Under any circumstances, leading a non-profit organization has its challenges. Kristen Phillips, the executive director of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, knows that first-hand. In fact, her three years at the helm of New England’s second largest Under any circumstances, leading a non-profit organization has its challenges. Kristen Phillips, the executive director of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, knows that first-hand. In fact, her three years at the helm of New England’s second Under any circumstances, leading a non-profit organization has its challenges. Kristen Phillips, the executive director of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, knows that first-hand. In fact, her three years at the helm of New England’s second symphony orchestra (behind Boston) have presented a perfect storm of challenges.
Upon joining HSO in April 2008, she immediately faced negotiating a three-year contract extension for Music Director Edward Cumming. Then came the Great Recession. And, since last year, Phillips has been overseeing a national search for a new music director to replace Cumming, who will be turning over his baton this June after eight years.
The search for a new music director provides a dual challenge of sorts for Phillips and the HSO. On one hand, the music director is a key figure in promoting the symphony in public, driving ticket sales and assisting with fund raising — no small task for a $5 million organization. At the same time, a drawn-out selection process has the potential to turn-off patrons and donors. But, like a symphony performance itself, Phillips seems to be bringing all the pieces together seamlessly.
HSO has used its search process as an opportunity to engage and empower donors. “Many larger orchestras would select a new conductor behind the scenes, but we’ve made our efforts very public,” Phillips said. “In many ways we’re trend setters [in this industry]”. Those efforts have included showcasing the HSO’s final seven candidates through weeklong performances — a trial run of sorts — over the past year and a half.
That approach, while prolonged, provides two key benefits to the organization, according to Phillips. It allows the HSO musicians to test their chemistry with their potential future director. In total, HSO performs nearly 100 concerts (including education and community programs) and performs for more than 130,000 people annually. It also enables patrons and donors to weigh in and share their opinions about each candidate. In fact, the HSO has dedicated a section of its website — and started a blog — to share the biographies of its candidates and solicit input and support from HSO patrons — an approach, Phillips says, that has drawn comparison to television’s American Idol and irked some people.
For her part, Phillips appreciates the feedback about the process and the people — both positive and negative — but feels that HSO needs to embrace technology rather than ignore it. The use of technology also reflects a larger trend that Phillips sees among symphony orchestras today: a focus on attracting and engaging a younger audience. A portion of the final candidate pool itself, in fact, is comprised of younger, up-and-coming talent that Phillips thinks might help draw the next generation of HSO concertgoers.
Regardless of who is selected, the ultimate decision — the part of the search process that Phillips considers the most challenging — rests with a nine-member search committee comprised of HSO musicians, board members and staff. They will be weighing many variables — including experience, personality and, yes, community feedback.
And when the decision about the new HSO music director is announced — likely in January — it will be music to the ears of HSO patrons and Phillips alike.
Seminar Offers Funding Advice
Grant Whitney, senior director of planned giving at Harvard University, addressed a crowd of more than 50 Hartford area Jewish professionals and community leaders at a Fundraising Academy workshop sponsored by the Jewish Community Foundation Oct. 26.
Whitney stressed the importance of mixing and matching organizations’ funding sources. When an organization’s funding comes from annual gifts only, long term growth is stunted. Diversifying ways to receive charitable donations is in a nonprofit’s best interest.
Options include estate and legacy gifts, planned gifts and IRA distributions. In gift planning, the top priority is having conversations with donors about what suits their personal and financial needs, he said.
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HARC Appoints Officers
HARC Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of people with intellectual disability and their families, has named Stephen Becker of Glastonbury as its president / CEO and appointed a board of directors for the next fiscal year.
Patrice M. Calnen of West Hartford will chair the board with vice chairs Daniel A. Goldfarb of West Hartford; James W. Heffernan of Wethersfield; John P. Weiss of Canton and Matthew H. Youmans of West Hartford.
Secretary / treasurer is Frank Sambor of Glastonbury and Bernice Matty of West Hartford will serve as assistant secretary.
Matthew James of Simsbury, chief operating officer of Alliance Energy Solutions in Oxford, has been appointed to the board of directors. Also on the board are Biagio “Billy” Ciotto of Wethersfield; Carlos Colon of Manchester; Mary M. Delaney of West Hartford; Seth B. Fierston of West Hartford; Alisen Harrison of Plainville; Maria Lopez of West Hartford; Adrienne Merrick of Enfield and Gloria J. Patman of Meriden.