The Sydney Symphony is relying on social networks – online and off – to recruit the next generation of multi-millionaire donors to its ambitious, “elitist” Vanguard program.
Vanguard launched about 1.5 years ago to address an ageing support base. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra supplements its government grants and ticket sales with $1 million – $2 million in donations and bequests each year.
“The people who support the orchestra financially now are older,” SSO Vanguard chair Justin Di Lollo explained. “In the short term, that might be good because they’re likely to give more.
“But that generation is going to move on in due course and there needs to be a new generation.”
Vanguard is positioned as a philanthropic program, for which members pay $500 a year to attend one exclusive Opera House event and 3 cocktail events in unusual settings, all with a guest.
Previous Vanguard events include a percussion-heavy concert in a Kings Cross car park, and a wine-tasting event for which classical music pieces were chosen specifically to match the wines.
Di Lollo, a government relations consultant — he is managing director of Hawker Britton — said the gatherings were more like business networking events than traditional classical concerts, and “more engaging for a younger business audience”.
Of Vanguard’s 100 or so current members, Di Lollo said a vast majority were aged between 25-50, describing the median (somewhat precisely) as a 35-year-old man in a stable relationship who worked at a law firm as as a senior associate and lived in an apartment in the Eastern Suburbs.
“The Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s proper outreach program is all about engaging regional communities and engaging international communities. That’s a very, very important part of their broader charter,” Di Lollo said.
“That’s not what Vanguard is about. We’re a little side exercise that is selfishly aimed at engaging with a new generation of business people that has an elitist and sophisticated approach, and we’re absolutely shameless about the elitism.
“Vanguard is about getting a group of people who we hope are going to be multi-millionaires in the not-too-distant future and engage them so that they fall in love with the institution and become board members in 20 years’ time.”
While no membership application is rejected, Vanguard organisers keep the focus on its target demographic by relying largely on word-of-mouth to recruit new members.
Di Lollo said members of the leadership team – which calls itself a “Collective” rather than a board – tend to be very well-connected in the business community, and spread the word by inviting suitable people in their networks to attend functions for free.
About half of the first-timers tended to sign up to become members, he said.
“We’ll take all comers but the way that we’re going about getting new members is entirely network-driven,” he said.
“When I go through my personal contacts [to invite people], I ask: Do I like them and want to spend time with them; might they be interested in the music; do they fit the classic profile; or are thy someone who is interesting and might make the place more funky or interesting.”
Inspired by a New York Philharmonic initiative, Vanguard was the brainchild of Sydney Symphony development manager Amelia Morgan-Hunn, who pitched the idea to executive director Rory Jeffes in her 2010 job interview.
The program was subsidised by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in its first year but now pays for itself, with no plans to directly turn a profit.
Nor does the Collective keep track of the number of Vanguard members who subsequently become Sydney Symphony Orchestra “patrons” who donate $500-$20,000 and up.
“There’s absolutely no financial equation on this; this is all art,” Di Lollo said. “There’s never going to be a decomposition of the numbers or a statistical analysis of how much this is worth.
“We are just hoping to plant a seed in the minds and more importantly in the souls of a bunch of people who we think are going to be the next generation of people who are the directors and sponsors, and hopefully when they’re old will give us a bequest in their will as well.”
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