Top Tips for Creating a New Program

by Jini Stolk

Arts organizations tend to be skilled and inventive creators of programming, requiring the careful weaving of many strands – artistic, financial, contracting, marketing and much more. These 8 Top Tips for Creating a New Program are designed for those moments in an arts or other nonprofit organization when an entirely new initiative is in the works: it could be an unexplored artistic/program direction, or a new approach to education or outreach, or a diversity or access initiative.

These tips are taken from Creating the Program, a Creative Trust/Toronto Arts Foundation Open Source Took Kit, sharing knowledge and learning from the Creative Trust experience with arts management and non-profit leaders.

  1. Make research and consultation your foundation. Expand and add to your own experience and knowledge by learning from others. Ask potential participants what they want and need, and how you fit in. Know the territory; understand the milieu. Look beyond your sector to people who’ve broken through barriers to new ways of thinking and working. Use these people as essential resources; learn from their successes and mistakes. By consulting with others you’ll be inspired, avoid mistakes, and create a program grounded in best ideas and practices.
  1. Create clear and understandable goals. The more work you put into clarifying your vision and goals the more likely you are to achieve them. Anticipated outcomes, business plans, structure and methods should begin with – and circle back to – an inspiring vision statement and clearly articulated goals.
  1. Develop a workable structure. For the program to work it must exist in the real world, so ensure that you have the financial and logistical resources to make the program a success. Develop careful, long-term budgets. Surround yourself with the best board/advisory members and staff possible; understand how decisions are going to made, and develop staff and governance policies and practices that define responsibilities. Think through your needs for space, computer systems, and basic administrative resources.
  1. Plan, plan and plan. It can be a long journey from having an idea to designing and carrying out a program that achieves what you set out to achieve. Design the program around your vision and values, and make sure everyone understands them. Who shares your vision strongly enough to contribute funds? Develop a prospect list and fundraising plan. Discuss and debate every expectation and process, and think through every step along the way; write them down as action plans. Develop timelines and deadlines; stick to them.
  1. Embrace flexibility. Make sure the program is flexible enough to respond to changing circumstances or new understandings of what is needed or will work. Welcome learning. Expect the unexpected; make sure that everyone involved is prepared to revise and adapt even the most well prepared plans.
  1. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Create a multi-targeted, multi-strategy communications plan, with careful listening as a key component. Reach out to potential participants, stakeholders – and anyone interested – in as many ways as possible: talk, write, blog, tweet about your program and how it will unfold. Start big and bold: have a launch party. Stay in touch with monthly emails. Ensure that your stakeholders and participants stay connected to what you are doing.
  1. Build in an evaluation and monitoring plan. How will you know if your program is a success without evaluation? Be sure to build evaluation, measurements, feedback and analysis into your plans from the beginning.
  1. Share your knowledge. Now we arrive right back where we started. You have knowledge that you can impart to others. Don’t be territorial or competitive – share your work widely and help your sector grow.

This is the first of a series by Kasia Gladki and Jini Stolk, drawing on the Creative Trust/Toronto Arts Foundation Open Source Tool Kits; all 9 Tool Kits are available here.


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