Argosy Matching Challenge Builds Strong Annual Foundation for MSO Success

David Lewellen

Tagged Under: 2017.18 Season, Donor Profile, Support

Shovels are in the ground and construction has begun at the Warner Grand Theater, the MSO’s new concert venue. Patrons and supporters may be asking “How can I help?” One of the best ways to help the symphony is to support the MSO’s Annual Fund. And right now, your donations can make double the impact.

This year, as in the past eight years, the Argosy Foundation is offering a challenge grant, matching new or increased donations to the orchestra up to $250,000. But the MSO’s donor community has gone far beyond that figure. Last year the total for the Just Duet campaign was just over $940,000, and this year the symphony is hoping for $1 million.

During the campaign, which has recently been extended through August 31, “donors get excited about the possibility of doubling their gift,” said Will Loder, the MSO’s Annual Fund manager. “The challenge has acted as a catalyst for even more.” The symphony has noticed a pattern of donors giving one gift before the end of the year and another in the spring, increasing their amount in order to get the Argosy match.

“It has outgrown the match,” said Karli Larsen, director of development operations. “Our donors continually beat our wildest expectations.”

Concertgoers who come to the symphony in May or June are likely to hear a musician deliver an appeal from the stage for Just Duet funds, and “the musicians have done a great job,” Loder said. “Patrons enjoy hearing their stories.” Larsen agreed, “They share a bit of the MSO’s story, talking about what they do besides playing concerts.”

Philip Blank, one of the MSO’s longtime donors, makes sure to give an increased gift every year to benefit from the Argosy match. He and his late wife, Beatrice, endowed the orchestra’s English horn chair, now held by Margaret Butler. “I met her at a talkback, and she gave me a nice hug,” he said. Blank, who played the oboe many years ago at Shorewood High School, also met Music Director Laureate Edo de Waart, who started his career as a professional oboist, “and I’d say, ‘Anyone who played the oboe can’t be all bad.’”

Blank attended the MSO’s first-ever concert in 1959, and his most vivid memory is that he was underdressed – he wore a sport coat and tie, and most of the men in the audience wore tuxedos.

Carol Petersen and her husband Gerald have been MSO subscribers and donors for more than 30 years, and have also included the symphony in their will. But every spring, they give an extra gift as part of the Just Duet campaign. The Petersens have switched to a Sunday afternoon subscription in recent years, but she said, “I hope we’re still driving enough to get to the new hall” when it opens in 2020.

The campaign supports the symphony’s annual operating budget of about $18 million; the fund drive for the new concert hall and increased endowment is a totally separate category.

The Argosy grant is “not an automatic thing at all. We apply for it every year,” said Dawn Baity, the MSO’s development communication manager. “We use it to leverage new and increased giving, increase our donor base, and engage new areas of the community. It’s a gateway for deeper connection to the orchestra. That’s always been its intended purpose.”

Baity said the symphony is in the midst of a study on the retention rate of Just Duet donors and their involvement: “Are they buying tickets, are they getting involved in other ways? That’s the spirit of the funding.”

Because the supply of new donors in the community is finite, “at some point it will level off,” Baity said. “But it’s become kind of a pattern – people wait for the Argosy Just Duet announcement to make their gift. It helps the orchestra post-season to have that going on. And we’re trying to see if we can get to that million-dollar mark.”