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Think Big

By September 12, 2010July 15th, 2018Best Practices

There’s something exhilarating about tackling a really big problem or pursuing a really big goal.  It somehow puts so many things in a different perspective.  Lucky for me, I’ve experienced the excitement quite a few times in my business career, and now I’m in the middle of another biggie in the community service arena.

As a board member of the Cobb Symphony Orchestra, I’ve seen first hand what happens to donations to non-profits when the economy in general goes south.  Personal giving is way down, and corporate gifts have virtually disappeared for two consecutive years.  If that’s not scary enough, the cash crash happened on the heels of a major expansion of our role and services to our community.  (We added a Jazz ensemble, a private lessons program, GYSOC, the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra & Chorus that in just four years has grown to 400+ kids and is now the largest in the Southeast, a chorus for the flagship orchestra and expanded the number of professional musicians.)

Oh, then our Executive Director, Brian Hermanson got and accepted an incredible offer with the San Luis Obispo Symphony and John Concklin, our Creative Director and the GYSOC maestro/mastermind, got accepted into the Cleveland Institute of Music, literally the top program of its kind in the world.  We’re really, really proud of these guys.  They’re our alums forever.  Our plan has always been to be a career launching pad for up and comers.  Watch these two young men, by the way.  They’ll both have a major impact on the classical music world over the next few decades.  We’re proud all right, and mightily happy for you, but guys…  Your timing was atrocious!

I don’t have to tell you what happens when major new investments run into a significant revenue downturn coupled with turnover of key employees.  Yikes!  We had several very painful board meetings through the spring and summer; discussing things like canceling performances and closing down one or more of the newer programs.  It was awful.  Awful until Michael Alexander, our musical leader and conscience, turned the discussion around to a “grow or die” motif.

I’ll never forget the moment.  It was just four of us; Michael, John, Susan Stensland, Operations Director extraordinaire, and me.  It was painfully somber.  An awesome candidate to be our new Executive Director had just turned us down.  That’s when Mike suggested hiring a Development Director (aka fundraiser) instead of an Executive Director and bringing Grant Harville on board to head up GYSOC.  (He’s the next guy staged for the CSO launching pad.)


THINK BIG took over.  Instantly.  And things started happening.  Fast.  Forty five days later:

  • Fran Day joined us as Development Director (On the one hand I feel bad that she’s so new that we have no link to her bio.  On the other hand, the list of her accomplishments as a non-profit fundraiser would triple the length of this post!)
  • Bob Sanna joined us as Executive Director (A stunningly strong stroke of good fortune.  Seriously, follow Bob’s link and read his bio.  We maybe just lassoed the best symphony ED in the country!)
  • The team is energized BIG time (the Board, the 100+ Friends of the CSO, the musicians, the staff, everybody!)
  • Yet another (too-soon-to-be-announced) great-leap-forward is in the offing
  • We made the short list for a $50,000 grant from the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund

That last item (fingers crossed!) will keep us whole until Fran’s put-together-in-less-than-two-weeks fundraising plan kicks in, and Bob’s unbelievable marketing/advertising skills and contacts get traction.

It’s gonna’ work.  It’s gonna’ happen.  It’s like the dog above with the Apatosaurus bone.  It can’t be done, but it will be done.  And the best part is, I get ride the rocket.

Grow or die.  Is there really any other way to go?

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