Squeezing Blood From A Turnip

Back in November I wrote a blog entitled A Bridge Campaign Too Far that talked about how orchestras are beginning to squeeze their corporate and private patrons for donations too often. And now we have a new large scale example: The Washington Post published a story today stating Maryland’s “Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan threatened to “mothball” the partially completed Strathmore Hall concert pavilion if the County Council refuses to help pay for $9.6 million in cost overruns.”

The $100 million Strathmore Hall concert pavilion is intended as the second home for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Let’s forget the reasons why this new hall is a bad idea:

  • The National Symphony Orchestra is only 10 miles away from Strathmore Hall’s location.
  • The Baltimore Symphony is already overextended and in debt.
  • One of the projects architect’s, BSO Executive Director John Gidwitz, is bailing out of the project by way of his retirement at the end of the 03-04 season.

The important problem here is that the private foundation established to operate Strathmore Hall is going back to the Montgomery County Government to ask for more money – again. The consequence is a resounding “NO” from county government officials and the county executive giving the request a public tongue-lashing.

So what’s the moral of the story? When you plan any major fundraising campaign, you had better have a good idea of where you plan to raise money besides current patron sources. And your “Plan B” (or in Strathmore’s case we’re up to “Plan G”) had better not include asking the same people for money over and over again.

After all, it was Benjamin Franklin that said; “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”


About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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