Musicians Make the Best Arts Fundraisers

Former Boston Symphony CEO Mark Volpe has co-edited and contributed to a new textbook called Fundraising for the Arts

By Laurence Vittes | From the July-August 2023 issue of Strings Magazine

Former Boston Symphony CEO Mark Volpe has co-edited—with Francesca Pecoraro and Alex Turrini—and contributed to a timely new textbook called Fundraising for the Arts, scheduled at press time for publication this summer by the University of Bocconi in Milan. The 325-page book, based on a series of topic-specific video panel discussions between Bocconi students and alumni during the pandemic, targets students in arts management programs in the United States and Europe as well as early and midcareer practitioners. According to the editors, there hasn’t been a similar book published in 45 years. It has already been adopted in course studies at Eastman and a number of Italian universities.

The editors describe fundraising for the arts as a “sophisticated and competitive profession that attracts talented and dedicated leaders who wish to use their skills to contribute to a secure financial future for their organizations.” What makes this particularly germane to string players is that orchestra cutbacks forced during the pandemic have not been entirely rolled back to pre-pandemic levels, even in some first-tier orchestras. “But there are no clarinet players losing jobs,” Volpe points out in a video interview. “They’re almost all string jobs. So, you have all these incredible string players coming out of the various music schools—what are they going to do?”

Mark Volpe
Mark Volpe. Photo: Marco Borggreve

One answer is fundraising. In fact, Volpe says, “Musicians make outstanding fundraisers because of the relationships they develop with their audience over the years. Musicians underestimate the inspirational power they have. And this is important because donors to orchestras are usually people who have attended concerts and need to be inspired—want to be inspired—to give, rather than giving for social or peer-pressure reasons. Ultimately,” Volpe adds, “musicians should be expected to have a presence in the community. It could be press or marketing, but in all likelihood, there’s going to be a development component.” Also known as fundraising.


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One of the most striking takeaways from our conversation was the size and impact of indirect funding for the arts in the US through the 501c3 exemption from federal taxes. “If you quantify the indirect subsidy of US taxpayers to the arts,” Volpe says, “it’s a staggering amount of money. It’s a change from the conventional wisdom that we lag behind Europe in supporting the arts.”

Didier Schnorhk, secretary general of the Concours de Genève (featuring the string quartet this October), is well aware of the “huge amount of support to the arts through the 501c3 system. Actually, under Swiss law, the Concours is something like your entities under 501c3. We also benefit from local government subsidies—although nothing from the federal government—and a strong tradition of supporting the arts, which nobody thinks seriously of changing. The question is more: who should we give the money to? The Concours has 45 percent of its budget financed by public funds. We have to find 55 percent of the budget from private foundations, donors, friends, societies, etc., and, of course, ticketing and sales.”

Francesca Pecoraro
Francesca Pecoraro. Photo: Nico Nocera

In Utrecht, Rob Hilberink, director of the Liszt Competition, says that the Netherlands has a similar scheme added to government subsidies. “It’s called ANBI, and it allows private donors to deduct taxes for 125 percent of their donations. And private foundations are completely tax-exempted. Still,” he admits, “private donations here are but a small fraction of what they are in the US.”


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The importance of fundraising has increased since the pandemic so much that Kim Noltemy, CEO of the Dallas Symphony, who also contributed to the new book, says, “The success of any organization and its relationships with key stakeholders, particularly the board, is greatly influenced by the fundraising team. This is particularly true now, since most nonprofits are depending more and more on raising money rather than earning revenue—a trend that was made worse by the pandemic. This new sense of shared ownership of the fundraising responsibilities, and its influence on everything from artistic planning and marketing, is an important shift in the industry.”

Concerning the organizational dynamics of creating a culture of philanthropy, Noltemy says that “the performing arts need a more audience-centric perspective. Donors are a subset of the audience, and ensuring that they are treated and acknowledged as true stakeholders is critical to creating a culture of philanthropy. In addition, having supporters connected to, educated about, and invested in the organization creates strong relationships that last a lifetime.”


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Alex Turrini
Alex Turrini. Photo courtesy of SMU

Notelmy describes careers in fundraising for the arts as offering “unique combinations of passion for the art form, the ability to connect with people from many backgrounds, and sales and strategic visioning. Musicians are brilliant athletes who work their entire lives to be their best. Most also share their art through teaching the next generations. Each time they perform, they nourish the souls of their listeners. And no matter which side of the footlights you’re on, nothing is more thrilling than hearing the excited roar of applause at the end of a great concert. We have seen time and again that the more the musicians engage and connect with potential and existing donors, the more excited these people become about supporting the organization.”

Meanwhile, Volpe had been in Italy recently, teaching Ph.D. candidates in economics in Rome but also lecturing on arts management in Bologna, Milan, and Venice. “They wanted me to lecture on fundraising, because all of a sudden, it’s relevant and important to talk about a culture of philanthropy. They don’t have individual giving yet—but that’s starting to happen.”

And now they have a book to follow.