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Orchestra's fund raising noteworthy

The Maryland Symphony Orchestra has weathered difficult economic times with a concerted effort.

The Maryland Symphony Orchestra has weathered difficult economic times with a concerted effort.

June 22, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

In fund-raising, as in performing, a successful orchestra requires everyone to work in concert.

The Maryland Symphony Orchestra has fared well in recent years despite a slow economy that has forced some orchestras to shut down.

A decline in donations from small businesses over the last two years was made up by an increase in individual donations, MSO Executive Director Jean P. Hamilton said. The symphony had more than 70 new individual donors in the last fund drive, she said.

Though MSO officials' requests for bigger contributions from corporate donors didn't succeed overall, corporations that underwrite, or sponsor, concerts are maintaining their donor level, she said. That thrills Hamilton.


Such support is considered "very successful in this time," said Jack McAuliffe, vice president and chief operating officer of the American Symphony Orchestra League in New York City.

"I would say the most successful orchestras have been able to get their corporate sponsors to maintain their contributions," McAuliffe said.

That is occurring during a difficult time for corporations, with many experiencing declining profit levels in recent years, he said.

The 1990s were a great decade for orchestras, with all-time highs in attendance and revenues, McAuliffe said. That changed with the economic slowdown in the summer of 2001. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, exacerbated economic troubles for orchestras, he said.

"It challenged a number of our sources of revenue," McAuliffe said.

While some orchestras across the nation had to cancel concerts following the attacks, the MSO was fortunate not to have its concert series disrupted that season, Hamilton said.

Small business owners faced a rough climate and, while they still bought ads in the MSO programs, fewer small businesses contributed as underwriters, Hamilton said. An underwriter is a donor that contributes money without getting something - such as an advertisement - in return. The donor gets underwriting status, which is noted in the symphony's program.

The MSO had a $20,000 shortfall in its annual corporate fund this fiscal year, which ends June 30, Hamilton said. That shortfall was made up by individual donors.

The fund drive

The MSO has begun its corporate fund drive for the upcoming fiscal year and will follow that up with asking individuals for donations, orchestra officials said.

The fund-raising goal is more conservative after the MSO fell short of meeting its goal last year, Hamilton said.

Last year, the MSO's fund-raising goal was $535,150, Hamilton said. Orchestra officials expect to have raised $524,097 by June 30, she said.

The new fund-raising goal is $475,900, Hamilton said.

The decrease is due in part to the elimination of an $8,000 new initiative grant the MSO received last year from the Maryland State Arts Council, Hamilton said.

The MSO also saw a drop in funding from the Washington County Gaming Commission for the Salute to Independence at Antietam concert, she said.

Hamilton said she is budgeting less for the general operating grant from the Maryland State Arts Council because of the state's fiscal crisis. She expects to know how much money the MSO will get from the council later this month.

The symphony's budget is increasing from $915,461 last season to $948,761 in the coming fiscal year, Hamilton said.

Corporate underwriting generates 23 percent of the MSO's budget, Hamilton said. Individual contributions account for 16 percent of revenue, and tickets account for almost a third of revenue.

The average ticket price this coming season for the MasterWorks concert series will be $31 after the MSO raised prices for the first time in two years, Hamilton said. Last season the average ticket price was $27.

MSO officials try to keep ticket price increases as low as possible, said Marjorie M. Hobbs, board president last season. Prices go up about every two years.

The MSO had 1,546 ticket subscribers last season, Hamilton said. Subscribers get tickets to the symphony's five MasterWorks concerts and can add tickets for the Pops concert.

Each MasterWorks weekend offers two concerts, with the total cost for the pair at $70,000, Hamilton said.

The MSO holds other concerts, including youth concerts for regional fourth-graders that Citicorp funds, Hamilton said. The MSO added a youth concert this past season to have four.

Other funding sources include grants, program advertisements, an endowment and the MSO Guild, Hamilton said.

The Guild, a volunteer group, contributed $30,000 to the orchestra's general operating fund and $5,000 for the Family Concert, Hamilton wrote in an e-mail to The Herald Mail. The Guild raises money through fund-raisers, including the annual Symphony Ball.

"A healthy orchestra will have an extraordinarily talented music director; a pool of really fine musicians; a small, but effective administrative staff; and they will have a strong governing board and usually an aggressive volunteer association," McAuliffe said.

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