The 2/2/2011 edition of the Detroit News published an editorial which pulled no punches when it came to laying the all of the blame for the Detroit symphony Orchestra (DSO) work stoppage at the feet of the musicians and their supporters. Unfortunately, an attempt to summarize a protracted labor dispute the magnitude of the DSO’s is practically impossible in the space of a print editorial, and this one is no exception…
Frankly, the piece does an inadequate job at reviewing key points in both parties’ proposals, covering critical benchmarks in the four month strike, and providing a comprehensive overview of the organization’s recent history. Those who have been following events will likely pick out those shortcomings in short order but what really stands out with jaw-dropping intensity are accusations of hypocritical conduct among a patron stakeholder group known to support mostly musician positions (emphasis added).
This stand-off seems destined to become a disaster. It could be headed off, of course, if all of the folks who have been begging the DSO board to settle the strike would buy more tickets and make more donations. Management contends 70 percent of those in the Save Our Symphony group are not DSO donors.
I contacted Elizabeth Weigandt, DSO Director of Public Relations, for confirmation and she did verify that the organization provided that information to the Detroit News.
The DSO did an in-depth analysis of the registered members of Save Our Symphony effort and learned two-thirds are non (or very modest and long- lapsed) donors, non-attendees, or musicians. Only 5% are subscribers. Although one Save our Symphony member gave $125,925 in 2009-10, the total amount given by all other Save our Symphony supporters last year was $850.
Granted, the Save Our Symphony patron organization is a far cry from a model of efficient and effective patron activism. I’ve pointed out particulars in articles and comment replies over the past several weeks. There were even reports the members of the organization booed the DSO CEO before the 1/26/2011 DSO executive committee meeting, although that was the extent of negative sentiment as no board members or other attendees were reportedly booed. But one has to wonder what on earth motivated the DSO to release a statement like that.
If you’ve ever worked development, you know that attacking patrons, regardless of their position during a labor dispute, is akin to willfully and aggressively targeting civilians during a military operation, especially the ones that don’t like you.
Let’s set aside for a moment the unreliable nature of verifying small, single donations (anonymous gifts ring a bell?), or human error in data entry, or faulty database cross tabulation, or that many individuals consider ticket purchases to be a donation (how many times have you heard that Mr./Ms. Development Professional?). Forget about the fact that modest or “long-lapsed” donors apparently qualify as non-donors to the Detroit News editorial board, or that some ticket buyers aren’t in the box office database (cash purchases), or that there are single ticket buyers that regularly purchase more concert tickets than a subscriber, or that members of the patron group may not even live in the Detroit area. Certainly, don’t worry about the avalanche of variables that make an already dicey statement even more tenuous. And do we need to ask why the DSO decided to single out musicians among the group’s membership (are they incapable of donating)?
Instead, let’s explore the potential motivation behind conducting that sort of analysis along with the benefits in releasing the results.
Okay, I’m stumped. I can’t imagine anyone in the DSO would believe that approach would successfully shame ticket buyers into donating. Has anyone used this method with positive results? I’d love to know about it if you have.
As for motivation, I’d like to believe that perhaps the original idea may have been to craft a reconciliatory effort once the dispute was resolved but the likelihood of success following the use by the Detroit News is next to nil. I asked Ms. Weigandt about the motivation and she promptly offered the following reply: “own accord.” No additional details were provided.
Outside of personal motivations that have nothing to do with the wellbeing and long term health of the institution, I can’t think of a single, sincere reason why releasing that information to the press could be construed as beneficial to the institution and support its mission.
Ultimately, this latest gaffe replaces the musicians’ calling out general staff members for cashing their pay checks during the work stoppage as the new all time low. Just when you think neither side in the dispute could come up with a new technique to make things worse, they demonstrate the folly in underestimating their respective resourcefulness.
The Save our Symphony patron group called into question by the Detroit News editorial published an official response, which you can find here.
Postscript: In the 2/2/2011 edition of the Detroit Free Press, Mark Stryker reports that the DSO executive committee elected to submit a revised proposal to the musicians. In the interim, let’s hope both sides in the dispute move away from tactics that led to the sort of counter productive content in the News’ editorial.