Will 'Listen With Your Heart' help orchestra's bottom line?

Photo: Laurence Kesterson/staff

What does it mean that the Philadelphia Orchestra has raised $2.6 million in a month through its "Listen With Your Heart" campaign? Is that a lot of money relative to the amount the orchestra typically raises in a month? Will raising money at that pace, if it continues, avert a big deficit this season?

Unless the rate of fund-raising picks up considerably, "Listen With Your Heart" probably won't put a dent in the projected $5 million deficit for the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2011.

There are reasons for the orchestra to do this campaign beyond money, to be sure.

From a community-engagement point of view, the benefits of "Listen With Your Heart" remain to be seen. The orchestra hopes the public-awareness aspect to it - signs in windows, etc. - will sell some tickets for next season. The Orchestra Association also hopes it will turn attention away from the unpleasantness of the bankruptcy case; tough labor talks with musicians; and the concessions the orchestra is hoping to extract from partners such as the Kimmel Center and Peter Nero and the Philly Pops. (An orchestra spokeswoman, by the way, said that the orchestra had not considered making the Pops part of "Listen With Your Heart.")

Of course, you might ask why the orchestra didn't do this sort of public-awareness campaign before the current crisis.

Orchestra president Allison B. Vulgamore (pictured), at Wednesday's press conference with Mayor Nutter, touted the fact that the orchestra's ticket sales had "stabilized." What that means is that last season's 65-74 percent capacity* (the fact that 65 74 percent of seats were sold) has not worsened this season. I'm not sure I'd call that an actual achievement. If the orchestra had started the season with the "Listen With Your Heart" campaign, I have no doubt there would have been an uptick in attendance.

And so the question is, Why launch an initiative like this when you have only six concerts left in the season?

But back to this year's deficit. The orchestra had built into its budget projections for the year raising $18.8 million for the annual fund; with that projection, a $5 million deficit was expected. It has so far raised $15.4 million. That means between now and Aug. 31 - about 15 weeks - the orchestra must raise $3.3 million more just to reach goal. It's only after that $3.3 million is raised that the orchestra can begin to put a dent in the deficit.

In other words, to break even this year on its $46 million budget, the orchestra needs to raise $8.3 million in 15 weeks. That's a steep hill to climb. Can the city do it?

And that assumes that the expense side of the orchestra's ledger stays on budget.

(*corrected figure)