Do The Symphony’s Financial Woes Raise Red Flags for Arts Fundraising?

The Nashville Symphony was quiet last week about its efforts to rework tens of millions of dollars of debt.  Other nonprofits raising money for the arts are watching – closely.  Many rely on the same pool of donors for much of their funding.

Suppose the symphony’s financial trouble pulls heavily from a short list of big donors: It would mean less money left for other causes, right?  That’s not how it’s likely to play out, says Pete Bird, president of the Frist Foundation.  Bird doubts many big donors are flocking to the symphony’s aid right now.  He says they’re like investors, in that they don’t want to hand over money as a bailout.

Anyway Bird says a major gift might run to the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the symphony’s debt is a lot bigger – around a hundred million.

“Major donors would tend to hang back and say ‘let’s let the dust settle on the major conflict, and then we’ll see where smaller amounts of money can make a difference.’”

Several Nashville fundraisers in the arts preferred not to talk on the record.  Lewis Lavine with the Center for Nonprofit Management says they’d probably do well to stick with a positive message and not discuss the symphony.  Both Lavine and Bird also emphasized a deal could be on the way.

Arts managers will be watching, Bird says, not just because they share many of the same donors, but because they’re also arts fans.  They want the symphony to succeed, he says.


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