Raising Money When The Concerts Are Done

Hello all!  I’d like to start by thanking Drew for inviting me to participate.  I’ve known Drew online for many years, going back to a series of animated but friendly discussions about Executive Director compensation right here at Adaptistration.  I was happy to meet Drew in person for the first time recently at the League of American Orchestras’ conference in Chicago.

When Drew invited me to post here I thought briefly about trying to tackle some major controversial topic, but instead I’ve opted for a bit of “day in the life of a Group 2 orchestra executive director” stuff.  The Alabama Symphony Orchestra (which I am going to call the ASO, with apologies to the other ASOs out there) just closed its 2009 fiscal year, so much of my time and attention in recent weeks has been focused on wrapping up one orchestra year and launching another, and I thought I might focus on a couple of aspects of this process during my two day online guest blogging stint.

The final anticlimactic performance of the ASO’s 2008-2009 concert season came on June 13, with a concert (moved into a gym due to rain) in Anniston, AL (our concert the prior evening in Birmingham had been rained out after 1 minute of music).  With the end of concerts many of our musicians, board members and volunteers scatter to locations less sultry than Birmingham for the summer, but for much of the administrative staff the clamor of thing requiring urgent attention continues unabated.

As Executive Director I’ve spent most of my time over the past eight weeks focused on

  • end of year fundraising
  • thinking about board structure, effectiveness, and engagement
  • challenging key assumptions in our 2009-2010 budget
  • 2010-2011 artistic planning
  • a bit of organizational restructuring
  • the dreaded annual performance reviews

Any of these items could serve as a topic worth exploring, but I’m going to focus in on the first and last of these over the next two days (perhaps I’ll tackle the others another time if Drew would like to invite me back).

For today…Raising Money When the Concerts Are Done.

Many members of the staff spent these last few weeks of the year desperately trying to get commitments from the depressingly large number of people, foundations, and companies who had given in the prior year but for one reason or another hadn’t yet made their gift or pledge for the current year.   Many of these were folks who always give at the end of the year.  Others, unfortunately, were the people who had decided they just were not going to be able to do anything this year, but hadn’t had the heart to tell us.  Often donors, including our own board members, think about giving on a calendar year basis.  So they may think “I gave in 2008 (in the first half of the year), and I do intend to give in 2009 (after my stocks apprectiate a bit more), so why are you bothering me now?”  But the problem is that they may end up skipping an entire fiscal year.

It seems obvious that, in some ideal world, we would be spending this time raising money for the season that is about to begin, not the season that just ended, but we rarely seem to live in an ideal world (and we were indeed doing some fundraising for the new year at the same time we were trying to close out fiscal 2009).

As the performance season ended we still had over $400,000 to raise to make our $4.5 million goal.   That was rather scary considering that we were asking people to support performances that had already happened.  We thought we had a pretty good idea where half of that was coming from, and the Chairman of our board had come forward with a generous challenge grant that we hoped would bring in the rest.  Our Development staff had an excellent understanding of exactly who our likely and not so likely prospective donors were, and several board members were willing to help.   While I made important calls, and helped shape our case and our tactics, many others did more actual asking than I did.

So how did we do?  We had a great response to the Chairman’s Challenge, especially from donors who had already given that year and chose to make an additional gift.  We also had several nice surprises – $10,000+ gifts from new or very lapsed donors.  But we had bad news as well—four foundations who reduced their giving by half or more, a telefunding vendor who pulled out, at the last minute, of what had been planned to be short, focused calling campaign, and most troubling to me, our Board of Directors failed to make its goal, despite some extraordinarily generous leadeship giving from several members.  In the end, the ASO had a terrific fundraising year, finishing with a 5% increase in total unrestricted contributions—but we came in short of goal.

Tomorrow…I’ll be back with some thoughts about performance reviews and tactical planning.

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