NY Philharmonic Recruits Midlife Supporters With New Group

Published by The Wall Street Journal
Writtan by Jennifer Smith

The New York Philharmonic is testing a new fundraising strategy aimed at the next generation of board members: midlife music lovers who want a voice in the orchestra’s future.

On Thursday, the Philharmonic announced the formation of a new group called the President’s Council that offers leadership and networking opportunities to patrons who don’t yet have the time—or the funds—to serve as trustees. Minimum contribution to join: $10,000.

The council is tailored for supporters who fall between the Philharmonic’s 40-and-under patrons and members of the moneyed, largely older crowd who serve on its board. The goal is to stay connected with them at a time when career or family demands can squeeze out time for philanthropy.

“How do we create something that is stimulating, gives us the opportunity to tap into their expertise, their contacts, in the time that they do have to give?” said the orchestra’s president, Matthew VanBesien.

Council members could advise the board on digital and educational initiatives, for example, or on marketing to raise the orchestra’s profile.

“This is the board bridge,” said real-estate broker Amanda Brainerd, a co-chairwoman of the new group and a daughter of Philharmonic chairman  Oscar S. Schafer. “You’re trying to seize that audience, between the octogenarian concertgoers and the younger party attendees.”

The concept isn’t entirely new.

Several years ago, the Metropolitan Opera created a new board level for midlife donors, who give $25,000 and attend some board meetings. Two have since leapfrogged up to the Met’s main board.

But the Philharmonic’s new council is more of a stand-alone group, as opposed to a subset of the main board.

Nancy Raybin, a senior consultant and principal with the consulting firm Marts & Lundy, which advises nonprofits on fundraising, said smart organizations look to recruit trustees with a record of involvement. Targeting people “with a reasonable amount of wealth who don’t have a lot of time” makes sense, she said, “so that as they mature there’s a history.”

The bait at the Philharmonic: access to its well-connected trustees and artistic leadership, as well as to musical stars such as violin virtuoso  Joshua Bell.

Earlier this year Mr. Bell, a trustee, hosted a launch for the council at his home, performing an intimate concert for a group of 50 or so potential members. Over the next year, the orchestra hopes to grow the group to 20 to 25 people.

The initiative comes at a pivotal time for the Philharmonic on several fronts.

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