How “bright spot” organizations thrive in a changing environment

How did the Anchorage Opera go from losing an average of $75,000 on every production to having its first surplus? Why did the successful national touring company Trey McIntyre Project decide to bypass major U.S. dance centers and put down roots in Boise, Idaho? How did Literary Arts of Portland shrink the size of its programming but increase the number of subscribers?

While some nonprofit organizations are struggling with demographic shifts, changing participation patterns, evolving technology, rising costs and shifts in fundraising, these three organizations and many others are healthy and dynamic, even without exceptional resources. These organizations are “bright spots” — observable exceptions producing results above the norm with the same kinds of resources available to others. What are they doing differently? What can be learned from their behavior?

To explore these questions, Helicon Collaborative conducted a study of cultural groups in the Pacific Northwest. The study revealed that bright spot organizations engage in five basic principles that help them adapt to changing circumstances better than their peers:

  1. animating clear purpose
  2. deep engagement with community
  3. evaluation and (honest) analysis
  4. plasticity — organizational flexibility
  5. transparent leadership

Rather than “chasing the magic of innovation,” these organizations are employing fundamental principles that have roots based on common sense.

The research report includes examples of how organizations implemented these behaviors. The report also offers a discussion guide to help your organization jump-start a process of self-reflection. Let us know if you find this research and discussion guide helpful.


Holly Sidford of Helicon Collaborative presented this research during South Arts’ Performing Arts Exchange in September 2012 and at the Statewide Arts Conference in February 2012.

Photo: Idaho Shakespeare Festival. Photo by DKM Photography

Via: Helicon Collaborative