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Indy symphony has a lot riding on $5m fund drive

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra could fall short of the millions it says it needs to fulfill a contract it negotiated with musicians after a five-week lockout last fall.

The symphony reported Tuesday that it had raised $3.2 million of the $5 million it set as a fundraising goal. That raises the possibility that the group could have to reopen negotiations with its musicians, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal.

Under a deal between the symphony and musicians, a five-year contract is to kick in if the symphony raises $5 million during a three-month campaign that is scheduled to end Feb. 3. The $5 million target is almost as much as the symphony raises in a typical year.

“We’re going to need a lot of hard effort to get there,” said Martha Lamkin, president of the ISO board.

Lamkin expressed confidence the symphony would reach the goal. The symphony is still processing hundreds of contributions, and the organization has not included a $500,000 matching donation in the total, she said.

If the group falls short of the goal, negotiators could be forced to reopen contract talks. Another option allows symphony officials to lower the goal if they don’t think they will reach it but are comfortable with what they’ve raised, said Rick Graef, lead negotiator for the American Federation of Musicians Local 3 union, which represents more than 70 symphony musicians.

“They reserve the right to basically call off that dollar amount cap,” Graef said. “They can say $3 million is enough, $4 million is enough.”

The lockout began in early September after previous contracts expired and ISO officials told the union they couldn’t afford to continue paying musicians at their current rates.

The five-year agreement calls for cutting starting pay from $78,000 a year to $53,000, then gradually restoring it to $70,000 by 2017. It would achieve that savings largely by reducing the number of weeks the orchestra performs and using outside performers, who are less expensive, for the remaining shows.

The symphony has struggled under years of operating deficits. It lost $900,000 in the fiscal year that ended in August, down from a $1.7 million deficit the year before. Officials reduced the deficit by drawing 13 percent from its endowment, a level experts say is nearly three times what it should withdraw.

The symphony typically raises about $6.5 million a year but wants to increase that amount to $12.6 million by 2017.

The $5 million campaign to jumpstart that effort is a departure from fundraising practices typically used by nonprofit groups, said Robert Swaney, an Indianapolis consultant who specializes in fundraising at arts organizations.

Such groups often line up large donations that can amount to half the goal to build momentum before publicly announcing their fundraising campaigns.

Swaney said he’s never seen a campaign like the symphony’s three-month blitz.

“This thing is a very tight, very compressed effort that didn’t have momentum going into it,” said Swaney, who runs Robert Swaney Consulting LLC. “So normal rules don’t apply.”

The ISO says it is focusing on new donors to broaden its financial support. Board members, managers and musicians have been tapping contacts for large donations, and the symphony has used an advertising campaign and other outreach efforts to bring in smaller gifts from new contributors.

“We’ve received more than a thousand pledges and donations from people all over the central Indiana region, for which we are so grateful,” Lamkin said in a statement. She said the symphony would continue to reach out to individuals and businesses for multi-year pledges and gifts “so that the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s future is secure.”

Colts owner Jim Irsay and Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon each committed $750,000 to the new effort. Symphony board member Yvonne Shaheen has promised up to $500,000 if new donors can match the amount.

Graef, a French horn player, said he hopes the symphony reaches its goal.

“I hope they have more money up their sleeve,” he said. “If we don’t make it, I have a feeling they don’t want to go back to locking us out.”

Swaney said lowering the fundraising goal could erode donor confidence in the symphony as a financial steward of their money.

“To be as public as they were and advertise it in the way they advertise it, then to come back and say, ‘We didn’t hit it,’ that could be particularly damaging to them,” he said.



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