A long message, after a long week, from the BHS Board of Directors
At the end of the day, it’s all about your voices, singing.
It pains each of us on the Barbershop Harmony Society Board of Directors that the harmony we all love has devolved into discord, anger and mistrust. We hear your voices saying we made a bad call. We hear your voices saying we went about the decision to change our philanthropic strategy all wrong. We hear your voices saying we are being inhumane to our friends at HFI.
After innumerable Facebook threads, phone calls, text messages, and conversations, we hear your voices saying this seemed to come out of nowhere. We want to talk to you today about what we did, and how and why we imperfectly did it. We want to talk about the future of harmony.
What is this all about, really?
It’s all about the music, and the people who make it, and how we can make more.
The only reason any of us even met each other in the first place is that we love to lift our voices together in song, in harmony, and make the rest of the discordant noise in the world go away for a while.
Few people would deny the incredible power of the programs of the Barbershop Harmony Society, through which tens of thousands of youth and hundreds of music educators and classrooms have been transformed by barbershop, hundreds of chapters have become stronger, and millions upon millions of people have enjoyed our YouTube videos. Through these BHS programs, we’ve come to be seen as a leader in the choral arts field.
Fewer still would dispute the incredible thing that happens when someone like you walks into a barbershop chapter for the first time and ends up spending the next 50 years in the most loving, accepting, joyful community one could ever imagine.
Every one of us has been transformed by, or seen others be transformed by, or actively taken a part in transforming others by the power of barbershop harmony.
At the heart of our decision is the desire we all share to expand the world of barbershop by expanding the programs that make it happen, all across the Society: Next Generation Barbershop and youth programs. Harmony University and Harmony Colleges. Grants for local camps and workshops. Free resources for music educators. Massive, epic YouTube content. And programs we haven’t even dreamed up yet.
It is commonly misunderstood that these are Harmony Foundation programs. They are not. They are designed, developed, operated, and measured entirely by the Barbershop Harmony Society. They cost money -- lots of it. HFI funding doesn’t come close to covering the total cost of the programs. For example, mounting Harmony University in 2019 cost $555,000, of which $110,000 was funded by the generosity of our members who supported BHS by donating to HFI. The rest came entirely from BHS’s other revenue streams including registrations, dues and fees, events, music and merchandise sales, and the like.
We made the decision to do our own fundraising because we want to protect and grow these programs that create a world of barbershop, and support the success of our chapters and districts. There has been no dispute about this simple fact: 36% of the $16.2 million that’s been raised by HFI from 2015-19 -- almost entirely from the BHS community -- supported BHS programs, chapters, and districts. The other 64% of the donors’ dollars did not. We do not see eye-to-eye with HFI regarding what that 64% is spent on. We strongly believe that more of every dollar contributed by our members needs to go to the thing they care most about.
There is a structural problem with the current arrangement. It has nothing to do with the ethics, commitment, or professional skills of the good people of HFI. We hear you when you say they aren't just employees at the Foundation, they are your friends. They are our friends too. At the end of the day, for them, just as for us, it’s all about the singing. But the current structure‚ with two sets of overhead, two sets of messages, two sets of governance, two ways of measuring success, and a convoluted process for converting the hard-earned money donated by barbershoppers into programs that create more barbershopping, just doesn’t work.
That’s what this is all about, and that’s why we had to make a change.
The strategic vision of Everyone in Harmony
HFI reports that the introduction of BHS’s Everyone in Harmony strategic vision has hampered HFI’s ability to raise funds for BHS. There’s no doubt that we could have done a smoother job of launching the vision. It is clear that the transformation represented by Everyone in Harmony has not been universally popular, nor completely understood.
Without question, it is regrettable that some donors may not feel inclined to support BHS's vision of Everyone in Harmony. We acknowledge this is a bold and expansive vision -- and, it is a vision we steadfastly support. Once the Society is able to chart its own charitable course, we believe that Everyone in Harmony will evoke abundant generosity from current and new donors.
Oversight, transparency and accountability
We are barbershoppers, just like you. We have been charged with governing and leading our beloved, diverse, opinionated and passionate community of chord-ringers towards the one destination we can all agree on: a world with more people singing together. We are volunteer leaders of a complicated governance system.
Since the adoption of the Carver Policy Governance Model in 2005, BHS has had in place multiple measures to ensure transparency and accountability in all of our affairs. These include:
- a statement of Executive Limitations that limits the role of the CEO and is reviewed and measured quarterly;
- an annual independent audit of our financials (a joint audit that incorporates HFI’s audit as well); and
- several committees, which now include an Audit Committee, Finance Committee, Strategic Planning Committee, and CEO Evaluation, Compensation and Benefits Committee. These committees all include a combination of Society Board members and non-board members with specific industry expertise or professional experience, including nonprofit executives, CPAs, CFOs, HR professionals, and strategic planners.
The quality of our governance processes has been independently verified. BHS has earned, for three years running, the highest possible rating — a Platinum Seal of Transparency — from GuideStar, the world’s largest and most respected source of objective information on nonprofits.
As part of our natural course of transparency and accountability, the launch of our fundraising effort will include a set of fundraising policies drawn directly from the guidance of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), of which we are a member. These best practices will be in place, and our team will be fully trained on them, before we embark on any fundraising activities.
Our decision-making process
Reaching this decision was a decidedly messy process. There were many starts and stops along the way. It was deliberate at moments and not so much at others. It involved a complex mix of financial analysis, business planning, reviews of best practices, personal loyalties, comparisons to other nonprofits, and the evaluation of many alternative paths. We spent literally thousands of hours on it. We were not always of one mind. Ultimately, we made the decision we made because we think it was the right one.
We debated how to tell the HFI Trustees before making our public announcement. We decided to tell them, five days before our planned public announcement. We stated that we were not severing our relationship with HFI, but would pursue our own sources of fundraising in addition to HFI’s generous support. We explained that our intention was additive, not subtractive. In 20/20 hindsight, perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised by the speed and tone of HFI’s response the next morning, but we were. They are barbershoppers who give as much of a damn as we do. We deeply regret this miscalculation, because it dragged our entire community into a social media brawl that might have been avoided.
Some voices have asked for a play-by-play disclosure of every meeting, memo and conversation along the way. We’re just not going to go there. The decision has been made. There are two sides to the story, maybe more. The record would show that our side was messy and imperfect, but not for lack of effort to get it right.
We deeply regret that we could not reach agreement with HFI on a more efficient operating model. Our decision places a burden on the entirety of BHS and HFI, including our donors.
Attacks on our staff
We have an experienced, highly professional executive team leading operations at Harmony Hall. We have the utmost confidence in their capabilities and their integrity.
Malicious attacks have been made on our staff’s character, motivations, and competency -- by very few, but very loudly. This is not the barbershop style. It doesn’t bring out our best. Go ahead and question our strategy, our process, our wisdom or our acumen. Stop the personal attacks on our people.
Where do we go from here?
This decision does not end our relationship with HFI, it changes it. If HFI wishes to continue to raise funds for BHS programs, we will be working in partnership to apply those funds accordingly and report on their use. Current and potential donors will make their own choices about how and where to make their gifts based on their own priorities. We are all working toward the same goal.
We are heartbroken by the division and personal animosity stirred up by a complicated business decision. It’s hard to believe that people are talking about who is “winning the PR battle,” as if there should be any battles at all in a society that is all about the harmony.
So, going forward, we will not personally or collectively engage in debate on social media. We have instructed the BHS staff, who have been speaking on our behalf, to do the same. We don’t think it is a forum for constructive forward-looking conversation at this stage.
But that doesn't mean we aren't available to talk and listen to your concerns. In the last week we have held four calls for our District leaders and two calls with our chapter leaders, all of them well-attended. Next Wednesday, June 17, and Thursday, June 18, we will host a Zoom call to review the underlying financial data that drove our analyses. We will post the data for your advance review. More listening sessions are in the works. If you disagree with us, if you are confused, hurt, or torn, or if you think this is the right course, we welcome you to join us.
We hope that you will continue to provide us with your feedback, and to ask questions when you need clarification. Please email us at SocietyBoard@barbershop.org. We will make every effort to reply to you within two business days.
On or about July 1, our team will be publishing detailed information about our new giving platforms. Please give it a look, and consider being a part of it. If you’d like us to send you a reminder when we are up and running, simply leave your name and contact information here.
In the meantime, we look forward to the day when we can once again gather together and ring some barbershop chords. Thank you for your support, and thank you for being a barbershopper.
THE BARBERSHOP HARMONY SOCIETY BOARD OF DIRECTORS