How Opera Companies Can Survive the Economic Downturn

by Rose Betty on November 29, 2008

Opera Companies Need Volunteers, Part 2

By Rose Betty Williams

Support groups provide an excellent source for prospective donors and an even better source for innovative and successful fundraising campaigns.

Opera companies should give their support groups a chance to run with their ideas.

Who knows the pulse of the community better than the volunteer base? They know what works, what’s in and usually who to go to for whatever is needed.

Given respect and shown trust, opera volunteers can be superb ambassadors for their companies. Their enthusiasm and their “insider knowledge” about productions become “hooks” to bring in more subscribers and future donors.

Conversely, they can also be the worst ambassadors.

If they feel mistreated, abused, overlooked or ignored, opera volunteers will not give their companies the kind of positive visibility and energy necessary to raise funds and awareness.

The Orange County Register article (read below) quotes David DiChiera, Opera Pacific’s founding general director as saying that the company may not have put down strong enough roots in the community.

“I think we had built such a wonderful volunteer base in that first decade … a dining chapter, a tennis chapter. These people did what they liked but they did it for the company, and they raised money.” DiChiera said, adding that Opera Pacific also instituted wide ranging educational outreach programs.

“That becomes kind of the bedrock of all the good things that you put onstage.”

The article notes that DiChiera’s successor, Patrick Veitch, who served for just 15 months, put an end to many of these programs.

It seems that when companies face deficits, they mistakenly assume their major donors will make up the difference. They also often limit their volunteer base – their guilds and leagues – from doing what they do best – raising awareness and funds. Furthermore, sometimes those “in charge” make decisions unilaterally, without the input of the volunteer base and yet with the expectation that the volunteers will follow what they are told to do and not to do.

Individuals join opera guilds and leagues because they enjoy the camaraderie of others who share their interest in opera. They volunteer because they want productions of the highest quality and because they want them produced in their own backyard.

Therefore, it makes sense to empower volunteers with the tools and the latitude to realize these honorable goals.

For example, opera volunteers can manage their money (with checks and balances in place), go into schools as docents and public venues as speakers (prepared with comprehensive training by “opera professionals”) and organize events, programs and projects that appeal to them (in ticket cost and in theme –golf tournaments, home tours, musical concerts, you name it) .

Opera volunteers build audiences, reach new audiences, raise money, contribute time, talent, energy and skill and tap potential donors.

“When you don’t have enough of those people, and then they’re hit as hard as this economy has hit people, fragile organizations will perish and we will not be the last,” warns Opera Pacific’s CEO Bob Jones.

We can learn from Opera Pacific. Opera volunteers are essential to opera company survival, particularly in these challenging economic times.

See also: Opera director Gockley addresses money matters

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Marian Wright January 5, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Very well said, Rose Betty.

Our opera, Opera Company of Middlebury, will produce its sixth opera (Barber of Seville) in June.

We are a very small company with, so far, small budgets. Amazingly enough, we are still in the black. Will we still be in the black after our next opera? We will see.

I turned over the presidency of OCM to our vice president and I am now embarking on forming a guild for our opera company.

Do you have any suggestions for me for this venture.

Hope all is well with you and yours, Rose Betty. Do you still play tennis?

Marian Wright (aka Whitwell)

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