Wag The Dog

A variation on a classic joke: Which came first, the grant or the program? A groaner for sure but an unfortunate reality for too many orchestras. The simple fact is that funding sources are limited and as a result, orchestras will design programs based more on grant guidelines than institutional vision…

Ron Spigelman posted an article at Sticks and Drones on 11/7/2007 which examines this idea in detail and it got me thinking. In particular, it brings to mind the number of orchestras which look of grants first and then develop programs around the idea. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this since some of these grants are designed to inspire movement in a direction the grantor finds appealing and regardless of how much we may want to believe it isn’t true, the other Golden Rule applies (he who has the gold, makes the rules).

At the same time, it doesn’t take too long before an organization becomes overwhelmed by restricted revenue and they slowly morph into the WDSO (Wag the Dog Symphony Orchestra). It isn’t unusual for most of the programs supported by dedicated grant dollars to fade away after the grant dollars run out, only to be replaced by a new program which starts the cycle all over again.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way for orchestras of any size budget to raise funds for targeted projects without all of the time consuming red tape associated with the traditional grant process? Tuck that question away in the back of your mind; we’re going to explore it at a much greater level of detail in the near future.

In the meantime, beyond traditional fundraising efforts, what sort of methods have you encountered where orchestras can raise dedicated funds for special projects and programs?

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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