Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes
Monday, January 10, 2022 7:00 p.m.
The meeting of the Board of Trustees was called to order at 7:00 p.m. Present were Josh Krugman, Chairman, and Trustees Neil Brafman, Jim Burress, Jenica Reed Conley, Ted Doran, Jennifer Faria, Dan Hendriksen, Brad Louison, Suzanne Nassise, Mell Roca, and Margaret Veresko. Also present were Trustees ex officio Executive Director Elaine Cunningham and Artistic Director Christine Noel.
The minutes of the September 20, 2021 meeting were approved.
Executive Director: Elaine gave a report on her activities and plans. Some highlights:
Resource development – Halfway through our fiscal year, we are at 82% of our total fundraising goal. That does not count $5,000 contributed in memory of Trina Avery, which will be transferred to the Fund for the Providence Singers. Elaine will be seeking corporate sponsors and program ads for March and April concerts; completing six grant applications; wand preparing for the 401Gives campaign on April 1.
Marketing – Website traffic metrics are proving useful in evaluating specific marketing efforts; Heather Bryant is helping as a freelance graphic designer. Next steps are to increase exposure in print media; place program ads in the February and March issues of Rhode Island Monthly, a publication many of our audience read; place articles about Christine in the “Leading Ladies” feature in the March issue of Providence Monthly and Hey Rhody; reach out to local journalists who cover performing arts; submit press releases and feature articles to press and online media; and make sure the March and April concerts are posted in online calendars. Elaine plans to attend a webinar on creating a marketing plan and attend an online non-profit marketing summit.
Elaine presented an analysis of what worked and what didn’t in audience development during the FY19 – FY22 time period. Found to be effective were
partnerships, including with performance partners such as the State Ballet of Rhode Island and promotions by partners including by the Rhode Island Philharmonic, the State Ballet, Aurea Ensemble, and McVinney Auditorium;
hand selling such as contacting ballet schools, senior communities, etc.;
online marketing such as through Facebook and Patch;
direct marketing, using for example ProJo subscriber emails; and
the free Brahms concert, which had an estimated 550 attendees.
Not effective (or not measurable) were radio ads, season subscriptions, and purchased mailing lists. Elaine noted that in FY19, we had no self-produced concerts until March and no marketing materials before January, there was insufficient coverage in ProJo and other print media, and we had limited information about concert attendees.
Education – Elaine reported that JM Walsh Performing Arts Academy would like to participate in our In Harmony program. She is meeting with Anne Lagace, music teacher at Shea High School, who recently became the director of JMW, about their participation and to get a better sense of the current music scene at the Pawtucket district high school. She is also meeting with James Cook, the newly hired music teacher at Shea, which does not have a choral program. After speaking with Anne, Elaine will assess how best to approach Tolman High School administrators, about participating In Harmony. (They did not reply to earlier inquiries.)
Artistic Director: This month, the Singers begin preparing for our 50th anniversary concert cycle. Singer numbers remain strong – above 80 singers total – and the tenor section is improving. We had twelve tenors, up three from the last concert. Christine would be satisfied with 15 tenors but 20 would be “a dream situation.” For this concert cycle, the section will include two professional tenors who are paid as choral scholars, and two voice teachers, one of whom is joining as a member. Christine is also moving some baritones up to the second tenor part. A contingency plan is being developed in the event that the pandemic disrupts preparation for the March concert. Planning is under way for next season. Scheduling Messiah is problematic because a major upgrade in Vets seating is pushing the Philharmonic’s schedule back a month, making December dates scarce. If there is no Messiah, Christine would schedule a holiday concert. Looking forward to next season, Christine is exploring the concept of social justice and is looking for compositions of various lengths by composers. She is concerned that singers not feel that we are appropriating other cultures. One approach might be, for example, to perform spirituals with a gospel choir. Christine told the Board about a fine BIPOC singer who recently resigned from the chorus because they felt there were not enough singers who shared their background.
Personnel Committee: Chairperson Mell Roca reported that a COVID task force consisting of herself, Elaine, Christine, Josh and Beth Zarlengo has been monitoring the pandemic situation and reviewing our guidelines. The guidelines will need to be amended to add the Carter Center to the list of organizations whose pandemic guidance we follow. Mell talked about the possibility of singers being able to unmask during concert week at some point in the future. Notice would be given at the beginning of a concert cycle, and singers would have the option to remain masked. A policy change may be proposed at the next Board meeting. Mell also observed that personnel policies will need to be revised to cover the In Harmony staff. Since we want to select the In Harmony director before summer, Mell will get the Personnel Committee working on the job announcement.
Budget and Finance Committee: Chairman Dan Hendriksen reported that the Brahms concerts incurred a deficit of about $10,000. Hoped-for grants and corporate contributions did not occur, and there were some unbudgeted expenses, such as tympani, amplification and additional stage crew. For the fiscal year, we have plenty of operating cash and are forecasting a surplus of $931. However, Elaine anticipates expenditures in some areas, particularly advertising and contract musicians, modestly in excess of what was budgeted and would like Board approval to exceed those budgeted limits. No objection was voiced to the additional expenditures.
Resource Development Committee: Chairperson Jen Feria referenced Elaine’s report on resource development which indicated that fundraising is going well, but corporate donations are an opportunity that we haven’t taken full advantage of. She challenged Trustees to search their Rolodex for contacts in organizations or even private families we could take advantage of, and noted that persistence in this area pays off. She also encouraged Trustees to research out-of-state organizations and foundations which could be approached. Josh noted that the Committee had discussed the role that the Fund for the Providence Singers might play in the messaging for corporate support for the 50th anniversary concert.
Governance Committee: Chairperson Suzanne Nassise discussed a one-page summary of the position of Trustee that she intends to use in soliciting membership on the Board.
Strategic Planning: Elaine began the discussion with a review of three of the FY18 – FY22 strategic plan’s goals and accomplishments.
The first strategic objective was to increase total attendance for a typical two-performance concert to 800. Neither of the two tactics in support of this objective were done – review resources devoted to marketing and analyze the effect of venues on attendance. Elaine reported ticket sales for the seven concerts we have produced since November 11, 2017, and we never achieved 800 ticket sales, or even close to it. Our highest was November 2019 with the Fauré Requiem and Luminosity concert, which had 584 tickets sold.
The second strategic objective was to increase fundraising capacity. The two goals were to increase capital reserve to $200,000, which has not yet been met, and to reduce the draw on our savings to less than 6% a year, which we were able to do for FY20 and FY21.
The third objective was to build greater public awareness. There is no way to measure public awareness directly, but we can measure public engagement. As example, Elaine listed concert attendance; a multitude of website analytics; customer lists; engagement on various social media; and online music, including YouTube and CD Baby downloads.
Elaine reviewed grants, corporate contributions and individual donations over the FY18 – FY22 (ytd) time span, and concluded with assets at year-end for those fiscal years.
Josh presented a strategic plan working document from the planning committee which reviewed the Singers’ mission, vision and values, and six strategic areas, and which posed three questions for the Board to consider. During discussion, Trustees opined that the six areas were the “right” ones and that tactics for achieving the goals and objectives of the strategic areas are necessary.
The Board then voted to go into executive session for discussion, after which the Board voted to end the executive session.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.
Jim Burress, Secretary