As a beloved cultural institution in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra (NSO) needs no introduction. Since 1962, the NSO has been helping to foster an appreciation of orchestral music with their 25+ performances each year, cultural experiences, educational activities for youth and more. As the only orchestra, and the largest employer of professional musicians, in the province, the organization has helped create an environment in which musicians of all levels can thrive – while delighting audiences near and far with memorable and spellbinding performances.
But even organizations as respected and renowned as the NSO need to promote themselves and cultivate relationships to help further their work. This is one of many lessons that the organization, along with 10 others, are learning through Business & Arts’ ArtSupport NL program, which has been helping groups to strengthen their fundraising practices and build donor engagement. This week on the blog, Hugh Donnan, CEO with the NSO, shares his experience.
Business & Arts NL: Why, initially, was the NSO interested in participating in the ArtSupport NL program?
Hugh Donnan: The Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, while it is one of the longest running arts organizations in NL, is still a relatively small organization with only three full-time administrative staff. When I saw the ArtSupport NL program, it seemed like a fantastic opportunity to receive training and mentoring in how we could better conceive, execute and evaluate our fundraising, marketing and other programs. It also seemed a great way to be able to bring together so many of this province’s finest arts organizations in one room – to talk, share ideas and experiences and help us all to grow collectively. It certainly proved to be all of that and more. From the initial training, to the mentoring portion of the program, to the great new relationships I have developed with peers from organizations like Perchance and the Resource Centre for the Arts, the program has impacted so much of my daily work with the NSO.
Business & Arts NL: What’s one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned thus far over the course of the program?
HD: Wow – hard to really boil it down to one lesson. But for me, the biggest take away is that we need to do a better job of selling ourselves. Not just at the Orchestra, but all of the arts organizations in NL. We have so much to offer, and we all work so hard to protect and further the artistic spirit in this province and showcase it to the country and the world. In our specific case, through working with my mentor Rosalie, I have learned to look inside the NSO and to really evaluate who we are, what makes us unique and how do we impact the people, communities and organizations around us. Our impact is not only on the stage and in classrooms – it is how we employ musicians, it is how we bring together artists and collaborate. All of this sets us apart as an important cultural and artistic institution, and I am definitely working to make sure we explain this in everything we do in the future.
Business & Arts NL: Are there any important takeaways from this program that you’d like to share with other arts organizations?
HD: Again, there are a lot of takeaways. One key item for me was that I need to put in the time on developing my fundraising base. We can all be so easily caught up in the whirlwind of events, concerts, emails – but it is important to take time to look at the mid and long term for the organization. How can I begin today to sew the seeds of a future relationship with a potential donor or patron? How can we create and display value to our patrons which keep them coming back and giving to the organization? Essentially, through the program I gained a new appreciation for the value of these relationships – those with long-term patrons as well as new ones.
I also gained a great deal of insight into the importance of research. There are lots of funding avenues out there, and through the program I definitely have a new appreciation for how we can use funding from groups like foundations, corporate donors and other groups.
Overall, the program really energized me – aside from building a new case for support, I feel that the mentoring Rosalie provided and the initial training program really gave me a new confidence of how I can go out into the community and promote my organization and the important work we are doing. I am already seeing this paying off with new relationships, as well as closer relationships with some of my key sponsors and our biggest supporters. Many thanks to Business & Arts NL and all of the partners who made this invaluable program a reality!