MSO close to meeting $5 million fundraising goal

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:16 pm

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra has raised $4.8 million toward its $5 million goal to keep its musicians onstage and its operations running long term, according to an announcement made by the orchestra today.

A $200,000 “Finale” challenge grant will round out the orchestra’s fundraising campaign, thanks to a grant from an anonymous donor who has promised to match new and increased gifts to the MSO dollar for dollar.

The MSO launched a $5 million emergency fundraising campaign last December as a last-ditch effort to avoid shutting down. With significant budget struggles from past seasons plaguing the organization’s finances, the MSO was uncertain that it would be able to sustain its operations moving forward.

On top of a $2 million deficit the organization experienced in fiscal year 2013, it needed an additional $3 million to balance the budget this year.

“It was essentially an all or nothing scenario,” said Mark Niehaus, president and executive director of the MSO. “We weren’t shy about what we needed, and we adjusted internally first with our contract, with the orchestra and staff changes…and after that we went to the community and said, ‘this is what we’ve done inside (and) this is what we need the community to do now to allow us to implement the changes that we have planned.’”

Those internal adjustments, among the most drastic measures the orchestra has ever implemented, included reducing the MSO’s cast of full-time musicians to save $1.2 million and restructuring benefits packages of all its employees to save $225,000. The organization also added more performances at its home venue, the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, through a non-contiguous season.

The $4.8 million raised to date has resulted largely through the generosity of Milwaukee’s corporate community. A total $612,000 was committed by are corporations with the most significant donations from Northwestern Mutual, Rockwell Automation and WE Energies.

An additional $1.2 million has come from Milwaukee area foundations, including The Bradley Foundation, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, and the Helen Bader Foundation.

The United Performing Arts Fund also added to the collection of donations with a $250,000 challenge grant announced in December. The grant was matched by almost 900 new individual donors in little more than a month.

“The speed at which we were able to first of all adjust internally and then raise this type of funding from the community, this is light speed in the nonprofit world,” Niehaus said. “It’s pretty amazing.”

While Niehaus is relieved to see the campaign so close to its goal, he said he is not surprised by the outpouring of community support.

“Having sat onstage for 15 years, I know how much people in Milwaukee love the symphony,” Niehaus said. “It’s just really affirming to see it come out so clearly.”

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