Have a Listen: San Francisco Symphony
Robert Lasher is director of development for the San Francisco Symphony, an organization supported by 11,274 individual donors and 173 corporations and foundations.
FundRaising Success: How does your organization raise funds?
Robert Lasher: Historically, the Symphony has been strong in several regards. It has been a leader in performing arts in terms of encouraging individual giving both at the broadest level in terms of general support through a telefund or direct mail [campaign] and then has been fairly pioneering with the higher level gift clubs, so that has put our annual fund in a really strong position as a percentage of the overall revenue, but also in terms of being poised to grow each year through the success of the different levels of the gift club — one feeding into the other. And I think that one aspect of that that’s been differentiating is the really instrumental role historically that volunteers have played in our program. Each of our campaigns, whether they be the Friends campaign, which is donors $60 to $1500, or Maestro’s Circle, which is $10,000 and higher, each have a committee of volunteers with really strong leadership and really strong succession that are facilitating peer to peer solicitations and identifying prospects for the next level of movement to the next level of leadership in the annual fund.
FS: What are some challenges your organization face?
RL: I think one challenge one always has is that costs keep rising, the budget keeps rising, so you’ve got to always be building your annual fund. … I think historically a lot of different organizations have been pretty siloed in the fact that their annual fund is separate from their planned-giving program, which is separate from their corporate program. And what we’ve really tried to do is look for opportunities to build relationships really broadly. And so if our corporate leader comes in as an individual donor, we’ll work with that person to see if they can involve their employees or their company as a corporate supporter. Or if an individual comes in as a donor to the annual fund and has a particular kind of record, we’re also encouraging them to think about estate planning with the Symphony in mind.
FS: What kind of advice do you have for arts organizations in terms of their fundraising efforts?
RL: Always look at your plan and don’t just execute what you did last year but really look hard at what worked and what didn’t and make sure that you’re learning from that and applying that in the year ahead. The second thing is just know your audience. Know what people are thinking. Be out there as much as you can in terms of relationship building and learning more about your donors and keep really good systems where you maintain that information and keep adding it with the number of contacts. I think that you really need to look hard at [ROI] and make sure that the return on your list is successful, but also look at ways that people that attend events could then be brought into the other parts, the more sustaining elements of the development structure. So if someone attends an event and has a really positive experience, are you able to visit them within three months after the event, build a relationship with a development officer, and make a case for annual fund support as well?