" /> Guest Blog Series: Your Orchestra’s Value and Financial Health Depend Upon Your Community by Amy Williams

Guest Blog Series: Your Orchestra’s Value and Financial Health Depend Upon Your Community by Amy Williams

Note from ACSO: Our membership network is full of incredible people with a wealth of life experiences, talents, and diverse perspectives and backgrounds. We want to share their insights, points of view, and wisdom with all of you, as well as raise the voices of individuals who are making a difference for the classical music field. Our guest blog series features people from different communities throughout California and the western region, from different sizes and types of classical music organizations, and with different jobs and responsibilities. They will share what they have learned, express their opinions about the sector, and ask challenging questions that will help us shift our thinking and be better advocates for this art form that we all love.
Your Orchestra’s Value and Financial Health Depend Upon Your Community
Amy Williams, Managing Director, Camerata Pacifica

Recently I have been seeing too many arts organizations put community impact and financial stability in two separate buckets. They think that serving their entire community comes at a high financial price, but this does not need to be the case. What if, instead, this misconception is flipped and it turns out that serving your entire community, BOTH those who attend and support your orchestra (the converts) and those who don’t (the skeptics), actually helps your financial stability.

Financial stability and community impact are deeply interconnected, and one cannot be built without the other. All communities are complex and constantly changing, so we must always be working to understand them. Through that work, we should think about how, if we successfully carry out our mission and serve its many aspects, we will become an indispensable organization, which then will be financially supported by our community.

While the importance of staying true to your mission goes without saying, it is important to reflect upon it when looking at who makes up your community. The communities I have seen and been a part of vary based upon the identity and mission of the organization I am working with. For example, when I was at the Santa Barbara Symphony the community we served was the city of Santa Barbara and the young musicians within it, and just by living in the town it was natural to get to know supporters and families. However, at my current ensemble, Camerata Pacifica, we have a different mission and we perform in three different cities. Our community is made up of individuals spread throughout Southern California, so getting to know the community takes a different approach.  

But let’s talk through what “community” means. In Webster’s Dictionary the word “community” has two common meanings when used as a noun.

  1. A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
  2. A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

I want to challenge us in the field of performing arts to look at these two definitions and apply them to our communities. For the purposes of our field, definition one refers to the municipalities or geographic areas in which we live and perform and is made up not only of individuals that engage with and support our organization, but also individuals that might not come to our concerts or even know who we are. Definition two refers to the people we have most characteristics in common with and who already value our organization, such as our staff, board of directors, musicians, patrons, donors, and potentially students and their parents.

To truly be truly vital and to improve our financial stability, we have to spend time getting to know both kinds of communities. I know it may seem like this means we have to serve everyone, and serving everyone could easily “break the bank,” but it does not have to. Your organization has board members, patron bases, and staff members that should represent and be reflective of the various segments and subcommunities that make up the communities in which you live. Ideally, these folks should be as diverse and as representative of all of the parts of your community as possible. And you need to spend time developing authentic relationships to understand not only the people that already value the vision and mission of your organization, but also those that aren’t even aware of you. This does not take financial resources -- it takes time. It could be as simple as asking why your neighbor does not attend concerts to why a superintendent does or does not supports arts education in the schools. However, remember, this can take years of relationship building and if cannot be forced. You must meet people with an open mind, not an agenda, and if this is done consistently, the intrinsic value for the organization will be felt and expanded.

An example of building bridges with a “definition one community” – people who simply live in the same place – comes from when I was at the Santa Barbara Symphony. We produced a family concert that included a one-hour program utilizing a small orchestra with one service. We kept ticket prices low and presented all program information in Spanish and English by working with a community partner to translate. This concert not only sold out but brought in a number of Latino families, students from the education programs, and individuals that had never been to a concert before. The result was the revenue and expenses broke even broke even through a combination of ticket sales and sponsorships AND we served the greater community. Then, following the performance, there was an incredible opportunity to follow up with both sponsors and patrons that were new to the organization and begin to build relationships that could lead to long-term engagement.

When thinking about the working with a “definition two community” – those we share common interests with – I think about my current work as the managing director of Camerata Pacifica, a chamber music ensemble that performs in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles. I spend a lot of time meeting one on one with long time patrons and donors, learning about who they are and what brought them to the organization. Then following the conversations, I encourage them to invite their friends who have never attended before. This not only increases the level of engagement of existing donors and patrons by giving them an important job to do for us, but it also has a positive impact on financial stability through increased donations and new ticket revenue. We have seen many people jump at the opportunity to be our community ambassadors.

By partnering with other arts organizations or non-profits on joint programming, you have the potential to reach BOTH definitions of community. Planning can be done collaboratively, and costs can be shared. While these types of collaborations can take significant time and energy, the result is that you can both engage the section of your community that already knows and supports you, and also reach new segments of your community that found you because they already supported your non-profit partner. For example, an orchestra can partner with the local theater group or ballet to add a visual element to a piece. Or the local museum could mount an exhibit that connects to the performance and display pieces in the lobby of the concert hall, or a small ensemble of musicians can perform at the museum.

There’s no doubt about it. Meeting with and learning about the diverse and complex segments of your community that are not yet converted to your mission takes time and energy, and it doesn’t always translate into new converts or revenue immediately. But it is vital to the growth of both your intrinsic value and financial stability. It does not need to cost money to build community and understand where we live and who we serve, but it can cost us if we don’t.

I would encourage you to reach out to a community leader who has never attended a concert before and ask him or her why and then extend an invitation. Then reach out to one of your long-term patrons and find out what keeps him or her supporting your organization. After doing this, reflect on what you learned from both and I think you will find that you can build accordingly. 

About the Author: Amy Williams builds the organizational structures necessary to embed a non-profit into the community, building a sense of togetherness. In joining Camerata Pacifica in March of 2018 she has put in place the building blocks needed to create long term sustainability. Working alongside the Artistic Director and Founder, Ms. Williams has revitalized a donor base, increased board engagement, and assessed a marketing plan to increase ticket revenue. In order to further the organization and community, she worked to personally connect with the donors, patrons, board and staff to understand what drove each individual and bring out those desires in the programs each supports. Prior to this position she was the Director of Artistic Administration and Education at the Santa Barbara Symphony. At the Santa Barbara Symphony she strived to bring together community members, families and donors to build a sustainable music education program. Working within the already existing local programs, she built upon those and implemented bringing in the symphony to support and align with the scope of these vital programs. Ms. Williams began working in arts administration with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra where she worked as part of the artistic team to assist the musicians and guest artists while meeting the organizations budget needs. She received her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from The Ohio State University in June of 2007.

Share this post:

Comments on "Guest Blog Series: Your Orchestra’s Value and Financial Health Depend Upon Your Community by Amy Williams "

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment