I have been working at Austin Opera as an intern (Less than a year)
This is an amazing place to work. The people all really love and care about what they do. This non-profit organization provides valuable culture and music to the Austin area. Living in the live music capitol of the world, every day working at Austin Opera is an opportunity to provide high quality live music to the community.
It would be great to have more staff to contribute to the great experience that is working for Austin Opera.
Advice to Management
Thank you for truly loving what you do and putting your all into helping this organization better the community.
I worked at Austin Opera full-time (Less than a year)
- There are some really great people who work for the opera. The few who care are great to work with.
- The artistic product is impressive in quality.
- Leadership is dishonest.
- There are very few policies and procedures in place.
- Staff turnover rate is abnormally high, but leadership refuses to address the issue and take responsibility for it.
- Staff is overworked and undervalued. The organization is severely understaffed for the crazy ideas and workload. Leadership takes advantage of the best employees, burning them out and forcing them to leave.
- No accountability for anyone. There are never evaluations of staff, very poor planning and no follow-up process to ensure projects are being taken care of in a timely fashion by the right people, no repercussions for not staying on-task.
- Little to no communication. Lots of gossip, no professional means of communicating important information to staff.
- Inconsistent in hiring practices. For a single role, one person could be overqualified and when they get frustrated and leave, leadership might fill their role with someone with little to no qualifications. When staff is leaving every few months and there are no standards that leadership adhere to, it makes for a highly inconsistent product.
- Leadership lets board members be over-involved.
- Overall lack of professionalism.
- Half of the staff is hardworking and cares, while longtime staff have never been evaluated to make their jobs relevant in the modern, downsized workplace. Turnover rate is extremely high because new staff want to help and end up getting burned out because they have no support and leadership overlooks their efforts.
- The board and leadership have their favorites on staff. These people are not touchable, despite their lack of contribution to advancing the company.
- A lot of negativity. Staff spends more time gossipping and complaining about the company than doing work.
- No sense of teamwork. Everybody fends for themselves.
- No training or onboarding process for staff. Regardless of the level of experience a new staff member has, that person is pretty much on their own from day one.
- Negative, oppressive.
- High stress.
- As fast-paced as an individual staffer makes it, because there are no standards for work quality and leadership lacks knowledge to understand what staff members job duties are.
- Offices in poor condition, old and unreliable equipment.
- The board is probably the biggest issue. There are an outspoken few who overpower the entire board and micromanage daily operations of the staff.
Advice to Management
Take away the board's power. They should be there for governance, not to micromanage day-to-day operations and harass staff.
Revisit the mission statement. Nobody knows what it is (or even where to find it). But this organization needs to refocus itself on what it exists to do and on what its values are. There is no sense of unity in the company, but creating a simple, meaningful mission statement would be an amazing first step to getting everyone on the same page.
Value your staff. People are the most important resource. When they are treated poorly and feel oppressed, the company can't flourish.
Be honest and transparent.
Morale is so low and staff turnover is high – that's your fault. Take responsibility and do something about it. LEARN from the people who are leaving and from the reviews on this page. There's no shame in admitting something is wrong if you face it and fix it.
The productions are great in artistic-quality & the performing artists they recruit are very talented. You'll get the chance to work with some great people on staff (however you may not get to work with these folks for long, for reasons described below).
-Board micromanages staff and is very vocal about their low opinions of staff members' worth and expertise (this is expressed repeatedly, in front of staff or even in front of donors where it is extremely inappropriate and demeaning), so staff morale is consistently low and the organization has a lot of turnover and burnout.
-Management and the board do not trust staff to do their jobs and are very condescending, no management support of staff when it comes to board members.
-The organization fires at least one person per season or per calendar year, making job security and confidence non-existent (new ideas aren't expressed when everyone always operates under the guise of keeping their head down to keep from getting fired).
-Very High Stress environment, no prioritization, i.e. everything is top priority all the time. Management lacks focus so one is constantly running from one emergency situation to the next rather than an organized approach to performing your job duties.
-Revolving door in Development and Marketing departments because of unrealistic expectations and too few staff members in each department. In addition, board and staff do not work together to achieve stated revenue goals (the opposite is usually the successful industry standard in the nonprofit sector), there is a very huge disconnect.
-Board is more interested in hokey marketing tactics like flash mobs and small social medial events that result in minor traffic (and traffic is usually from people who already support the opera) and few of these efforts actually result in increased ticket sales or increased donations from new patrons or donors.
-Not a family friendly working environment (unless you have a spouse who doesn't work or full-time live-in nanny), erratic schedule, and bad work-life balance. So if you have children, don't expect to get to see them (or your spouse) and to be admonished if you express concern about this issue.
-Little attention is paid to actually making an effort to be part of the community with outreach or public engagement, education/outreach are seen as a burden rather than a necessary component of being a nonprofit in the Austin community. So little attention is paid to this area of the company and it shows. Ask most people in Austin and they're not even aware there's an opera company in Austin (for a company that's been around for 30 years).
-Board is convinced no one in Austin is capable so they hire people from out of state, who have no local connections, yet they are expected to raise a lot of money in a short amount of time despite their lack of local connections. In addition, out-of-town recruits have no warning about this organization.
-Inefficiencies everywhere (software, staff practices) and resistance to change of any kind in donor/board recruitment, marketing, fundraising, or community outreach.
Advice to Management
-The organization repeats mistakes every few years, and it appears to be cyclical.
-Hire talented people, and then let them do their jobs. Do not demean employees in front of other staff, board, or patrons/donors. This creates a toxic work environment. People who work for nonprofits do so because they care about the mission of the organization (in this case, a passion for the arts), but this love of the mission can only drive one for so long before all the negative things in a toxic work culture extinguish this passion.
-Get new board members with connections and not just people who already fit the "group think" model currently in operation (or at the very least do not expect new ideas/results if you keep recruiting the same type of people).
-Stop blaming staff members for the continued struggles of this organization. There is a common denominator: the board. And with the staff turnover rate being high, it is obvious that the problem does not rest with any specific employees. There has to be some accountability at the top and as of right now, there isn’t. The organization would be doing better if this were true. New staff members are assigned incredibly unrealistic goals and then prevented from achieving them, as nothing is ever allowed to change within the organization. The success of any organization depends on a working relationship between the board and the staff; it should be a team effort.
-Stop dual/triple allocating staff positions, this is inefficient and ensures burnout
-Hire experienced EDs who actually know what they are doing and have local connections and networking
I worked at Austin Opera full-time
I met dedicated and passionate people who felt as frustrated as I was at the job due to the poor management of the ED and the worthless board
Board treats staff like they know better when the staff has more relevant education and experience actually working in non-profits then the entire board put together. Plus not one board member can say they brought in any new sponsors since the company almost went bankrupt. In fact they are repeating many of the same mistakes. The board micromanages staff, yet blames past staff members for their financial difficulties with and air of "well they are only non-profit employees - if they were smart they would be working in the for profit sector." Former Board Chair Ernest Butler wrote a magazine article stating as much.
The board needs to realize they were as much to blame for the company almost going under as anyone. They were involved in and approved every decision leading up to the near bankruptcy (or as they call it financial reorganization), but take no culpability at all. Instead they hired an ED with very little management experience (mid-level development guy from NYC) who caters to board while the organization remains entrenched in the opera of the past and pays lip service to actual community involvement.
They also hire staff for key positions as well as independent contractors from out of state because they think poor little old Austin doesn't already have qualified people living in the city. So once again it is that "someone else knows better" mentality only instead of board vs staff it is New York vs Austin. They hire development people from out of state who have no Austin connections and give them unrealistic financial goals for an outsider.
Executive Director has no leadership skills. He can only suck up to board and make staff do an unbelievable amount of work that usually produces no result. He has no respect for work/life balance and will expect you to be on call during the weekends and after hours. The high turnover rate in key roles (Development, Marketing and Communications, Education), speaks volumes
What also speaks volumes is the amount of positions that split between two important jobs. The education director is also the stage manager. How can Austin opera expect people to want to support their education initiatives when they do not feel it is important enough to be a full-time job. How AO say they have incredible production value, when their production manager only does that job part-time. If the answer is because they cannot afford to have those roles as full-time positions (which I imagine is the case), then they are in more trouble then they are letting on. Another example - they cannot blame lack of ticket sales on the person they hire to do the job (who is normally from out of state), when the person in said position only does it part-time, and they continually cut the budget for marketing. And if the answer is that they have to cut marketing dollars because they do not have enough money in the budget, then once again, I say beware.
I finally wrote this review because I was tired of them luring accomplished and perfectly lovely people from other states, promising them a job opportunity that will not pan out. People from out of state need to be warned to stay away from Austin Opera. This is how I feel and I left on good terms. Imagine what people think who were let go.......
Advice to Management
Take a look at your turnover rate and realize it is you. Revamp everything you are doing. Hire local staff who actually have relationships in Austin for key positions. Stop relying on graphic designers and consultants from New York because you think NYC knows what it is doing and Austin doesn't. How can you say you are a local company when most new hires for key positions have been hired from out of state? Develop actual outreach plans that don't involve gimmicks like camels. You laud yourself for getting the Opera Guild to resubscribe at an extremely high rate because the ED had to promise to sing an opera and jump in the pool while wearing a tux. Do you realize that this is going to a lot of effort to get your current biggest supporters to resubscribe? Anyone who belongs to the Opera Guild SHOULD resubscribe without having to twist their arm. Don't you think you should have challenged them to bring at least one new subscriber to help grow your subscriber base? Your outreach efforts are so insular that I don't think you even realize it. And if you have to work that hard to keep your core fan base, isn't that saying something about their loyalty as well? What are you really doing to keep your core groups of subscribers happy, besides just asking them for money?
Great people and easy to work with.
Sometimes take a while to continue a project.
ALO puts on consistently great productions despite the economic recession. They attract wonderful artists, and provide a valuable art form for the community.
The board and executive leadership choose to remain firmly entrenched in years of tradition and refuse to change anything about the way they actually do things, making it more difficult for the current employees to achieve their assigned goals. This is unfortunately an industry standard for opera. The company wants to reach new audiences but is resistant to any changes that might make this possible.
The ALO board has very little respect for the staff and is quite open about it (and there is no support for the staff from executive leadership regarding board relations), so consequently burnout, low morale, stress, and turnover are a recurring problem. The new ED is a great person and very enthusiastic about opera but is not a good manager; he burns employees out and has problems with boundaries (last minute requests after business hours with no advance notice and too little lead time, and then procrastinates to review or approve, no authority with the board and leaves staff out to dry, etc.).
Advice to Management
Move away from dual allocation positions (stop overwhelming employees and pointing fingers when it doesn't work out) and hire adequate staff, treat the staff more fairly and show appreciation with more than meaningless lip service (ex. fairly compensate or at least trust them to to do their job without micromanagement), and consider flex time. Since this is a small company and there are little to no opportunities for advancement, consider another way to motivate employees, perhaps if they had more ownership and support from management and the board they would stay longer.
Flexibility in work schedule
Great vacation time
Respected in the industry
Cut throat staff members
Long time staff fearful of new ideas
Poor departmental communication
Board doesn't raise money
Extremely poor board leadership
Country club atmosphere at board level
Advice to Management
Board needs to step up and help the organization and partner with the staff. Must be responsible for fundraising and not just pushing the responsibility on the staff and then demeaning the, when goals aren't met. Board is too insular, too much bickering. Boards needs to realize that the company's doing fantastic work and they should be ambassadors for the company and not tear it down.
Fantastic colleagues and truly high quality services to the community make Austin Lyric Opera a place I was proud to work for.
Employees are not adequately compensated, especially at lower levels.
Advice to Management
Find a barrel of money
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