San Fran Opera sacks execs to save cash

San Fran Opera sacks execs to save cash


norman lebrecht

March 08, 2019

From San Francisco Classical Voice:

Director of Communications and Public Affairs Jon Finck, with 16 years in the SFO administration, and Director of Development Andrew Morgan are among those laid off by General Director Matthew Shilvock, who told SFCV today that budget considerations necessitated the move:

‘We honor all those who have brought us to this point and celebrate the impact and contributions of those who are now leaving. They are all deeply dedicated members of the company, and it has been a privilege to work alongside them.

‘As difficult as this moment is, as a creative art form we must keep looking forward. We must embrace change, new ideas and new possibilities — and we must take the steps required to meet the challenges of our time. If we can fully align ourselves with the company’s new strategic framework, rebalance the expense budget, bring our revenue goals to a realistic level and continue to build our endowment, an exciting creative pathway forward emerges.’

The actions — announced internally at a Feb. 28 company meeting — are expected to save about $5 million a year…

Read on here.

So to save money, you sack the fundraiser and the head of comms? Interesting approach.


  • hullexecutive says:

    Just wondering whether the remaining staff, who will have to do more work, will get the same pay, more pay, or less pay. And is the really senior staff sharing in the cost cutting by reducing their pay?

  • Viola da Bracchio says:

    If the company lacks funds, then logically the fund-raiser has to face the sack. This is the right decision.

    • Cantantlirico says:

      Blame the general director who’s main responsibility is fund raising. Using fund raisers as the scapegoat is not going to bring in the cash needed to pay for the next Eurotrash abomination.

      • RArmand says:

        Don’t forget that 85% of the classical repertoire (including a large % of contemporary music) is by European composers. Classical music is done everywhere now, but it is a European art form rooted in its cultures and history, the same way gamelan music is from a particular part of the world. Most of the classical recording, artist managing, and publishing business is based in Europe. So, yes, trash European artists and call then Eurotrash…

    • Tiredofitall says:

      I assume you don’t work in or have direct contact with any large US nonprofit? Your comment(s) are uninformed and damaging to the reputations of professional career fundraisers. With 52% of the revenue of the SF Opera coming from fundraising (and only 41% from ticket sales, and declining) the value of experienced development personnel is key in the US system.

      To suggest that “younger, keener” fundraisers can handle the job is akin to suggesting that recent young artist program singers can do the same job as established singers. Sure, they can sing the notes, but… In all, you get what you pay for.

      Get real.

      • Viola da Bracchio says:

        [[ I assume you don’t work in or have direct contact with any large US nonprofit? ]]

        I don’t work in the USA at all, and never want to.

        I work in Europe, where we have our own ways of doing things – I don’t need your cock-crowing yankee arrogance to tell me what to do, BUDDY

        Take a hike.

        • Tiredofitall says:

          FYI, I live in Europe, BUDDY. Your anti-American bias is disgusting.

          • Viola da Bracchio says:

            You mistook me for someone who cares.

          • Tiredofitall says:

            That isn’t what I mistook you for…

          • Viola da Bracchio says:

            Let us know when you find those pesky Weapons of Mass Destruction, won’t you? It’s only been a decade, after all. Until then, the reputation of Americans worldwide will keep bumping along the bottom.

  • Larry says:

    Norman, I can’t tell you how many organizations fire the fund raisers in order to “save money.” It boggles the mind.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      Who then raises funds??

      • Viola da Bracchio says:

        Younger, keener fund-raisers who are hired for less extravagant salaries. Or the procedure can be contracted out to agencies, who work on a percentage, and are therefore more incentivised.

        • R. Brite says:

          Take it from a former institutional development officer, it really doesn’t work that way. These sound like easy solutions but in most cases they prove to be short-sighted.

        • Tiredofitall says:

          Good God, do a little research before posting. In the US, and presumably in other countries, “incentivised” (commission based) fundraising is considered unethical.

          According to the National Council of Nonprofits,

          “It is NOT appropriate for a nonprofit to compensate a fundraising professional based on a percentage of the money raised.”

          (See Standard #21 of the AFP Code of Ethical Principles and Standards for professional fundraisers.

          Seeing that in 2015 (most recent recorded year), the nonprofit sector contributed an estimated $985.4 billion to the US economy , composing 5.4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), it is not exactly a profession to be run by “younger, keener fund-raisers.” To manage a fundraising department, such as the SF Opera which raises over $40 million annually, you need experienced, seasoned professionals. This isn’t 1950s door-to-door March of Dimes rattling the cup. This is serious money.

          • Viola da Bracchio says:

            Who gives a DAMN what you consider ‘appropriate’?

            I assume from your bent-out-of-shape venting that you’re one of those laid-off – for failing to deliver.

  • Karl says:

    At least they aren’t trying to force the musicians to take a pay cut.

  • Mick the Knife says:

    The true fundraisers are the soloists and conductors. I saw Josh Bell with a second 10 orchestra thats “in trouble” and it was sold out. If the 10 – 20 ranked orchestras could spend the administrative savings on top conductors and soloists, seats would sell and donors would be more likely to give to a winning cause.

    • Viola da Bracchio says:

      Heartily agreed – but it all depends on the business model. ‘All seats sold’ ought to mean success – but there are many more factors, including hall fees, the orchestra’s earnings, what costs (marketing, transport, fees) have been incurred, and so on.

      Sadly, playing great programs to sold-out houses and rave reviews is no guarantee of actual income for the orchestra. The name of the game these days is corporate sponsorship, in which the sponsor’s reputation is enhanced by their connection to the event or program. Even a large concert-hall can only seat 2000 people – which is piffle, for a sponsor. The sponsor is interested in reaching millions of people, not 2000. But put the event on television, or on billboards, or social media – and you are talking about a different rate of capture for the corporate spend.

      Yes, yes – it needs top-rank conductors & soloists to achieve this. But flogging tickets to an event which reached only 1-2 thousand people, and ends when the final note is played is not what a corporate sponsor is looking for.

      The utter naivety being discussed on the SD ‘Venezuela’ topic – ‘they forced us to appear in a video!’ – shows the gulf of misunderstanding on this topic. Successful concerts have a great ‘wow!’ factor, sure – but they must be leveraged for far more than the face price of a few concert seats.

      BTW, we no longer really talk about ‘donors’ in Europe. This isn’t about ‘giving’ – this is about *buying* a part of a successful cultural brand, and it shouldn’t be sold cheaply.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Maybe the reason that orchestra was in trouble was because of the fees that the guest soloist and conductor charge. Sometimes these “stars” cost so much money that the concert loses money despite being sold out.

  • Luigi Nonono says:

    It shows how much they were overpaid.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    At least the first response was not to reduce the size of the orchestra or the chorus.

  • Bay Area Artist says:

    I feel that Norman didn’t read the original article thoroughly. The click bait title really made me raise an eyebrow as well. He and other commenters on here can make all the assumptions they want, but organizations do not make decisions such as these without extreme analyzations and restructure.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Would that was always true. With long experience in several arts organisations (US and Europe…never let go, knock on wood…) oftentimes decisions regarding reductions are made by the very people whose positions should be made redundant.

      There is a lot of protecting the salaries of the senior-most people at the expense of a well-functioning organisation. Oversight by managing boards has pretty much become a joke, as they are treated like cash machines, rather than a body providing checks and balances from their outside areas of expertise.

  • Monsoon says:

    I suspect the reason they fired the head of fundraising was because he wasn’t doing a good job.

    Interesting that the SF Opera hired an outside search firm to fill that position a few years ago to then only hire someone internal.

  • Escamillo says:

    What really soaks up the money is the perceived need to stage weak contemporary works just because they are contemporary. Forget ticket sales, fill the auditorium with freebies and congratulate one another on fostering the arts. Jon Finck was a man who actually achieved things, but obviously smoke and mirrors are in greater demand.

  • Wait a sec… they were spending $5 Million… per year… on just TWO people?

    Did they just wake up and notice this?

  • fflambeau says:

    $5 million for two admin employees? Sorry, but you could get a perfectly good fundraiser for around $100K. Correct decision!

  • Edgar says:

    Some years ago, I contacted SFOpera because I wanted to make a significant donation to their RING.

    I called, and was given the go-around: answering machines, staff members who did not know anything (“Did you get a packet?”).

    I went online and checked out the names under the Administration tab, and then called the switchboard asking for a specific name (a certain gentleman whose first name is Jonathan).

    The person with that name was -how pleasantly a surprise!- at his desk and took the phone. I introduced myself and the cause of my call: my intention to donate a five digit number amount of dollars. The first thing he said: “How did you get my phone number?” “I found your name on the company’s website. Obviously, you are too occupied, and I won’t bother you. Have a nice day.”

    The donation went to LA Opera as additional donation to one I made earlier in support of the Achim Freyer RING.

    To her credit, the then active DoD of SFOpera called immediately after I had sent a scathing letter (by certified mail) to Mr Gockley, with cc to the DoD and said gentleman, Jonathan. I donated to the company after all, and have not given ever since.

    SFOpera’s organizational structures are a mess, their offices and other spaces scattered through town, and the War Memorial Opera House is a way too huge barn which needs to be gutted to make room for a smaller auditorium.

    The time of mega-size Gilded Era American opera houses must end. A maximum seat capacity up to 1800 is more than enough. This is one more of the many reasons which David Gockley pointed out already years ago, but failed to mention.

  • Cantantelirico says:

    In the US the main function of a General Director is fundraising and their secondary function is to lay blame elsewhere.