profit organization, programs are reviewed - and the question is asked: which one should we abandon? Whether it be the profit or non-profit world inevitably there are activities that are no longer as productive as they once were, yet are still being operated, because they have been going for years and/or have their internal adherents. This exercise next begs the question: OK, What do we replace it with? Drucker believes the point is that abandonment makes it possible for staff to concentrate on finding new and more productive program (s) instead of managing or providing life support to the old tired enterprises.

An abandonment analysis might be easier for the profit-making world using measures such as sales and profit/loss figures. But nonprofits can look to audience/ clients served and, even better, study program evaluations.

Here’s a distinction Drucker made that helps clarify the non-profit as business issue: “In the case of business enterprise, the end is economic; in the case of a hospital (for example), it is the care of the patient…” He always comes back to the importance of management, the task of which is: “ …to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weakness irrelevant. That is what organization is all about..” Management is the critical and unifying factor that bridges any gulf between “bottom line” and “mission.” No wonder Peter Drucker called himself as “social ecologist.” He understood deeply that management is about human beings. And that is why he greatly valued and supported the non-profit enterprise.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

1%-99% Philanthropy

As its central mantra the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement declares it represents the 99 % of Americans left behind by the 1 % who represent the wealthiest in the country. There is no doubt that the disparity and income gap portrayed is astonishing and disturbing. Largely ignored, for better or worse, has been what the 1% does in the way of philanthropy. Some recent gifts are as eye-popping as the wealth from which they must come. As examples: at the lower end $40 million to Harvard, $40 million to Seattle Children’s Hospital in a bequest, $150 million to The Stanford Business School and the winner - $265 million to Carnegie-Mellon University. Philanthropy Today reports all of the biggest donations this year have gone to universities, most designated for buildings or specific programs/institutes. These gifts have come from individuals.

Now The New York Times reports in a special Giving section (11/2/11) that the OWS spirit has brought more focus on the philanthropic record of the 1%: “As America’s needs grows, philanthropy and how it is carried out are being questioned more closely,” states the writer Stephanie Strom. The problem, in sum, is that needs, especially human needs, are expanding as government support contracts. The question is: what is private philanthropy doing to fill that widening gap, and if it is, who is doing it?

Last month, homeless people spent eleven days camped outside the $500 million HQ of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (assets $37 billion) to secure a $30,000 grant to make up for City of Seattle cuts that had closed shelters. The protest ended when the city restored the funds. At the same time the Foundation declared its record of having previously spent over $47 million on homeless issues.

My calculator doesn’t do billions so I can’t figure what $30,000 might be as a percent of the income generated by the Gates Foundation assets. The Times article asserts that many Americans give to help people but that the richest appear to favor large gifts to universities, hospitals and the arts. What might the OWS folks think about the Times headline of November 4 announcing the gift to the Stanford Business School: “Couple Donate $150 million to Fight Poverty in Developing Nations.” Giving USA reports that although charitable giving increased in 2010, donations to human needs nonprofits fell 6.6%

Several major donors interviewed in the media have stated that large donations to food banks for instance were not “fulfilling.” The billionaire William E. Conway Jr. told The Washington Post that he has given tens of millions to food banks and such but that had not proven to be satisfying: “Somebody’s hungry, we give money to the food bank. It would be far better if we had a more permanent solution.” To illustrate this point, the old saw is often cited that it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him one.

The etymology of the word philanthropy is from the Greek, roughly “loving mankind.” Warren Buffett has pledged the greatest part of his riches to the Gates Foundation but according to The Times declares that his sister Doris is “the real philanthropist” in the family. For over ten years her Sunshine Lady Foundation has focused exclusively on helping individuals in need. The Foundation responds to letters from people requesting dollars for everything from wheelchairs to refrigerators – funding dental work is often a plea. She regards her philanthropy as investing in people and says: “the best return is when lives change for the better in some way…”

At a recent church service I listened to a reading from Scripture that included this from Isaiah (Ch. 58): “….if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday…”

Don’t misunderstand me, the multimillion dollar generosity from the 1% to large institutions, many of which contribute greatly to our society, are of vital importance. By the same token, in this time of economic peril for so many, let each of us keep firmly in mind the nonprofit organizations who direct their work to helping those who are needy within the 99 %. Those nonprofits, and the thousands of volunteers who support their efforts, are our philanthropists on the ground and they find fulfillment in knowing what a difference their time and money can make.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

“T T T; P P P” – Time and Patience – Dogs’ Story

Some years ago in Virginia I was given a piece of good advice by a man who had achieved, over many year, great success in the fields of aviation and real estate. I was expressing my frustration about several building projects in which I was involved at the historic site I managed. He held up his hand, which stopped my griping and said: “Just always remember - T T T, P P P.” I waited for the interpretation and he gave it: “Things Take Time; Patience Patience Patience.”
I was reminded of this recently watching a remarkable event, the 2011 National Sheepdog Trials held at the Strang Ranch in Carbondale CO. This was a new experience for me and had to be reminded these sheep dogs were not of those big shaggy English variety but rather Border Collies, bred and trained for working sheep. Over 200 dogs and their handlers competed for four days. They came from all over the U.S. and Canada. Their subjects were 800 sheep brought down from high country range. The last day competition narrowed down to 14 finalists and involved the following trial, which had to be completed in 30 minutes.

There are two groups of 10 sheep, some distance apart, over 450 yards from the handler and the dog. When the clock starts, the dog speeds off to first the one, then the other of the groups. The object is to bring them together. It is important to understand that the dog’s movements are directed by the handler’s high-pitched whistle and sometimes vocal commands. The handler has to remain at his/her original post. The dog is disqualified by any physical contact with a sheep, such as nipping. Once the flock is gathered the dog must then move it through a number of gates until finally it is pushed into an open circle close to the handler and the spectators.

Here is where the skill and of dog and handler are truly put to the test. Of the 20 sheep, 5 are wearing red collars. The un-collared must be cut out and persuaded to leave the circle, and stay outside, while the handler and dog move the collared sheep into a pen. The handler carries a staff but cannot touch sheep with it. By this time, the clock had ticked down to about, at the most, 14 minutes.

Sheep, especially from the range (as opposed to farm sheep) are not disposed to be moved around. It disrupts their snacking on grass. And to be separated from the others is not the natural state – flocking is. So during this time in the circle sheep want to be either back in the circle or out, and the collared ones don’t like the idea of the pen. In fact, only four of the 17 finalists managed to pen their sheep.

Aside from the amazing talent and training required to reach the level of teamwork dog and handler displayed at these trials, it occurred to me that they both need deep reserves of patience. After all, they are working to get animals to do what they instinctively don’t want to do under constraints of contact rules and a timer.

I won’t go into a metaphorical assignment of roles of the participants of these trials within the context of nonprofits – who are the sheep, dogs, and handlers among nonprofits boards, staffs, CEOs, donors and audience/clients? I will leave that to the reader.

These are the days of instant gratification and demand for quick turnarounds created by e-mail, texting and button-pushing. I am no Luddite ( I do have a Smartphone), but sometimes I miss the rotary dial phone where in the course of dialing, you had time to think about whether you wanted to make the call in the first place. Coca Cola used to have a slogan “the pause that refreshes.” Even in the sheepdog trials, if things were getting very intense, the handler might instruct his dog to break off and lie down for a bit or, if it was hot, jump in a nearby tub. The purpose presumably was to re-group and gain perspective. They both appreciated T T T ; P P P – Things Take Time; Patience Patience Patience, and so should we.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Clinging to the Wreckage

I am writing this as Hurricane Irene has finished her rampage up the east coast, causing great loss of property and more than 40 lives. This major meteorological event ironically coincides with a topic I had intended to address at this time in any event: nonprofits coping with adversity, even disaster.

Fifteen years ago I contributed to a Museum News cover article “Fixing it, Repair and Revival of the National Endowment for the Arts.” At that time (FY 96) the NEA’s appropriation had been cut over 38% from the previous year - a residue from the “culture wars”- and there was talk of restructuring the agency, adding private fundraising, etc.

I opened my piece by recounting the anecdote that inspired the title of John Mortimer’s (of Rumpole fame) charming memoir about his father entitled Clinging to the Wreckage. A venerable British yachtsman was asked the secret to his longevity despite years of dangerous voyage. Of a shipwreck, he counseled “clinging to the wreckage” and waiting for rescue rather than trying to swim to shore and surely drowning. I used that as a metaphor for a survival strategy for the NEA (it did).

In 2011, in a deep recession and feeble economy we see around us evidence of roiling seas for nonprofits. In the arts world, the Philadelphia Orchestra declared bankruptcy, the American Folk Art Museum is on the verge of collapse, and a number of orchestras have folded or foundered, as have some theatre companies. The New York City Opera has announced it will abandon its long-time Lincoln Center home just two years after a $ 127 million renovation. Last April the renowned Tony-awarding winning Intiman Theatre in Seattle was forced to cancel the remainder of its season and lay off its entire staff.

There are a number of reasons cited for such dire actions, ranging from the effects of the economy on fundraising – a neutral view - to the more confrontational charges of mismanagement, sloppy financial stewardship and even a nefarious attempt to renege on pension obligations through bankruptcy procedure. In the case of the American Museum of Folk Arts the culprit would appear to be, alas, the not uncommon “reach extending grasp” effect regarding a sexy and expensive new building and the difficulties of sustaining it on an annual basis.

Reasons aside, the question remains is: what to do? Here is where I return, somewhat loosely, to the “clinging to the wreckage” metaphor. Several of the organizations I have mentioned are struggling to retain their core expertise but within a new, slimmer model. The board of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy (liquidation) last spring. But now its musicians have created a new organization “Symphony Syracuse,” which its leader called a “lifeboat organization” (thanks for the nautical reference) for the 77 unemployed musicians and is working to create a performance season. The New York City Opera announced it would be staging operas at a number of smaller venues throughout the city and although facing harsh criticism will at least keep to its mission of producing opera and hope to re-build from there. The Intiman Theatre, thought to be lost, recently laid out a blueprint to re-open, with a “micro season” that returns to the theatre’s “core impulse” of an artist-based organization, with a new director and business plan.

Only time will tell if these initiatives will work. But in resisting the option of going under and electing a form of re-invention they show fortitude and imagination – and a determination to survive. They await rescue, most desirably in the form of a sturdier economy. If history offers any clue, that will come. When is anyone’s guess but in the meantime one hopes the power of core mission will keep these organizations, and other non-profits, afloat.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

This and that for a blistering summer

In most parts of the country late July proved to be a time of oppressive heat, so in this post before I decamp for some time in cooler coastal Maine, I thought I would lighten up a bit and present some rambling tidbits I have picked up along the way. It’s been way too hot for deep thinking – or attempts at it.
New Award concept. Inc. Magazine (for growing companies) had a short entry in its July/August issue entitled “Rethinking Annual Honors.” It seems a payroll processing company in Illinois, SurePayroll , has a yearly employee event called the SureChoice Awards, the highlight of which is the Best New Mistake honor. Employees nominate themselves and their admissions of error. Competition is lively battling for the top prize of $400, twice the company’s more traditional prize amount. Last year there were 40 entries. The magazine reports that the company president Michel Alter, who conceived of the award, did so “to remind staff that in a culture of innovation, failure is always an option.”

I like this counter intuitive idea. It’s fun and at the same time instructive. Non-profits and their employees take their missions very seriously and sometimes so much so they become rigid and unwilling to take any sort of risk, for fear of making a mistake. Mr. Alter states “mistakes are the tuition you pay for success.” Lest you think it’s all fun and games at SurePayroll, its president makes clear there is no award for making the same mistake twice.

Warning for struggling institutions (esp. house museums) From the Harvard Business Review blog 6/30/11, by Stephen Wunker .

“A company in a turbulent industry often seems like a dairy farmer whose herd has been reduced to just one cow, whose only adaptation of his business plan is to milk that heifer extra-hard. The story cannot end happily.”

Mr. Wunker was writing about Barnes & Noble which met falling print book sales and the e-book challenge with its Nook, leaving Borders behind, literally in the dust. I think of the house museums that still overly rely on the guided tour model – as well as other non-profit institutions who haven’t re-tooled their business plans to reflect changing tastes and audience/client preferences. I like Mr. Wunker’s analogy. It is perhaps unwittingly buoyed by the fact that heifers (cows that haven’t been bred yet) are unlikely to produce much milk anyway.

Cross-reference across the centuries

Another Harvard Business Review blog (6/24/11) I have admired is by Umair Haque, a business writer and founder of a “agenda-setting advisory boutique” (now that has to be classier than “consultancy”). He is a humanist and argues in a piece entitled “The Best investment you can Make” that a way of turning around our economy is by investing in “living a life that matters” -your own or that of someone you love. In these times, he cites the capital flight to safer investments, such as gold, bonds and stocks. But he suggests: “perhaps the safest investments of all are the human, social and emotional ones. They’re what give human life texture, depth, resonance and meaning.”

By extension I would propose that such is a good argument for supporting the work of non-profits, which exist to serve and support our society, rather than to produce monetary profit, The return to its supporters is to move a step closer to what Haque lays out as a personal goal: the ancient Greek philosophical concept of “eudaimonia” – happiness or in another translation, “human flourishing.”

When I saw this citation, I went immediately to a book I have been reading - Sarah Bakewell’s “How to Live – or- A Life of Montaigne” - the 16th century philosopher whose Essays are still being read and pondered today. There it is -“eudaimonia” – the aspiration Montaigne seeks personally and for his readers, which he wrote about 430 years ago and which a modern writer asks us to consider again. May you find the same, the remainder of this summer and beyond.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Going, Going, Gone!

Over the past month, I have found myself attending two auctions for the benefit of cultural institutions in the Hudson River Valley NY. For some years auctions have become a regular item in the nonprofit fund-raising menu across the nation. I have had some on the ground experience in such enterprises. As director of Maymont Foundation in Richmond, I took part in starting an annual auction that began in 1996 and this October will have its 14th iteration. Now called Vintage Maymont, it began as a live auction of wine and grew to include both silent and live auctions of wine, trips, events, art, jewelry, etc. When I left for Boscobel in New York in 2006, the evening was netting over $200,000 and has since climbed to over $250,000. What accounts for success in such ventures?

The right people: volunteers/staff, audience, auctioneer. Auctions are very labor intensive, involving acquisition of items, attracting sponsors, encouragement of attendance, seating of tables, etc. Like any charity event, people recruit people – friends and business associates – in this case to donate items, attend and most importantly BID. Ideally the audience should be pre-disposed to participate. Volunteers and staff typically will spend months accomplishing the above. A talented experienced auctioneer is critical. That person can “read the room,” recognize who the players will be and cajole and induce the highest bids. The auctioneer can create and nurture the bidding competitions that crop up over certain items. The auctioneer can also contribute to the sense of fun that should be in place for an auction’s success. The auctioneer is like an orchestra conductor – he/she doesn’t make the music, but sets the tone and pace.

The right stuff: even though the event is for the benefit of an important organization and a certain percentage of the impetus for bidding is charitable, the items in both silent and live auctions must be both desirable and valuable.

Silent auctions, usually highlighted during the reception prior to the live auction, features material of lesser “value” than those in the live auction to pick up support from those who might not be able to afford the pricier live ones later. In large silent auctions, tables are often sub-divided into categories: Art, Services, Wearables, Wine, Children/Family, etc. A goal of an auction evening is to have everyone in attendance bid on something as evidence of participation and support. But some silent auctions can teeter on the edge of looking like a yard sale if care is not taken as to quality. Silent auctions need constant on-site promotion. People who come to these – or most any charitable event – want to socialize. So they have to be pried away from their chattering and be persuaded to graze the Silent Auction tables.

The right beverages: Unless you are raising funds for the Temperance Union, the availability of alcohol during the auction’s duration is strongly advised. Alcohol is a useful fuel for a live charity auction. Many a checkbook has been influenced by Chardonnay. Caught up in the excitement of competitive bidding and abetted by the glow of a good (or a bad) wine, bidders can sometimes temporarily suspend judgment. Across our nation hundreds of bureau drawers of nonprofits’ supporters are littered with unredeemed auction certificates for this weekend on the lake or that dinner for four – all with expiration dates. But – all for a good cause.

If the auction is fun, spirited and clearly successful – as evidenced by successful bids way over market price - everybody wins, the charity, the “winners” and the audience. And when an attendee looks around the room and sees who is there having a good time, the residual “buzz” is all to the good. And finally, the organizers will be gratified to see how their many hours of hard work have literally paid off.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Marquee" Members on Nonprofit Boards

The other day in The New York Times there was an article about cultural organizations in New York City striving to attract celebrities to support them. Whereas in the past the “stars” were largely asked to be honorary chairs of fundraising events, now membership on boards are being offered. For instance actress Sarah Jessica Parker has a seat on the New York City Ballet board. Sometimes the normal conditions of board membership are waived, such as minimum annual donation (in the Ballet’s case a reported $50,000) and meeting attendance requirements. The rationale is that the star power’s ability to attract attention outweighs other considerations. Ms. Parker was pictured in the article as honorary co-chair of a Brooklyn Museum gala, which she was only able to attend for 30 minutes, just enough time for photographs. A star’s schedule is clearly an issue. Some celebrities however, such as Alec Baldwin on the NY Philharmonic board, appear to be actively involved.

The issue of “marquee” names on boards is not restricted to the highly-charged NYC cultural scene. I have worked with several boards where I have come across this: “We need to have a ____________(fill in name of prominent local family) on the board.” And if the nominating committee or board president agrees to proceed? The person is approached and especially if they have little or no connection to the organization, the recruiter might be tempted to say “You needn’t worry; you don’t have to attend meetings or raise money (including your own).” If the person agrees to serve under these conditions, then you have the classic “marquee” board member – a name on the letterhead board list –and that’s it.

It cannot be denied that board lists are reviewed by potential supporters to get a sense of the prominence of the organization. But aside from any possible initial benefit of the presence of a _____________on the board list, what is the gain? I suggest not much and in fact, it may end up as a detriment.

Effective boards operate as organisms, where each part contributes to the whole. A seat occupied (taken up is a better description) by a cipher can have a negative effect on board members who are making their contributions, money and/or work, to further the mission of the organization. They might wonder about the board leadership’s concept of value. Much is written about staff morale, but board morale is an issue not to be ignored.

In my experience I have found an effective way to combine the value of a “name” with the needs of building and maintaining a good board. It lies in the process of cultivation and delineation of clear expectations.

“Names” are rightfully suspicious of the motives of those who are after them to serve on boards, especially if the solicitation comes right out the blue, as above. They want my name; they want my money is a common reaction. That suspicion can be reduced if prior to the “ask” there is a period where the person’s interest in the work of the organization is carefully nurtured by exposure to programs and even an invitation to serve on a working committee. In this way a mutual familiarity can be reached. With a degree of comfort level achieved, the request for board service seems more of a natural progression in what has in fact become a relationship. Furthermore it will not come as a surprise that the invitation is accompanied by the outlining of expectations regarding meeting attendance and annual “give or get” financial support.

Everyone wants to be appreciated and valued – names and celebrities are no exception. Board members who share that feeling in common can contribute much to the success of a nonprofit.

I will be writing more about board development. Comments on blogs always welcome at:

Friday, April 29, 2011

Sing out!

I was about to write about the parlous state of some orchestras in the country (Philadelphia, and Detroit among them) and will at a later date, but was diverted by a recent event in my life. On Good Friday April 22 the Choir of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Garrison NY sang Brahms’ “A German Requiem” before a packed church, accompanied by a piano duet.  I am a member of the bass section of this 26 member group, all of which volunteer their time. The requiem is a difficult and demanding work and we worked hard for weeks in preparation.  The result was more than satisfactory judging from the audience response. For me and my colleagues it was an inspiring and deeply gratifying experience.  I find singing in that choir, preparing a different anthem each week nine months a year, plus special concerts, has become a major part of my life.
I am happy to report I am not alone. A 2009 study by a group called Chorus America found that 32.5 million adults sing in choruses or choirs in the USA, and if you include K-12, the number jumps to 42.5 million singers in at least 270,000 choruses. Those numbers got my attention. As the study concludes, singing in a chorus represents our nation’s “most popular form of participation in the performing arts.”
Not to be ignored is the fact that a vast majority of the participants are amateurs – they are not paid, they sing for the pleasure in it. A typical chorus member, I can cite myself as an example, loves music, enjoys the sense of community that comes with the experience and finds it a rich source of learning.  The study takes it a step further and posits that singing in a chorus promotes “civic engagement,” an attribute that is in short supply in our society.  I admit I have an IPod and love it, but sometimes when I ride the subway in NYC I’d like to wield a pair of shears to those wires dangling from the ears of many around me who cut themselves off from their surroundings via “earbuds.”
The redoubtable and venerable folk icon Pete Seeger lives in Beacon NY, a community close to my home.  In any performance he gives, he insists that somewhere along the line the audience joins him in singing. He believes communal singing brings people closer together, even if the group is a transitory one, such as at a concert.  He is right.
Many years ago I spent two summers as a work-study student at the Berkshire Music Center, the educational arm of Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, in western Massachusetts. At the beginning of the summer session, there was an opening convocation, where everyone would gather – students, faculty and staff. At the conclusion, from music that had been distributed at the event, all would sing Randall Thompson’s anthem Allelulia, which the composer had been commissioned to write for that purpose. It was not a great performance, but it was a communal one and a fine start to a busy summer, where everyone would be going their own way.
Here’s an idea. At biennial swearing-in of the U.S. Congress, why not have all 435 legislators, their families and staffs, join in the singing of America the Beautiful  in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives ? And for good measure, let’s be sure to invite a few lobbyists. 
Sing out, wherever you are.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What’s in a name?

Last December  there was a front page article in the Wall Street Journal (in the space at the bottom reserved for “off-beat” subjects) about the struggles of  Chesterwood, the historic home and studio of the  sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) near Stockbridge, MA in the beautiful Berkshires.   French was the artist who created the monumental statue of Abraham Lincoln that dominates the Lincoln Memorial in Washington as well as another icon, the Minuteman in Lexington MA.  The property is owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

The gist of the article was that Chesterwood attracts only about 10,000 visitors a year while down the road the Norman Rockwell Museum is bursting at the seams with an annual audience of over 130,000. Rockwell (1894-1978), the famed painter and illustrator, also lived and worked in Stockbridge.    

Of course as the piece points out, Rockwell is a household name.  Many of his works popularly are familiar and often reproduced. He is, as one of the locals quoted states, a “brand.”   Daniel Chester French is not. But one solution, suggested by a Chesterwood advisory board member, is not the answer. She wants to have him be called “Dan French” - to be more relevant.  By the same token, we could  call Rockwell  “Norm.”  

Branding is not created by names; it is created by an understanding instilled in the public about what the product represents.  Volvo and safety is often cited as an example.  Rockwell symbolizes American wholesomeness. Daniel Chester French equals  - ?  No contest.

Sometimes a name can help- or harm - public identification. “Chesterwood,” named by its original owner, certainly reflects Daniel Chester French’s name for those who know it in the first place, but beyond that carries no meaning, although names like it are used for housing developments and nursing homes.  When I first came to Boscobel in 2006, the sign at the entrance on the heavily travelled Route 9D declared: Boscobel Restoration, Inc., a Museum of the Decorative Arts of the Federal Period. Along with public puzzlement over use of the word “restoration” and uncertainty as to what “federal period “ meant,  the name gave no clue as to what the visitor might expect beyond the brick walls. A year later we changed the name to Boscobel House & Gardens– a descriptor closer to reality. 

I have visited Chesterwood. Although the house is of no special interest, the site is lovely and French’s studio fascinating. Rather than fiddle with his name, perhaps the National Trust could attach the image of French’s Lincoln Memorial statue to the Chesterwood title. Millions have marveled at the majesty of that work. It is a highly recognizable image and might serve to draw more people to its creator’s studio. But forget about challenging the Rockwell Museum in the attendance wars.

Another site devoted to an artist, his home and workplace, is the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish NH.  Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) was also a great American sculptor. The site is magnificent in its every aspect.

I will be writing more in the future about the issue of visitation at historic sites. 
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