Detroit Symphony Annual Giving Surpasses Goal At 17,4 Mio USD!

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) is back on the read of success – economically as well as artistically. DSO has surpassed its goal of $17 million for annual operational support with $17.4 million in individual, corporate and foundation gifts following the official close of the 2014 fiscal year on August 31, 2014. Individual giving, which saw an increase in every constituency, is owing to the generosity of 10,350 donors who represent the fourth consecutive year of donor base growth.

Home of DSO downtown Detroit

Home of DSO downtown Detroit

“Year after year we are humbled by the outpouring of support from this community,” said DSO President and CEO Anne Parsons. “The health of the DSO as an institution hinges on the generosity of others and thanks to the people of metro Detroit we are proudly on our way to a second consecutive balanced budget year.”

Individual giving increased from every constituency during fourth consecutive year of donor base growth

While overall individual giving grew by 8 percent, board giving grew by 10 percent for a total of $2.3 million. In its inaugural year, the Gabrilowitsch Society ($10,000+ giving club) secured more than 100 members giving a total of $3.3 million. The Governing Members, the DSO’s voting body, grew for the fourth consecutive year reaching 400 members. The Volunteer Council generated $200,000 in support through events and activities. With individual gifts ranging from $1 to $1 million, the median gift was $100.

DSO staff contributed to the Annual Fund with 100 percent participation in response to an anonymous $250,000 challenge grant. Likewise, DSO musicians contributed with an unprecedented leadership gift to the Heroes Gala honoring Dan Gilbert and Matt Cullen. Special events like the one-night-only performance with John Williams and Steven Spielberg, Heroes Gala and Classical Roots generated $1.2 million, a 35 percent increase over special events revenue from 2013.

The DSO is a community-supported orchestra, and strives to also be community supporting. In reciprocation for the support that makes programming possible at the Max M. Fisher Music Center, around metro Detroit and across the world through global webcasts, in FY 2014 DSO staff and musicians donated approximately 5,000 hours of service to the community through a company-wide Day of Service, in-kind event services and engagements at hospitals, schools, libraries and the like.

Multimedia: Topic trends for Orchestras on the internet

Social media – apps, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and many more – are no longer virgin soil for many orchestras and opera houses; or if they are, they will need to adapt, and fast.


Orchestras on the internet

Orchestras on the internet


These media will be key to keep old audiences and reach new ones, develop revenue streams and create powerful marketing opportunities. Digital Concert Hall of the Berlin Phil has been one of the most successful developments in this field (more than 600.000 “likes” on Facebook). But other orchestras are stepping forward, too. For example the Detroit Symphony claims itself with free webcasts as the “most accessible orchestra” in the world. At the same time, however, social media do have their pitfalls and follow their own rules that differ from print media or even Web 1.0 media. While aiming to convey spontaneity, they nonetheless require careful planning, and, as dialogic instruments, must be more than a platform to hand out information.

One has to look specifically at some cases of video trailers, from musicians’ home stories to sneak previews that whet viewers’ appetites for more. But caution: to be successful, media presentations have to be of solid quality – or risk ending up being well-meant rather than well-done. Some orchestras, such as the London Symphony Orchestra or the South Carolina Philharmonic, seem to be ahead in the game: often more relaxed and humorous, their tweets and Instagram posts present the ensembles as accessible and fun, successfully connecting with the mainly young users and dispelling the stuffy image of classical music.

The internet has also transformed ticketing. Booking a ticket has become possible from virtually anywhere, and it often allows a quicker and more convenient selection of seats. Even so, some teething problems remain: print@home tickets require scanner technology not every theatre can afford and the use of ticketing services, in Europe such as CTS Eventim, can increase prices.

Another popular tool is YouTube (for example the London Philharmonic Orchetra amongst many others) in particular. Orchestras reach out to audiences with an attractive age profile (mostly 13 to 35 years), increase the possibilities of direct communication as well as quantitative and qualitative audience research. Yet in Germany and many other central Euopean states hardly any orchestra fully utilises the potential of YouTube, typically offering only a small number of videos and neglecting feedback on user comments.

Detroit Symphony Orchestra reaches Three-Year-Contract-Agreement

Big deal in Detroit: Early, collaborative talks earn unprecedented resolution – 8 months prior to expiration of current contract.

 The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) and its musicians announced the ratification of a new contract today, nearly eight months prior to the current contract’s expiration on Aug. 31, 2014. The new agreement resulted from a remarkably constructive series of as few as nine bargaining meetings, described by Joint Negotiations Committee members as “respectful,” “honest” and “transparent.”


A tentative agreement was reached late Monday evening, Jan. 6.  It was approved by the DSO Board of Directors on Monday, Jan. 13 and ratified by the musicians of the DSO today. The terms of the agreement fit within the parameters outlined in the DSO’s 10 year plan, Blueprint: 2023. This contract represents a turning point in the history of the DSO. The terms prioritize the DSO’s legacy of artistic excellence while continuing to position this organization at the forefront of innovation and accessibility. I want to extend my gratitude to the members of the board, orchestra and staff who led an extraordinarily thoughtful, thorough and constructive negotiations process.

This settlement is testament to the union of all stakeholders coming together to define our new reality while investing together in the future of the DSO and the renaissance of Detroit. This is yet another beacon of success sounding brightly from the Woodward corridor, among other triumphs including attendance records, a balanced budget, our passionate donor base and now this early contract settlement. All of this is made possible by joining together in our One DSO culture: a shared set of values inspiring us to steward the legacy of our beloved organization while innovating a brilliant future.

The agreement between the DSO and the members of Local 5 of the American Federation of Musicians will take effect Sept. 1, 2014 and extend through Aug. 31, 2017. The news comes after a period of negotiations that focused heavily on serving the DSO’s mission of embracing and inspiring individuals, families and communities through unsurpassed musical experiences. The musicians and management also worked collaboratively to reduce health care expenses, in the interest of fiscal responsibility. More concerts at Orchestra Hall, throughout Detroit and across Southeast Michigan will further promote one of the DSO’s chief values: accessibility.

Agreement at-a-glance

•             Contingent of 87, including 2 librarians

•             36 weeks of performances plus 4 weeks of vacation time

•             Total orchestra compensation, inclusive of salary and all benefits, fit within the parameters set forth in Blueprint 2023: over the life of the new contract, the total investment in the musicians of the DSO will increase 5.3 percent over the previous, three-year agreement

•             Most Accessible Orchestra on the Planet: The Integrated Media Agreement, which allowed the DSO to become the first orchestra in the world to offer a series of free live webcasts in 2011, will remain in force

•             Community Engagement Services: DSO musicians’ work at the DMC Children’s Hospital, senior living communities, schools and other community venues will continue through an extension of the “optional work” model provided for in the current contract

•             Neighborhood Residency Initiative: Seven neighborhood residencies established in Beverly Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Canton, Dearborn, Grosse Pointe, Southfield and West Bloomfield Township will continue to serve our patrons across metro Detroit with subscription concerts featuring specialized repertoire and intimate chamber recitals programmed by the musicians themselves

•             Special Events: The orchestra musicians have offered to donate 4 services per year in pursuit of high-profile, revenue-generating performance opportunities


Many US orchestras are in turmoil, except…. Well, except the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The DSO announced on October 8 that its 2013 Annual Fund campaign set a record-breaking pace by raising more than $18.9 million in the fiscal year ending August 31, 2013. This represents a 43 percent increase compared with the 2012 campaign, which raised $13.2 million. Over $6 million of the total came from the exceedingly generous giving of DSO directors and trustees.

Detroit Symphony Hall

Detroit Symphony Hall

An imperative part of the campaign’s success is owing to a rapidly growing donor base that has doubled since the 2011 campaign. In just two years, the DSO giving community has grown from 4,500 to the current 10,250, exceeding 10,000 for the first time in a decade.

Annual fundraising for operations tops $18.9 million, donor base doubles

DSO subscription sales are up for every product, world-wide audiences numbering in the hundreds of thousands tune in to watch live and encore webcasts, a steady stream of talented musicians audition for the chance to earn a prestigious position on the DSO roster.

The DSO has achieved remarkably ambitious fundraising goals, paving the way for the prospect of the first DSO balanced budget since 2007: Corporate and Foundation giving were up 12 percent and 11 percent respectively, totaling $5.9 million, an 11.5 percent increase over the 2012 campaign. Special event fundraising topped $750,000, while the DSO Volunteer Council raised an additional $125,000, both increases over 2012 campaign results.

These fundraising results will continue to position the DSO among the very top echelon of American orchestra campaigns and are a key element of achieving a balanced budget in fiscal year 2013. Although the annual audit will not be finalized until early December, two requisites in reaching a balanced budget (outlined in Blueprint: 2023, the DSO’s 10-year plan revealed at last December’s Annual Meeting) were fundraising of $18.9 million and ticket sales of $6.25 million – revenue targets that were both reached successfully.

The endless classical crisis?

The final day of ABO conference in Leeds on 25 January 2013 gave participants a couple of ideas from outside the orchestra sector.

ABO conferecne in Leeds 2013 - the final day

ABO conferecne in Leeds 2013 – the final day

Alex Ross, author of the book “The Rest is Noise”, Music Critic of the New Yorker, presented an overview of the recent crisis affecting some US orchestras and the wider classical music industry. He pointed out that the talks on the death of classical music might be older than classical music itself…  Of course orchestras are facing severe challenges, there is Baumol’s cost disease, there is a decline of music critics etc. But some orchestras such as in Detroit, Philadelphia or Cleveland are doing better now than before the crisis. Cleveland has boosted the audience of college students as of 20 percent, Detroit is on its way of recovery.

A new problem which arises across the US is how to bring in a new generation of philanthropist. Younger wealthy people don’t want to give money to arts institutions just because they exist. The ongoing question is, how arts organizations have to change in a changing environment. The bios of orchestras and concert halls are linked past repertoire. There has to be a new balance to contemporary music. The “fear of the new” has become bigger: managements are scared by half full halls when putting a Schoenberg piece on the program, audiences are scared not to understand this kind of music (after some 100 years…). But the examples of Micheal Tilson Thomas with the San Francisco Symphony and Esa Pekka Salonen with the LA Phil have shown that is possible to be classical and modern and successful.

Classical music producers of the past have promoted it in a snobbish attitude as “good”, “great” or “serious” music. It has become an elitist, antique art form. The still existing concert rituals, rules, church mentality, when-you-should-clap advices are elements of this phenomenon. To change these images is a real challenge. Music is an art form of extremes: loud – silent, old – new, sad – funny etc. It’s not just another commercial product. Music is relevant to all people. And orchestras have got the chance to make music which they perform more relevant to more people.

Following sessions and discussions highlighted, that there is a gap of as well as a hunger for knowledge on the development of the arts in the 20th century. A good example is the topic Southbank Centre’s program titled: “The Rest is Noise”. Filling this gap and building bridges to other art forms and links to politics and history may be the key to develop orchestra programming and relevance orchestras for the future.

Detroit Symphony – Blueprint of recovery, secrets of success

If an orchestra has been in dire straits, board, management and musicians look out for a new path. How can we manage change? Where are our strengths and our weaknesses? What are our USPs?


It’s amazing to follow the latest development of the Detroit Symphony. After a severe downturn and a long musicians strike recovery is on the way. An interview with DSO Executive Vice President Paul Hogle shows some secrets of success. May be a blueprint of recovery for every orchestra.

Detroit Symphony surpasses fundraising goal – one third over 2011

Really amazing news form the U.S. orchestra sector:  Just 16 months since returning to the stage at historic Orchestra Hall, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) has triumphed not only in meeting its highly ambitious fundraising goal of $12.32 million, but also in surpassing pre-strike annual fund contributions ($11.5 million raised in fiscal year 2010). This is an outstanding success and showcases how a straight and wise management can redevelop the orchestra organization from the scratch.

Home of DSO downtown Detroit

From the DSO press release:

“It is highly unusual for an orchestra’s philanthropic support to rebound so quickly,” said DSO Executive Vice President Paul Hogle. “Our fundraising success this year is a testament to metro Detroit citizens and how strongly they believe in the DSO’s bright future. Now more than ever, we are so very proud to call ourselves a community-supported orchestra.”

Number of donors doubled since 2010 pre-strike level

These extraordinary results represent remarkable increases in giving, as well as a dramatic expansion of the DSO donor base. The current number of donors stands at 9,287, which is 15 percent higher than the abbreviated 2010-11 season and a 100 percent increase over the 2009-10 campaign. Among these new donors are 130 new Governing Members, (voting members of the organization who give $2,500 or more) bringing the roster of this new group to 271 in only its second year.

Board giving accounts for $2.1 million of the total amount raised with the average board gift at about $25,000. Corporate fundraising levels have returned to that of the 2009-10 season with a $390,000 increase over last season, representing 25 percent growth. The net contribution from projects of the Volunteer Council earned $93,678, which is nearly $30,000 over goal.

The goal for donations related to special events was crushed by a whopping 122 percent, grossing $1.3 million thanks to such wildly successful fundraisers as the annual Classical Roots gala and concert, this year honoring Dr. Arthur Johnson; the season-end Heroes Gala, dedicated to board member Lloyd Reuss; and a very special sold-out, one-night-only performance with Kid Rock.

The DSO 2013 annual fund campaign, with a goal of $12.865 million, is now under way.

Meanwhile other US orchestras are in dire straits: Atlanta Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphony, San Antonio Symphony etc.