At TDC, we work with our clients to drive strategic change in organizations and the sector.

We believe this requires a clear vision that is supported by data and a shared understanding of the operational requirements to execute it. These elements in combination result in an effective strategy.

Our thinking and research practice reflects our approach and work with clients. We analyze data and market trends and highlight lessons across the sector, to contribute to a growing and rich discourse in the field.

In this space, we will share our latest thinking about common organizational challenges and trends in the nonprofit sector. It is our hope that our take on these issues will give you new ideas and inspiration, and we welcome a dialogue.

At the moment, we are pleased to announce the publication of two new sector studies: Capitalization, Scale and Investment: Does Growth Equal Gain? and The Unsung Majority: An Exploratory Study of Small and Mid-Sized Arts Organizations. We invite you to read them and share your thoughts. Feel free to get acquainted with our past studies as well, and be sure to check back soon for new posts!


Capitalization, Scale and Investment: Does Growth Equal Gain?

Susan Nelson, Julie Koo, Allison Crump, Nathalie Woolworth (2014)

In this follow-up study to the groundbreaking Getting Beyond Breakeven, the William Penn Foundation engaged TDC to conduct a financial analysis of a sample of arts and culture organizations in Greater Philadelphia, looking closely at any change over time and the effect of growth on organizations’ financial health. The study found that while financial weakness remains a challenge for organizations, the context in which they are operating has changed: competition has increased and the markets for audience and philanthropic support are rapidly shifting. Furthermore, this report confronts the fact that in the absence of other metrics for success, many organizations have chased growth and grown weaker as a result.

Capitalization, Scale and Investment: Does Growth Equal Gain? – Appendices

Corresponding Presentation with the William Penn Foundation

February 9, 2015

TDC and the William Penn Foundation released the report on February 9, 2015 at a convening of greater Philadelphia’s arts and culture organizations.

Corresponding Presentation from Grantmakers in the Arts

October 13, 2014

TDC shared findings from Capitalization, Scale and Investment at the 2014 Grantmakers in the Arts conference.

Recent Presentations

Understanding Your Capitalization Challenge

November 8, 2014

TDC presented at the Theatre Communications Group’s 2014 Fall Forum on Governance. Susan Nelson, Principal, spoke about how to diagnose your organization’s capitalization challenge, as well as signs that the challenge may actually lie in a broken business model. Susan also shared key steps in addressing these challenges, and facilitated a conversation among forum participants about capitalization priorities.

A Conversation About Capitalization at the Shakespeare Theatre Association Conference

January 9, 2015

Capitalization & Strategy – AGM Southeastern Massachusetts

January 21, 2015

The Unsung Majority:
An Exploratory Study of Small and Mid-Sized Arts Organizations

Susan Nelson, Rachel Crocker Ford, Nathalie Woolworth (2014)

TDC worked closely with the Consortium of Small Arts Funders (CSAF) in Pittsburgh to conduct an exploratory study focused on performing arts organizations with budgets of under $1.5M, a previously unstudied group. The study considered two questions: are there cohorts of organizations within this group, and if so, could they help promote audience growth? After a careful organizational and financial analysis of the organizations, as well as a scan of the greater Pittsburgh arts ecosystem, TDC found that cohorts do exist. These cohorts, however, display characteristics, such as size and reliance on sweat equity and personal relationships, that challenge organizations’ ability to grow. The study also found that ecosystem assets and creative networks could be further leveraged for possible benefit. TDC is eager to engage on these topics with organizations and funders in Pittsburgh and other communities around the country.

Getting Beyond Breakeven:
A Review of Capitalization Needs and Challenges of Philadelphia-Area Arts and Culture Organizations

Susan Nelson, Allison Crump, Julie Koo (2009)

Commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the William Penn Foundation, Getting Beyond Breakeven is the result of research and analysis of the financial health and financial literacy of 158 arts and culture organizations located in the Greater Philadelphia region. The study found that when it comes to capitalization, strong financial literacy does not translate into robust financial health, and delves into TDC’s thinking on the practice changes at individual organizations and within the system as a whole that could bridge this disconnect. The report also offers a review of basic capitalization concepts and five organizational profiles, which were each designed to illustrate methods of financial analysis and integrated strategic business planning.

Building a Sustainable Future for History Institutions:
A Systemic Approach

Elizabeth Cabral Curtis, Susan Nelson, Julie Koo (2009)

The mission to collect, preserve and interpret history is complex, and requires many labor- and capital-intensive activities to fulfill. Because of this complexity, most institutions are unable to garner enough resources to fulfill the full spectrum of activities, and by asking this of them, we set them up for failure. Capacity-building programs, for the most part, have avoided talking about this uncomfortable reality, and simply ask: “How can we build organizations’ capacity to fulfill this complex mission?” TDC reframed the question: “Can we imagine a system where – rather than requiring each institution to undertake all of these activities – institutions assume more focused and defined roles that, taken together, result in collective success?”

The Risk of Debt in Financing Nonprofit Facilities:
Why Your Business Model Matters

Elizabeth Cabral Curtis, Susan Nelson, Anne Freeh Engel, Allison Crump (2007)

A groundbreaking project, this study examines the phenomenal rise in the use of debt in the nonprofit sector over the last decade, looking specifically at arts organizations, human service providers and private schools. The way that debt influences an organization – both positively and negatively – hinges on its business model and its mix of earned and contributed income. The report clarifies the role of lenders and borrowers in the transaction, and includes guidelines on debt use and risk tolerance that are based on the combined wisdom of dozens of organizations, lenders and intermediaries.

Vital Signs:
Metro Boston’s Arts and Cultural Nonprofits

Susan Nelson, Anne Freeh Engel (2007)

This report examines the health of metro Boston’s dense and growing nonprofit arts and culture sector from 1999 to 2004 using four interrelated categories of criteria, including the level of innovation in the marketplace, demand and support for arts and cultural experiences, existence of engaged audiences, and evidence of organizations that are right-sized. The report, commissioned by The Boston Foundation reveals that while the region enjoys a robust and innovative sector, there are warning signs that the level of support in the community and the financial health of arts and culture institutions are stressed. The report also highlights the need for additional data to evaluate the extent to which the region’s arts and culture institutions have succeeded in engaging audiences.

Funding for Cultural Organizations in Boston and Nine Other Metropolitan Areas

Susan Nelson, Anne Freeh Engel (2003)

In a study commissioned by The Boston Foundation, TDC explored the size and scope of the Boston cultural market and examined the financial health of organizations in this sector. This landmark study found that Boston has a dense and mature marketplace of arts organizations that are primarily supported through private, not public, means. The report also examines the characteristics of cultural ecosystems in other cities.