The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Charitable giving should be a two-way exchange of money and information, and should be transparent. Arts and music groups should say how gifts will be spent. Plus, a string trio performs Haydn, Beethoven and Dohnanyi on Saturday night. | December 18, 2015

ALERT: Late word comes that on this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street, violinist Naha Greenholtz (concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra), violist Vicki Powell (a prize-winning alumna of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music) and cellist Madeleine Kabat will perform a concert. The program features the Trio in B-flat Major by Franz Joseph Haydn; the String Trio in G Major by Ludwig van Beethoven and the Serenade by Erno von Dohnanyi. Admission at the door is $15, $7 for students.

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s that time of the year again.

The holidays.

The time for giving gifts.

The End of the Tax Year.

Giving Away Money Time.

money.3

That means all kinds of charities and non-profit organizations are filling The Ear’s snail-mail box and email basket with solicitations for gifts that can still be deducted on this tax year.

I have heard from just about every large and small music organization in the Madison area — including the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top) and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below middle), the Oakwood Chamber Players (below bottom) as well as the University of Wisconsin — and some that are statewide like Wisconsin Public Radio.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

WCO lobby

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

But curiously, not a single one of the pleas has included a pie chart or a bar graph or a listing of how the money that is given will be spent.

It seems to The Ear that charitable giving is a two-way street and should be completely transparent. I give you money because you give me information about why you need it and how it will be used.

That could be done with a simple pie chart (an example is below) or a listing of how many cents of every donated dollar will be spent on, say, percentage of salary increases, administrative salaries and raises, guest artists, resident musicians’ pay, venue rental, advertising and the like.

Budget pie chart

It could be and should be included in the solicitation itself or through a link to a website.

Funny, but arts groups seem especially reluctant to talk about money. They act as if the arts weren’t competitive businesses, or as if they are somehow demeaned or soiled by mentioning money – except, of course, when it comes to asking for it and getting it.

Now it is true that non-profits and charities generally file annual reports, as required by federal tax laws. But that is not enough. You have to do research to find them, and that takes time and know-how.

The public should not be asked to do that. Ethically, it should be the job of the organization asking for money to provide that information with the solicitation for funding.

It is important to avoid scams and nondisclosure.  A recent investigative study found that many of the top scams and cheaters among charities solicit money in the name of children with cancer, first responders like police officers and fight fighters, and veterans.

And in past years, even such well-known and venerable groups as the United Way and the Red Cross have been found to indulge in questionable practices and to cheat or mislead donors.

In certain cases, only two or three cents of the dollar – only two or three percent, that is — actually went to the recipients while most of the considerable sums of money went to organizers and administration. A good standard is that close to 90 percent should go to the cause and only about 10 percent to administration.

budget money in a jar

So The Ear issues a challenge to arts groups and especially music groups: If you want my money, provide me with information that I should know about how it will be spent.

Otherwise, The Ear suggests that arts consumers – and that is just what they are – start a boycott of giving until such information is made public and made widespread in its availability.

One assumes that legitimate organizations and their requests have nothing to hide. So it really shouldn’t be a problem.

But The Ear could be misguided or wrong-heded about this.

He wonders what the various organizations have to say? And whether they will provide an easy link to their financial reports?

And he wonders what other arts patrons and consumers have to say about this matter?

Leave what you think in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

 

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4 Comments »

  1. You are spot on. Every charity should have audited financial reports as well as the Form 990/990EZ on their website. One should not have to go to other sites (such as charitynavigator.org) to get that information.
    Thanks for highlighting the issue.

    Comment by Lynn — December 18, 2015 @ 10:48 am

    • Lynn,
      Thank you for reading and replying.
      And thank you for your support.
      Ease and accessibility certainly do matter.
      It will be interesting to see if any organizations respond to this posting.
      Best wishes,
      The Ear

      Comment by welltemperedear — December 18, 2015 @ 12:37 pm

  2. I like the idea of arts organizations including information on where the money goes. As a donor, I generally try to check sites such as Charity Navigator to see what percentage an organization allocates to program expenses vs. administrative expenses, but this site does not always include organizations I receive solicitations from. I am much more likely to contribute if I have a good idea of where the money is going, so it’s in the organizations best interest to provide full disclosure.

    Comment by Ginger — December 18, 2015 @ 10:42 am

    • Hi Ginger,
      Thank you for reading and replying.
      I appreciate your support.
      And I also think you are right: Offering information along with the pleas for money might boost the amount raised and increase the trust between donor and recipient.
      Best to you,
      The Ear

      Comment by welltemperedear — December 18, 2015 @ 12:35 pm


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