Monday, October 6, 2014

Atlanta Symphony: How many care?

Howard Pousner of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution summarizes an interview with Douglas Hertz, chairman of the board of the Woodruff Arts Center, corporate parent of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, whose musicians have been locked out over a contract dispute since Sept. 7:

Some of Hertz’s comments, especially his wondering aloud whether the orchestra’s musicians are “a bunch of crazy people” and his remark that ASO Music Director Robert Spano, who protested the lockout, “hasn’t been particularly constructive to this point,” have provoked quite a backlash, at home and elsewhere.

For example, here’s the reaction of orchestra administrative watchdog Drew McManus, on his blog Adapistration:

Hertz, unfortunately, does not address the statistic that compensation of ASO musicians amounts to about 25 percent of the orchestra’s budget, a substantially lower percentage than spending on musicians by comparably sized orchestras. That’s a key data point in comments from writers whom Hertz dismisses as “journalists who want to take the musicians’ side.”

To me, Hertz’s most telling comment is that “less than 5,000 donors in a metropolitan area of 5 million” support the orchestra. “If the public cared[,] maybe we wouldn’t be in this stituation.”

By comparison, the Richmond Symphony, performing in a market one-fifth the size of metro Atlanta, had about 1,250 individual, corporate, foundation and government donors in the 2013-14 fiscal year. (There were additional matching gifts.)

I find Hertz’s equation questionable. The orchestra’s relatively small donor pool may reflect public indifference; or it may be the result of not effectively reaching out to the public.

The only financial angels Hertz mentions are those who’ve donated or raised millions. How many of the less than 5,000 are small donors ($1,000 or less), and how much effort goes into soliciting their gifts?

Some professional fund-raisers question the tangible value of small donations – soliciting them may cost more than the solicitation raises. But there’s the intangible value: The more stakeholders an institution has in its community, the more credible its claim that the community cares about it. Big donors notice whether small donors care, so the intangible can translate into the tangible.

And when the crunch comes, as it obviously has in Atlanta, the more people literally invested in the institution, the brighter the prospects for a resolution of the crisis.