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SOUNDING BOARD


WolfBrown publishes Sounding Board three or four times a year. It is devoted to topics of interest to our clients in the nonprofit sector. You can read the current issue below or download it for future review. There are also links to PDFs of our Working Papers publication from past years.




Deserving of Trust: Helping A Nonprofit Board Toward Good Governance

by Dr. Thomas Wolf

“Good governance is not something that can be taken for granted. It needs constant monitoring and board members should be looking for ways to improve governance and their own participation as trustees.”

Dr. Thomas Wolf's latest Sounding Board piece identifies signs of board dysfunction and outlines three strategies for accurate self-diagnosis. How is this done? Who does it? Who has the credibility to convince the majority of board members that such actions are necessary? 

  • Option 1: Board self-evaluation and the willingness to act on the results 
  • Option 2: Trustee self-evaluation and peer evaluation
  • Option 3: Governance assessment measured against best practice

Read more


No. 32 | published 2017
Deserving of Trust: Helping A Nonprofit Board Toward Good Governance
Good governance starts with accurate self-diagnosis. How is this done? Who does it? Who has the credibility to convince the majority of board members that such actions are necessary? These questions and more are explored in the latest volume of Sounding Board. 
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No. 31 | published 2013
Investing In the Long View 
How do we know the arts matter? Where is the added value? What is the evidence that investing in the arts has an impact? These are questions that arts presenters, administrators, and artists and performers working in the public sector are pressed to answer daily
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No. 30 | published 2011
Is Sustainability Sustainable?
Historically, sustaining an arts organization meant generating enough earned and contributed revenue to fund current operations. With so much continued change and turmoil in the arts industry, WolfBrown set out to reconsider what sustainability means in 2011.
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No. 29 | published 2010
All The World's a Stage
Why will some people engage with art in one setting, but not another? For example, why will someone watch great drama on television at home, but never darken the door of a theater? Why will someone listen to classical music in a place of worship, but not a concert hall?
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No. 28 | published 2010
What is Artistic Vibrancy?
Is “artistic excellence,” the unassailable gold standard of peer-adjudicated quality, still a useful benchmark, or do we need a better rubric for artistic health?
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No. 26 | published 2009
Advancing Legacy through Change  
In this issue we explore how founder-led organizations approach transformational change, considering sometimes radical, and sometimes more conventional alternatives.
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No. 25 | published 2009
Mergers and Strategic Alliances 
"Too many organizations chasing too few resources." That is how some grantmakers have described the state of the cultural nonprofit sector today. "We have spent more than a half century creating organizations and building an infrastructure that is now overbuilt. We simply cannot support everything that is out there."
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No. 24 | published 2008
Navigating Troubled Waters 
Many of our clients and friends are understandably worried about the likely effects of the economic downturn. They report much conflicting advice and confusion and disagreement among stakeholders. What will be the impact on foundation grants? Private giving? Earned revenues? What is the responsible way forward for management and board leadership?
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No. 23 | published 2008
The Anxiety of Age  
In conversations with arts executives, I often hear two, seemingly contradictory, beliefs about the likely effects of the aging U.S. population on future arts attendance: Belief #1 is that audiences are getting older and unless something is done about it, arts organizations will be in serious trouble. Belief #2 is that arts audiences have always been old, as these types of programs are more likely to attract individuals with more leisure time and disposable income
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No. 22 | published 2008
Broadening Our View of Nonprofit Capitalization  
Endowments have been called the “Holy Grail" of nonprofit finance. Nonprofits aspire to develop endowments as relief from the burden and uncertainty of annual fund raising. Many foundations have fashioned “stability" and “sustainability" strategies around endowment building, usually in the form of a challenge investment that triggers a capital campaign. Endowments are excellent targets for planned giving programs, which can be within the reach of organizations of all sizes.
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No. 29 | published 2010
Evaluation as More than a Report Card
Evaluation can be one of the most widely misunderstood aspects of designing and conducting programs, especially in the area of arts education. Many approach it simply as a means of securing a (hopefully good) grade for their activities. Difficulties, mistakes, and uneven data get smoothed over. But meaningful evaluation should engage all stakeholders in the hard – but essential – work of improvement.
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No. 20 | published 2007
Community Foundations and Cultural Development
Community foundations have long been a critical component of the support network for arts and culture. Even as a child, I was hearing about the work of our local community foundation from my father who started a new community-based visual arts education organization with major help from the Philadelphia Foundation. Many years later, my experiences as an arts administrator and a consultant involved projects and organizations underwritten by community foundations.
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No. 19 | published 2006
Bricks, Mortar, and Planning
There are few tasks as stimulating to a group of civic-minded individuals as the prospect of overseeing the creation—or renovation—of an arts facility. It is exciting to conceive of “world-class architecture" or “a major new icon for our community." There is a temptation though, to put the proverbial cart before the horse. The way a building will look architecturally is certainly important, but other decisions (and much research) must come first. Earlier steps involve some or all of the following...
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No. 18 | Published 2006
A Fresh Look at Arts Participation
How can we gain a better framework for thinking about arts activities? One way is to look at them through the lens of the consumer—from a demand standpoint, that is, rather than from a supply standpoint. Recent research commissioned by the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism sent 20 teams of arts administrators and board members to conduct individual in-depth interviews with a cross section of audiences using a common set of questions.
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No. 17 | Published 2005
Tools of the Trade: Prospect Research Updated
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No. 16 | published 2005
Ready?
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No. 15 | published 2004
Donor Diversification: The Challenge of Single-Source Funding
Some nonprofit organizations have been created by funders. Others are heavily subsidized by a single funding source. In both cases, those providing the money are the lifeblood that keeps a valued effort going. This Working Paper addresses the challenges that arise for funders and nonprofits alike when the decision is made to significantly reduce or terminate support.
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No. 14 | Published 2004
Community Planning: The New Context at Play
Endowments have been called the “Holy Grail" of nonprofit finance. Nonprofits aspire to develop endowments as relief from the burden and uncertainty of annual fund raising. Many foundations have fashioned “stability" and “sustainability" strategies around endowment building, usually in the form of a challenge investment that triggers a capital campaign. Endowments are excellent targets for planned giving programs, which can be within the reach of organizations of all sizes.
more >>

No. 13 | Published 2004
Plus Ca Change: What's New About Boards?
Every few years since my textbook on managing nonprofit organizations appeared in 1984, I am asked by the publisher to update it. The title has changed twice*, specific chapters have come and gone, and others have undergone major revision. But, surprisingly, the chapter on boards of trustees has not changed substantially. Despite transformations in society, in the funding environment, and in patterns of nonprofit administration, many of the fundamental ideas about boards seem to hold.
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No. 12 | Published 2003
Founders and Succession: Creating Effective Transitions
“Founder’s Syndrome" is a ubiquitous and sometimes intractable challenge throughout the nonprofit field. At Wolf, Keens & Company, we have worked with many organizations that continue to be run by founders. These charismatic individuals can offer a dynamic vision, enormous knowledge, a wealth of contacts, tremendous energy, and a palpable passion for the causes to which they have devoted their lives. Yet the boards and staffs of these organizations, and even the founders themselves, often express frustration with the subsequent directions that are taken and how things are working – or not. In these cases, everyone has a sense that some sort of transformation is needed, but achieving such transformation seems nearly impossible.
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No. 11 | Published 2002
The Value in Evaluation: Finding Approaches that Work
Over the course of the last twenty years, the trend toward outcome-based evaluation in philanthropy has grown from a trickle into a tsunami. Woe to the organization or program officer who hasn’t seen it coming. This movement – complete with adherents, acolytes, and its own special language – has made believers of many and sharp critics of others. In any case, it is now a fact of philanthropic life.
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No. 10 | Published 2002
Making Sense of the Numbers: Communicating Financial Information Effectively
Ask a trustee of a nonprofit corporation to explain the organization’s financial statements and you may be surprised. Many would have great difficulty. And you can hardly blame them. Since new standards affecting financial reporting for nonprofits were introduced by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) in 1993 (implemented beginning in 1995), trustees have struggled with confusing and counterintuitive balance sheets and income statements.
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No. 9 | Published 2001
Dealing with Crisis: Achieving Stability in Difficult Times
During the weeks following September 11th, 2001, there were many reports of organizations in crisis. The crises in many cases were only tangentially related to the September 11th events, if at all. Some were an outgrowth of poor management, others of inattentive board leadership. Sometimes, a qualified leadership team was caught totally by surprise. Other times, the crisis was inevitable.
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No. 8 | Published 2001
Venture Philantropy: Evolving from Theory into Practice
The last few years have seen many articles and studies on the subject of venture philanthropy — both from proponents and critics. The theory behind "VP" is that strategic long-term investments in a nonprofit, along with hands-on management assistance, will build its sustainable capacity to serve more people more effectively.
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No. 7 | Published 2000
Home is Where? Regionalism, Hometowns and Culture
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No. 6 | Published 2000
The 21st Century Learner: Cultural Institutions as Content Providers
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No. 5 | Published 1999
Staying Afloat: Three Windows on Nonprofit Sustainability
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No. 3 | Published 1998
Cultural Trusts: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Lump Sum
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No. 2 | Published 1998
Resource Development: Taking an Integrated Approach
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No. 1 | Published 1997
Cultural Programming: Can Anything Appeal to Anyone?
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