Dear ISO management,
“WE NEED YOUR HELP,” you proclaim in a full-page ad in yesterday’s Indianapolis Star.
I think you’re right.
Your ad explains,
In order to activate the contract the musicians of the Indianapolis Symphony and symphony management agreed to this fall, we need to raise $5 million in pledges from new donors by February 3 to help stabilize our organization. Luckily, a very generous new donor has agreed to match up to $500,000 in new gifts. . . .
That matching offer is great.
But I think you need help not just with money, but in running your fundraising campaign. I’ll publicize it here, and on Facebook, and on Twitter, and talk it up.
But first, I’m going to blow off a little steam.
I first heard about this matching program in an email on Saturday from a musician in the symphony, and wrote him back that it’s fantastic that some of the ISO musicians are partnering with the management in this fund-raising effort. Given the challenges facing full-time, benefits-paying symphony orchestras, the “we play, you raise the money” division of labor isn’t the best path forward. Working together is.
But, hey, ISO management: why haven’t I heard from you?
There are so many demographic, economic, cultural, and sociological factors at play when it comes to symphony orchestras that when players say many or most of an institution’s financial challenges are the result of poor work on the part of management, I often think they are just not looking at the wider picture. When it comes to the ISO, however, I’ve beginning to think that my very frustrated musician friends have a point.
Decades ago, I heard the head of a not-for-profit organization say that the first rule of fundraising is, “ASK FOR THE MONEY!”
Ever since the deal contingent on raising $5 million was made in October, I’ve been planning on making a donation to the ISO. And I decided I’d make one that would be a stretch for me.
I’ve just been waiting for you, ISO management, to ask me for the money. And I’ve been more than a little surprised (and dismayed and bewildered) that I haven’t heard from you.
You must know who I am.
I’ve bought tickets at least twice in the past year, including for a small Winter Term class. When I bought a pair for the October “Happy Hour” concert over the phone, my name and address was in the database, and I confirmed the information and gave a credit card number. As a music professor in Indiana, I get occasional emails at my work address from the Education Department, and have served as a judge at ISO-sponsored competitions. The DePauw School of Music, where I teach, has engaged the ISO for two performances this year. I’m sure our Dean would have forwarded a fundraising email had he been he asked, and that our office staff would put flyers in faculty mailboxes if they received a set of them.
Don’t you want my money? Aren’t you going to ask for it?
Luckily for the campaign, I’ve heard from the musicians. S0 now I’ll make a donation.
I am deeply concerned that my donation will genuinely help this $5 million goal get met, because if you haven’t asked people like me in your ticket-buyer database, or music faculty in nearby programs, who else haven’t you asked?
How much money are you leaving on the table?
I’ve heard more than one ISO supporter say they are concerned about donating directly to the ISO, because of perceived issued with management competence, and would be more comfortable donating directly to the musicians. Except that to make this new contract happen, we need to donate to the official campaign.
So, ISO fundraisers, we are behind you on this. Here are a few suggestions, from your cranky donor-to-be:
- Contact everyone in your existing database. Like me.
- Get lists from other arts organizations and use them. The Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra sends mailings to my parents, who donated to public radio, and I assume that’s how the ICO got their information. My parents don’t hear from you. (OK, one of my parents is dead, but the ICO doesn’t know that. But better to mail one dead person too many than thousands of live potential donors too few.)
- Put a full explanation of the matching program on the website, and explain its importance.
- The home page at present has a small little item that says, “A generous donor has offered to match individual gifts dollar-for-dollar, up to $500,000. So every dollar you give today will turn into two, just like that!” Great, but there’s nothing about the February deadline for the $5 million goal, which if not reached means there’s no contract with the players. How does that create urgency or inspire people to donate?
- And when I follow the “donate today” link, there’s no information on the matching program at all, how to make sure my gift will count towards it, or whether or not there’s an option to make a pledge (I could pledge a much larger amount towards this campaign than I can just give today). Yes, there’s a phone number to call, but I don’t want to talk to someone, I just want to handle this easily online.
- Send out a press release!
- You’ve taken out at least one full-page newspaper ad for this matching campaign, but there’s nothing (!) about it on the News Releases page of “Press” section of the website.
Maybe I’m too cranky, but I have to say that if the Symphony Society wanted to not-so-subtly sabotage it’s new-donor campaign, it couldn’t do a better job of it. If there were a plan to say, “Look, we did a new-donor campaign but the community didn’t support it, so we have to pay you even less,” I think it would look something like what I’m seeing. Surely this cannot be the case. I assume you’ve been focused on landing big donors. A groundswell of smaller donations could really help (which is what I’m sure your $500,000 matching donor wants to encourage), and inspire big donors,
but if you don’t even ask the ticket buyers in your database for donations, what are you doing?
And to my ISO musician friends:
You need this $5 million goal to be met. Obviously the ISO development office doesn’t have the resources to pull this off on their own.
You’re going to have to do even more to help. A lot more. You can start by putting the information about this campaign on your own website.
To everybody concerned:
There are a lot of us who will give if we’re invited to, and invited often enough.
Just ask for the money.
Your cranky friend,