I live in Palm Springs, I am on the working board of a chorus in Palm Springs, and my husband is on the GALA board. You could say that my attendance at the recent GALA Symposium in Palm Springs was guaranteed!
But I really did not have time.
An old boss used to tell me, “When you are in the middle of a swamp surrounded by alligators, it is easy to forget that your original goal was to drain the swamp.” My life was starting to resemble this. In addition to my ‘normal’ life and career, as well as finding myself on the board of a new chorus with a new artistic director, the months and weeks leading up to symposium featured a lot of “alligators” in my swamp. Having never served on a board of the choral variety before last year, I knew I needed some grounding and basic instruction. Yet how could I take the time away from LIFE to attend a weekend of workshops?
How could I not?
My first reaction at Symposium was a sense of being overwhelmed by the choices available. I very much wanted to sing with the Symposium Singers, joining voice with folks from around the world under the direction of Joe Nadeau (Artistic Director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles) and Michael Hayden. But I also wanted to attend Stan Hill’s Too Old to Sing? Effects of Aging on the Singing Voice as well as Eve Campbell’s The Board’s Role in Community Engagement.
I opted to spend some time with Eve. In fact, she may have started to feel as though I were stalking her, as I kept showing up in her sessions! I quickly reached brain overload as I took in her points as well as the feedback from those around me. My brain was snapping with connections and I realized that my life and career had prepared me well. Now I just needed to apply remembered lessons to working with our chorus board.
My top three take-aways:
- Eve stressed that we need to create a climate of success. As a board, we represent our membership and work towards fulfilling the mission of the organization. As such, I realized that we need to do everything in our power to make our Artistic Director successful: remove potential obstacles, handle administrative details so he doesn’t have to, and respond quickly to issues and challenges. What can we do to make our AD, singing members, accompanist, and other stakeholders successful?
- Plan on growing the caliber of the board as well as laying out a succession plan. In business I have always subscribed to the “Mack truck” philosophy, namely if I am hit by a Mack truck are people and systems in place to ensure that the business goes on without interruption or a reduction in the quality of service? The same thing is true for an artistic organization. Do we have back-up plans? Are we constantly looking to improve the level of quality and capability on our board? Eve shared a stunning statistic: at any given time 49% of board members are planning on leaving. What can we do to ensure that members feel wanted, valued, and appreciated?
- Be happy! Okay, to be honest Eve said to “keep people happy.” But I think we should be happy while doing it. Her tips for keeping people happy are basic: say please and thank you, give credit where it is due, show interest in your members as unique people—not just tools, and ask if they need assistance. We need to ask ourselves, “How would we want to be treated in the same situation?”
By the end of the weekend, I was so thankful for the opportunity to take part in symposium. It was an opportunity to connect a lot of dots—it turns out that choral boards aren’t so different from other types of boards after all! You can bet I will be an early registration for the next Symposium!