Richmond Symphony awarded $500,000…but there’s a catch

A good chunk of change is heading the Richmond Symphony’s way. The only catch: the Symphony has to raise money in order to get the check.

The Richmond Symphony has won a $500,000 grant from The Cabell Foundation, a Richmond-based philanthropic organization. But the grant comes with a catch: the Symphony will need to raise $500,000 on its own to secure the grant money.

Executive Director of the Richmond Symphony, David Fisk, said “We’re delighted and really grateful” to win the challenge grant. He said the money will bring with it “both a short-term and long-term benefit.”

Most immediately, the grant motivates the Symphony to reach out to the community for support, a key principal of the Cabell grant. “There’s nothing quite as invigorating as a challenge grant,” Fisk said. “It will really help us leverage new support.” The Symphony has until June 30th, 2014 to raise the matching money. Money it has already earmarked.

The Symphony works off a $4.5 million annual budget, said Fisk, and “we have to raise pretty much all of it.” Although the Symphony has a $12 million endowment, from which it annually withdraws about five percent ($600,000), most of its revenue comes from roughly 30 unique funding ventures.

Fundraising is so vital, said Fisk, because ticket prices for Symphony events cover just 30 percent of concert costs. Corporate sponsorships, foundation partnerships, federal and state funds, individual donations, and more help recoup the remaining 70 percent. The Symphony will likely intensify it’s vital fundraising measures to earn the $500,000 needed to secure the grant. That’s where the long-term benefits come in.

If the Symphony successfully raises the $500,000 it needs, Fisk said the subsequently awarded grant money will go towards creating an additional endowment “for artistic excellence…to help us recruit and retain musicians.” The Symphony will annually withdraw from the new endowment to pay musicians, bring in guest conductors, and more. “It’s a very helpful contribution,” Fisk said, one he hopes ensures the Symphony’s long-term artistic success. But before the Symphony can allocate the would-be endowment funds, it has to raise money. A lot of money. Luckily, this is an opportune time of year to start.

December is one of the most important fundraising months for the Richmond Symphony. Fisk said the Symphony typically sees “more support in December than any other month.” He said this is likely because the holiday season inspires individuals to donate to nonprofits, and that it “coincides with the end of the 2012 tax year,” when people are more inclined to give tax-deductible donations.

Fisk said the Richmond Symphony has fared well with community donations amid the economic uncertainty of recent years. A major boon was the opening of the downtown Carpenter Theater (also known as CenterStage) three years ago, which gave the Symphony a renovated and restored historic playhouse.

“We were very lucky that CenterStage opened in 2009 because it gave us a lift in ticket sales,” roughly 30 percent over the previous year. “Single ticket sales have gone up consistently every year” since. That comes, in part, “because we have tried to keep the prices affordable.”

Tickets to concerts can begin as low as $10 for adults. The Symphony also makes a concerted effort to appeal to a younger audience by offering free tickets. “We think it’s important to provide kids under the age of 18” with a free performance, Fisk said, whether at the Masterworks performances or at the children-centric LolliPops series. “We want people to come.”

Not only does the Symphony have to compete with entertainment alternatives like television, movies, and the Web, but other in-town performance organizations, like Broadway in Richmond, which will bring shows like Les Miserables, West Side Story, and Anthony Bourdain to town in the coming months. “We try to be smart about not clashing” with other events, said Fisk. But this friendly competition also has benefits. “The more reasons we offer people to come downtown,” the more likely everyone will succeed.

The only symphony in Central Virginia, the Richmond Symphony has a presence beyond that of city limits. In addition to staging concerts in nearby Henrico, Hanover, and Chesterfield counties, Fisk said the Symphony is “looking to build our presence in certain areas” beyond those counties. He said the Symphony will look to stage performances in places like New Kent, Powhatan, and others. Fisk believes that providing a large portion of Central Virginia with “the power of live orchestral music” will, in turn, inspire public donations. All of which will go towards reaching the $500,000 needed to secure the Cabell grant. Does Fisk believe the Symphony can raise the money? He does.

“I think Richmond is very generous and I think the Symphony is viewed as a very important civic institution,” he said. “Our mission is to perform, teach, and champion music…we take it very seriously.” He hopes Richmond feels the same way.

People can view the Richmond Symphony’s upcoming events, and donate, on its website.

photo courtesy of the Richmond Symphony

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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