Symphony tunes for drive

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Symphony is setting the stage for an endowment campaign that could total $50 million and launch its quiet phase in two years.

The symphony last year began a highly publicized search for a new music director and has expanded its season, stepped up its marketing, increased its annual fund and courted corporations and wealthy donors.

Still, the economic slump has hurt, and the symphony in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2002, posted a $300,000 operating deficit, its first in recent memory, says David Chambless Worters, president and CEO.

As a result, he says, the symphony has asked the Raleigh City Council for $50,000 a year for the next three seasons, is seeking $20,000 from Cary and a still undetermined sum from the state, and wants its 62 musicians and 25 staffers to donate one week’s salary.

“We’re trying to not get distracted by the bumps in the road and keeping our focus on the future,” Worters says.

Working with The Resource Group, a Colorado-based consultant, the symphony is focusing on marketing, pricing, packaging and promotions “to make sure we are selling every single ticket we can sell,” he says.

The symphony, for example, added Sunday matinee classical concerts two years ago, expanded to three concerts from two its pops package, lengthened its classical season to 12 performances from 10 and created a six-concert “great artists” recital series.

The symphony now performs 16 weeks a year in Raleigh alone, double the total three years ago.

By cultivating potential donors rather than focusing only on existing donors, he says, the symphony has increased its annual fund to $2.48 million from $1.3 million four years ago, and aims to build it to $3 million in two to three years.

Support from members of the symphony’s 52-member board has grown to $395,000 this year from $90,000 four years ago.

The symphony has landed two “leadership” gifts from the board of $25,000 and nearly a dozen of $15,000 each, up from board gifts that were only as high as $3,000 to $5,000 four years ago.

In comparison, Worters says, securing corporate support has been tough.

“The major exception has been Progress Energy, which last fall agreed to give the symphony $350,000 over two years if other corporations match it.

This spring, the challenge started to generate results, including gifts of $30,000, $25,000 and several and $10,000, with another company still considering a request for a $100,000 gift.

Worters also wants to increase the symphony to 85 musicians.

“At 64 musicians, we are never going to be a great orchestra,” he says.

That growth – two seats now are empty – will require an annual budget of $12 million to $14 million, and a $50 million endowment, he says.

The weak stock market has reduced the endowment to nearly $7 million from $8.1 million two years ago.

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