Guest Series: Developing Your Board Leadership

April 5, 2010

Today’s guest post is the third in our series by nonprofit board members and executives who have recently taken Dodge’s Board Leadership Training workshops and are now sharing their insight with us.  If you haven’t gotten a chance, you can read the first in the series, by Allison Trimarco of Creative Capacity, here, and the second by Matt Finlay, a board member for the Community Theatre at the Mayo Center for the Performing Arts, here. Both give valuable advice on fundraising.

Today, we explore succession planning with Executive Director of Pushcart Players Ruth Fost.

Late Night Ponderings

Ruth 1What’s the last thing you think about at night and the first thing you think about in the morning? If your answer is work related, then read on.

Are your thoughts stressful? About putting out fires, worrying about financials, solving yesterday’s problems tomorrow?

Or, are your thoughts more like ponderings? You know, the “dreams and visions” variety – i.e. “What if the whole stage is ‘dressed’ in blue – except for one character that is in bright yellow….?” Or, “What if we showed the hardships of settlers traveling west by seating 2 characters on a bench, framed by a lattice outline of a covered wagon? One will hold the reins – the other will tell their story as they bounce up and down…” Or, “That folktale about the King who searches the universe only to find that what he’s looking for is right in his own backyard would really work well as our next story theatre piece….”

I have been “pondering” for more than 36 years. Many of the night time and early morning contemplations have grown into full musical productions that introduce the joy of live theatre—often with curriculum connections—to young people in their schools or local theatres. You see, I’m a founder of a theatre company for young audiences, Pushcart Players, and my love and passion for what I/we do has never grown old.

But the reality is that there is a timeframe for everything we do. I’ve pondered this concept too, but never thought it was something that could be discussed, outlined, planned. That is, until members of our Board of Directors and I began attending The Dodge Board Leadership Training Series over the past several years.

We assessed, we boot camped and we drilled down. Lo and behold,  in several sessions we talked about something called “Succession Planning.” There was actually a name for this process! And I, along with our current staff and Board, could be pro-active and a part of the process. Now, this opened the door for a whole new series of late night and early morning contemplations.

Two things had to happen if we were to successfully move forward with a succession plan. The first was to infuse new life and leadership into our loyal, loving and supportive, but mostly non-working, Board of Directors. The second was to find the right person, or people, to provide the leadership needed to guide, manage, dream and imagine all the possibilities to carry on the legacy and high standards of our well-established, professional touring company for young audiences.

Pushcart Board Retreat 9-09

After an intensive Board Retreat, skillfully facilitated by John McEwen of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance, we have a Strategic Plan for Board Development that is well underway. Even though we are a mature organization, our board had not grown at the same pace as our programming. We knew that we needed to develop a deeper, layered structure that could support the various needs of the company, including a successful succession strategy. We are in the process of developing an Artistic Advisory Board of individuals who will lend their name to the organization, serve as ambassadors, and may be asked occasionally to help support a special event.

We are also refreshing and adding to our Honorary Board, which includes political and other community leaders who may not have the time to serve as Trustees but are willing to lend their name, contacts, support and validation of the organization. And, we are making good progress in building our “working” Board of Trustees – one that sets policy and has the fiduciary responsibility to ensure that Pushcart Players has and utilizes resources responsibly to carry out its mission. A strategy for identifying potential trustees and a process for nominating and voting for a new trustee was designed, and a committee structure was created. We have already added two dynamic trustees with great organizational skills, knowledge and passion for the work we do. A third strong candidate is currently under consideration and moving through the appropriate steps towards approval.

Stephanie Carr, Managing Director at Pushcart PlayersAs for staff leadership, my late night musings always took me back to wondering who, in this very special world of theatre for young audiences, might provide the promise of maintaining the core values and continuing this lifelong commitment of work always geared toward a sustainable future for Pushcart Players. When the moment presented itself, I, like the king in the folktale, discovered that sometimes the things we search for in distant places are right in our own backyard. We shuffled and re-distributed some of the roles and duties of staff members already working at Pushcart, moving Stephanie Carr from Director of Programs and Services into the position of Managing Director. Totally devoted to Pushcart for the past 12 years, first as a gifted actress on tour and then as an equally gifted staff member with intelligence, insight and understanding of every aspect of company functioning,  Stephanie is a deeply valued leader on the Pushcart staff and will without a doubt move the company forward towards a rich and successful future as she adds fundraising initiatives and company management to her already busy roster.

Lenny Bart Pushcart PlayersTime and circumstances were just right to reach out to Lenny Bart, formerly Artistic Director of 12 Miles West Theatre Company, to take on the title of Artistic and Education Outreach Director. Lenny is well known to many of us in the theatre world in NJ, and his qualifications coincide perfectly with our needs at Pushcart. His past experience at 12 Miles West, his in-depth knowledge of arts education, producing, directing, envisioning and designing theatre and his congruent mission and objectives to Pushcart’s as an actor, director, technician, teaching artist, friend and partner over many years have made him a perfect choice. Lenny has taken on the idea and the reality of this new position with enthusiasm, passion and a whirlwind of ideas to make our garden grow!

So, what shall I ponder tonight?


Ruth Fost is Executive Director as well as a playwright, actor, designer and co-founder of Pushcart Players. She has been devoted to the development and presentation of quality theatre for young audiences for thirty-six years and has authored or co-authored, designed and “engineered” all Pushcart productions since 1974.

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