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New arts-fund chief aims to keep the beat

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Scott Provancher

Scott Provancher

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As a student studying percussion at the Eastman School of Music, Scott Provancher says, he learned a musician’s job is “trying to communicate” and becoming “part of an orchestra or band to get people excited and make them feel good about what you’re doing.”

As a fundraiser and leader at professional orchestras and arts funds, he says, he has put those lessons into practice, spending “a lot of time ensuring that you’re connecting with your potential donors, connecting with the community and shaping your strategy based on that feedback.”

Provancher says listening and communicating will be critical in his new job as president of the Arts & Science Council, which made big cuts this year in its staff and benefits and in the funds it distributes to arts and culture groups after its annual fund drive earlier this year fell 31 percent short of its $11.2 million goal.

Marketing and communication are “extremely important in delivering the message, as well as getting feedback from donors that you can’t do one on one,” says Provancher, who joined the council July 13.

With 29,000 donors, it will not be possible at the council “within the restraints of the normal cost of fundraising to personally meet every single one of them,” he says.

In his three years as vice president and campaign director at the Fine Arts Fund in Cincinnati, the oldest and largest united arts and fundraising organization in the U.S., Provancher says, the group developed strategies to use social media, email and events “to find ways to connect people and get them engaged.”

A key goal, he says, was to stimulate people who gave to the arts to also attend arts events.

“It’s not just about the giving,” he says. “It’s also about the going.”

The Fine Arts Fund, for example, offered givers who gave $75 a card that provided them with discounts to arts events.

It also targeted communications to them about arts events based on information they had provided about themselves, their families and their particular interests in the arts.

The result: Givers who used the discount card and began to attend arts events made gifts twice as large, on average, as they previously had made.

The Fine Arts Fund also created a “Young Friends of the Arts” group for people age 40 and under who gave at least $250 to the Fine Arts Fund.

That group grew to over 500 members in its first two years.

Provencher says he hopes to build on similar efforts already underway in Charlotte, where he says a key challenge will be to build “positive momentum and optimism for what’s possible in the future” in the face of the economic downturn, and understand “how our business needs to change moving forward to be successful.”

That will require listening to key constituents, analyzing the organization’s business and finances and “getting the right brains around the table to solve the problem,” he says.

“No one person can solve all the problems of an organization and develop the right vision without getting the right team,” including staff, community leaders and board members, he says.

He took a similar approach when he was hired in 2003 as executive director of the Louisville Orchestra, which at the time faced a $700,000 deficit on an annual operating budget of $7.5 million. .

When he left in 2006 to join the Fine Arts Fund in Cincinnati, the orchestra had restructured its finances, cut $1 million in spending and balanced its budget, and avoided bankruptcy, Provancher says.

The Arts & Science Council has a “solid base of really talented, smart individuals already engaged in solving the problem,” he says. “My job is to keep the momentum, keep the optimism.”

Classically trained as a percussionist, Provancher says, he still practices and looks for opportunities to play.

“Anything you can hit,” he says, “I can beat the sound out of it.”

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