The Seattle Symphony closes a $2 million budget gap

The stage is set now for a three-year, $70 million endowment campaign.
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Susan Hutchison, a fresh face in politics but a familiar face to voters.

The stage is set now for a three-year, $70 million endowment campaign.

The Seattle Symphony Orchestra, which a few months ago predicted it would end the current season with a deficit in the range of $2 million, instead will end the fiscal year in the black, Board of Directors chair Susan Hutchison says. "It's looking very, very good right now" that an urgent drive among 20-plus major donors has closed the gap, said Hutchison, the former Seattle television news anchor and executive director of the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences. The urgent drive raised $2.8 million. Ending the year with a balanced budget is a key step toward the symphony's goal of announcing an endowment campaign in the coming season, Hutchison explained. The SSO's current endowment is around $33 million, and the new, three-year campaign will have a goal of raising that to $100 million. Gifts from the Simonyi Fund and longtime symphony benefactor Jack Benaroya in 2004 raised the relatively paltry endowment by $10 million. A recent managment study of the symphony showed that it ranks very high in ticket sales, with only an orchestra or two in the country having more than the SSO's 37,000 season ticket holders. Also, the McKinstry study showed that the SSO manages costs very well, Hutchison reported. So with little room to cut expenses and not many more tickets to sell, the solution for chronic deficits was obvious: Build up the endowment and do a better job of fundraising. Music director Gerard Schwarz and Hutchison will lead the drive in coming years, and the board has been charged with spending less time bickering over the future musical direction of the symphony and more time raising money. Hutchison said the current "close-the-gap" drive to balance the books for the 2006-07 season consisted mainly of donors who are "huge fans of Jerry," meaning Schwarz. According to Hutchison, the SSO has been "resting on its laurels" for too long. It lacked a development director for several years and has endured considerable management turmoil. Many of the donors who helped build Benaroya Hall have not been contacted or solicited since that campaign. Hutchison said they'll soon be getting phone calls.


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