“It’s been a whirlwind.” That’s how I’ve taken to describing things when people ask me the inevitable, “So, how’s it going?”

As many of you know by now, I’ve been quiet here on the blog because I’ve been immersed in my new job at Interim President & Executive Director at Weeksville Heritage Center.

The learning curve has been vertical, but I’m exaggerating a bit. Let’s say steep. Not because EVERYTHING is new, but because I’ve had to understand the processes at play at Weeksville. There’s a distance between how I think things should be done and how they actually can be done at the Center. That’s not a criticism. And just because I’m the boss doesn’t mean that processes automatically reshape themselves to me. They can, but I don’t think it’s best to force that from the outset unless things are severely broken. And they’re not.

To be honest, Weeksville has been running long before I got there. There were three amazing black women at the helm prior to me, and they each did what they had to in order to get the Center to the point where I am taking it over. Things got done: grant applications went out; programs were produced; the staff was paid. Among NYC cultural institutions, Weeksville is a known entity. Among regular folks—and particularly people in Brooklyn—we’re one of the best kept secrets in the borough. For a 49-year-old organization, that must change.

The Board of Trustees has given me three goals for this year:

  1. Raise revenues
  2. Increase our profile
  3. Help build a bigger and more impactful board

One of the first things I’m attacking is this notion among staff—and this is my sense mostly—that we’re not a business. It feels as if there’s a general sense that, y’know, we’re mostly funded by grants, so it doesn’t matter how many people come to our events or what kind of exposure we get out of them. And I want to be careful here. Of course, the staff wants a ton of people to show up to all of events. But there doesn’t seem to have been a constant focus on measurement and a rigor towards moving the business forward. That has to change.

The way you do this is pretty simple. I’m fond of saying this: “Only brain surgery and rocket science are brain surgery and rocket science. And this is neither.” Seriously. It’s all about great programming marketed well, both of which create a virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle.

Great programs + great marketing = success.

Now, it won’t be quick. The challenge is that we have to be consistent and measure our results over time. I very much want to look back around this time next year and be able to show the growth. Growth in revenues and our profile. I need to be able to point to some concrete accomplishments and say, “Look what we did.”

While I’ll have a hand in programming—I love it because it allows me to draw on all of the relationships I’ve built over the last 25+ years in various NYC cultural communities–it won’t be my main focus. It can’t be.

My focus has to be on fundraising. It’s critical for putting us to be on a path to greater sustainability that we raise operating revenues. For me, that increase will come from two areas, both of which are related to what we call “non-grant revenue”. One is reconnecting with our past major donors. The other is developing fresh streams of revenue through merchandise, visits and special ticketed events and other programs, etc.

Then there’s our board. A decent group, but everyone with experience in the field tells me that, at 13 people, ours is small. A bigger board means a higher level of board financial contributions (ostensibly) and a bigger network of resources to draw from. I’ve got about four people in mind that I’m trying to bring on, so more on that later. In the meantime, my goal is to get the current board excited about what’s ahead and make sure they’re with me on this march towards the great future that’s waiting for us.

I’m excited. There’s so much to do, so much potential. I can lead Weeksville to being a preeminent cultural institution, and that’s the journey I’m now on.

More to come.

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Posted by Rob Fields

Observer. Curator. Marketer. Dot connector.