Honolulu Lays It On The Line

The Sunday, 5/3/2009 edition of the Honolulu Advertiser published an article by Ruth Bingham that reports on the Honolulu Symphony’s latest fundraising effort to stave off financial insolvency. According to the article, the orchestra’s stakeholders have not been paid in nearly three months and although it isn’t mentioned in the article, some stakeholders have stopped reporting for work while others have left the islands…

aut vincere aut mori
"victoria aut mors!"

Bingham’s article reports that the organization needs to raise $2 million by the end of May to make good on back pay and have enough in its coffers to ensure a 2009/10 season. At the time that article was published, the organization had realized five percent of that fundraising goal; details of the fundraising campaign are available at the orchestra’s website.

Don’t be surprised if this seems like déjà vu. At the end of the 2008/09 season, the orchestra experienced a lesser budget shortfall that required catching up on back pay and at that time, they were successful in raising the bridge funds needed to continue operations. However, this time around the organization announced last April that executive director, Tom Gulick, will be leaving at the end of his current contract term (June 30).

It seems clear that in order to raise the approximately $70,000 per day needed to meet the current fundraising goal, the organization’s board will have to expand the circle of financial support typically associated with this sort of development work beyond its current parameters. Like many areas, the question isn’t whether or not the local community has the financial resources to meet this challenge (it most certainly does); rather, does the board project enough confidence and clout to attract the individuals and business that control those purse strings into their circle of support.

Although this is certainly a trying time for the organization, it is also the sort of scenario that turns ordinary board members into extraordinary leaders. And one of the added benefits of rising to this sort of challenge is the newfound professional respect throughout the local business and philanthropic community. In its own way, this situation is tailor made for those who thrive in an environment that promises great glory in short order but only after besting a formidable task. It brings to mind that wonderful line delivered by George C. Scott in the movie Patton where on the eve of crucial battle he stares into a mirror and says “All my life I’ve wanted to lead a lot of men in a desperate battle.”

In real life, Patton went on to win that battle and right now, the Honolulu Symphony needs a board leader with a similar skills and mindset. Anything less might not be enough.

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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