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Symphony endowment drive underway

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By Todd Cohen

Aiming to raise $50 million for endowment over 10 years so it can expand by nearly a third, the North Carolina Symphony has raised $5.5 million since it began actively soliciting gifts in May.

Thanks to those gifts, the Symphony plans to add three new chairs next year, bringing its total to 68, up six from two years ago and closer to its goal of 82.

“The goal is to successfully transform the orchestra into a major American orchestra,” says David Chambless Worters, CEO and president.

The Symphony also has named Michael Guillot, director of development at the WakeMed Foundation, as vice president for development, and has retained Hartsook Companies in Wichita, Kan., as campaign counsel.

For the past year, Hartsook has worked with the Symphony to chart its expansion plan, and helped it develop internal processes such as gift-acceptance policies, that the effort will require.

Solicitations of fewer than a dozen donors account for the endowment gifts the Symphony has secured so far, Worters says.

And rather than the deferred gifts he had expected, most of the gifts so far have been current “program” gifts because “donors want to see the orchestra grow and improve right now,” he says.

With the cost of a new chair ranging from $1.25 million to $1.5 million, Worters aims to use program gifts and revenue growth to pay for new chairs until donors endow them.

He also wants to make sure that the endowment campaign does not divert donors from making contributions to pay for annual operations and programs.

So in soliciting donors for endowment gifts, he says, the Symphony also is asking them to consider supplementing those gifts with multi-year pledges to the organization’s annual fund.

As a result, Worters says, the $5.5 million raised in recent months has consisted of endowment gifts, program gifts, estate gifts and long-term commitments to the annual fund.

And three new chairs added and September 2005, and funded at the time for only two to three years, now are funded through 2011.

The number of chairs has grown from 62 as recently as two years ago, when Grant Llewellyn was named music director.

Llewellyn recently signed a contract through June 2012, an extension that likely helped the effort to secure the recent gifts, Worters says.

Ticket sales grew to just over $3.2 million from nearly $2.5 million in the first two years of Llewellyn’s contract, Worters says, with new buyers of season tickets generating 20 percent or more of that growth.

This year, while ticket revenues have grown only slightly, the Symphony has retained the revenue gains of the past two years, Worters says.

And with Baby Boomers moving into the prime of their lives, and looking for cultural enrichment as they find they have more free time, he says, “the next 10 to 20 years could be incredible for symphony orchestras.”

Worters also expects the Symphony to sign a contract for a commercial compact disc within two years, and to tour beyond North Carolina and possibly overseas in three to four years.

Also critical to the effort to build and transform the Symphony will be a more attractive compensation package for its musicians, Worters says

The Symphony next spring will begin negotiations with members of Local 500 of the American Federation of Musicians for a new contract to replace the four-year pact that expires late next summer and sets a minimum weekly scale of $1,152.

“You want to recruit the best,” he says, “and you want to keep the best.”

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