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The professionalization of the Society in the Wall era set the stage for growth, but effectively managing that growth would have posed a formidable challenge for even the most highly skilled professional administrator. For Vail, the difficulty of managing the Society would be compounded by a need to balance his pas­sion for research against the growing demands of a job that would require strong and focused leadership.

The years immediately following World War II turned out to be difficult ones for the Society. Revenues, which were highly dependent on the return from investments, were not growing at the same pace as expenditures, and in 1945 the Society ran a deficit. For an organization that was becoming accustomed to annual surpluses, the late 1940s were a period of forced self-assessment. In the annual report of 1946, Vail lamented that income was lagging and that there were insufficient funds to give staff the raises they deserved. As a cost-saving measure, Society management cut the workweek by five hours. In 1947, the revenue woes continued. Vail wrote, "In order to improve our service to scholars... we should have an additional annual income of $50,000 for the next 20 years to use in build­ing our collections and cataloguing our treasured possessions."

This and all other unattributed quotations in this chapter are taken from New-York Historical Society annual reports.

A close look at the Society's finances during this period highlights the very dif­ferent mind-set that existed during this era regarding deficits. Put simply, deficits were not to be tolerated. Instead of waiting for mounting deficits to force cuts, management made cuts to avert deficits. Figure 3.1 shows the Society's operating balances during Vail's tenure. After an initial deficit in 1945, the Society actually ran moderate and increasing surpluses in the years between 1946 and 1950.

Nevertheless, the fear of recurring deficits exerted discipline on the Society. In the 1948 annual report, Vail wrote: "Although we have weathered this year successfully, we fear that our future may be endangered unless we economize and so it has been found necessary drastically to cut our budget for the coming year." These budget cuts resulted in the elimination of five positions, including the curator of paintings and sculpture.

While pressures were mounting to gain control of the Society's finances, efforts were still being made to expand the scope of services the Society offered. One reason for this expansion was the return from war service of Alexander Wall Jr.,

FIGURE 3.1. OPERATING SURPLUS/DEFICIT, 1944-1959.

1944 1945 1946 1947 1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 Source: New-York Historical Society annual reports; see also Table C.3-2 in Appendix C.

the son of the late director. In 1946, he returned to his position as director of education and public relations; shortly thereafter, he was named assistant director of the Society. This development, which placed Wall next in line to succeed Vail, was at least partially the result of the power vacuum created when Dorothy Barck, the librarian, was not named either director or assistant director.

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Source:  OpenStax, The new-york historical society: lessons from one nonprofit's long struggle for survival. OpenStax CNX. Mar 28, 2008 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10518/1.1
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