QUIET ONES MAKE SURE CURTAINS RISE
They are a special breed who may well represent the cream of the crop in the public relations field. Their names rarely appear in the paper, but they get a lot of other people’s names in print.
Unknown in the general community, they usually rank second or third in an arts company’s chain of command, but they are essential to its continued existence.
They are comfortable in corporate board rooms and on the black-tie party circuit. They are versed in their artistic product, though they also know their way around an income statement.
They are called development directors. Their job is to raise 30% to 60% of their organizations’ budgets. In San Diego that can range from about $150,000 at the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre to more than $2 million at the San Diego Symphony.
The Old Globe Theatre’s Cassie Solomon-Hay, who studied business at Yale, has to raise $1.9 million of this year’s $6.5-million Globe budget. She is adding two full-time temporary positions to her staff of six. The new staffers are needed because the theater must raise more than $1.6 million over the next three years to match a recent National Endowment for the Arts grant.
“I tell the applicants the pace is bad and sometimes it gets worse,” Solomon-Hay said. On Wednesday, her own schedule was pretty intense, beginning with a 7:30 a.m. meeting of the theater’s executive committee.
The rest of the day was spent primarily in meetings, including lunch, that ranged from a session with Globe Managing Director Tom Hall and the president of the Globe’s 1,000-member auxiliary organization, to meetings with Globe board members and a representative of an arts-funding foundation.
At 6 p.m., Solomon-Hay was host to a backstage tour and dinner for 20 for the Touche Ross & Co. before a performance of the play “Emily.” Early and late meetings are the rule for development directors because they often work with volunteers.
“Technically, we’re a support staff,” Solomon-Hay said. “The board of directors really raises most of the money. We tend to be managers of the process.”
Wining and dining can be part of a five-phase process in which private and corporate arts patrons are identified, researched, cultivated, solicited and thanked. Board members are of signal importance in the process.
Board members often invite a targeted patron to attend a performance or, in the case of museums, visit an art exhibit. The ultimate request for a donation often involves a combination of the board and staff members.
San Diego Museum of Art development director Rick Abbott sees no reason why people would hand a check over to him. Instead, depending on the size of a donation, museum director Steven Brezzo, deputy director Jane Rice or a trustee will actually ask for and accept the donation.
However, the development director generally stays on top of the process and helps with the meetings.
“When it comes to the final asking, we like to be the quiet people in the back,” Abbott said.
(Abbott and the museum have been preparing to launch a major fund-raising campaign to double the museum’s $8-million endowment fund. Abbott said the campaign, to begin next month, will last two years.)
Acknowledgment of a donation can range from a simple thank-you letter to a full-blown public relations campaign in the case of a company that has underwritten a major arts event.
Then the process starts over again. “If you’re successful, you’ll build a relationship that will last--instead of strip-mining,” Solomon-Hay said.
The board of directors plays an important function in fund-raising, which must be an efficient process.
“I think nonprofit organizations are being managed more in a Japanese style than for-profit businesses,” Solomon-Hay said. “The whole idea is to achieve a consensus among the members of the staff and the board. If you don’t all agree to move forward on a particular project at a particular time, you’re going to have real bad chaos.”
One of the smallest arts organizations in San Diego to employ a full-time development director is the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre. Its fund-raising program has been a major facet of its rapid growth.
Although the Gaslamp’s entire budget is $325,000, development director Pat Lajoie is undaunted. “I don’t believe in the class system,” Lajoie said. “I could call God and say I want an appointment.”
Lajoie has helped bring in contributions from Bank of America, Pacific Bell, San Diego Gas & Electric Co., and Home Federal and Great American savings and loans.
“I’ve always looked on this as a sales job,” Lajoie said. The Gaslamp is midway through a $1.2-million capital campaign to build a 250-seat theater.
Lajoie reads the newspaper’s business section each day, looking for a new approach to a potential patron.
Besides such direct fund raising, development directors must keep abreast of regular foundation and government grant deadlines.
“Government grants on the surface are very straightforward,” Solomon-Hay said. “But in reality, a tremendous amount of advocacy goes with it.” The sharp development director keeps state and national agencies apprised of activities with regular press releases.
The fund-raisers also play host to foundation visitors, arranging meetings with key staffers when the donors come to check on the artistic and business product.
Then, amid this pressure-cooker schedule, an off-the-wall opportunity arises.
“You go into a business for some meeting, and they tell you a deadline is coming and they could use a proposal in a couple of days,” Solomon-Hay said. “You don’t say, no, you’re too busy. You say, ‘Of course we’ll get you a proposal in a couple of days.’
“ ‘What kind of proposal would you like?’ ”