Wells Fargo grant will boost Charlotte Symphony

The Charlotte Symphony’s long effort to escape from financial troubles is getting a new kind of boost from Wells Fargo, which will use a challenge grant to attract donors to the orchestra.

Up to $400,000 could land in the orchestra’s coffers through the bank’s two-part challenge. Wells will match up to $100,000 of contributions to the orchestra’s general operations and $100,000 of gifts to the orchestra’s programs on the Arts & Science Council’s fundraising website, power2give.org.

A challenge grant is a departure for Wells, which typically makes outright donations, said Jay Everette, the bank’s Charlotte community affairs manager. The bank wants to strengthen the orchestra’s effort to draw new supporters.

“For the symphony to be successful they have to engage the broader community to invest in them,” Everette said. The challenge grant could appeal to potential donors ranging “from someone who wants to give $10 to someone who wants to give $10,000.”

The orchestra is looking for all of that.

The group, whose finances weakened during the downturn after 9/11, was hit even harder by the recession. Within about a year starting in 2008, corporate donations totaling about $700,000 dried up, and the ASC reduced its support by $1 million.

Despite cutting staff, salaries and other costs, the orchestra is still struggling to fill the gap. To pay its bills, the orchestra draws on money from two special campaigns: an emergency fund drive it launched after the ASC reduction, and a drive launched last fall that ultimately will expand the orchestra’s endowment fund.

While box-office revenue has increased, the orchestra is looking to individuals to help.

The challenge grant will give the orchestra leverage with prospective donors, said Jonathan Martin, orchestra executive director.

“I can say, ‘Come in through this, and the value of your gift will double,’ ” Martin said. “You can’t beat that.”

160th anniversary

The symphony challenge is one of three grants the bank is making to celebrate its 160th anniversary, Everette said. The other two: $250,000 to support job-training programs for veterans through Central Piedmont Community College; and $150,000 to create a science park at First Ward Creative Arts Academy.

Before Wells Fargo set up the orchestra’s challenge grant, it was already sponsoring the group’s main concert series. The bank’s leaders think the orchestra is doing “all the right things,” Everette said, as it tackles its money problems.

The orchestra has worked to keep up the quality of its concerts, Everette said. It’s bringing in new listeners through efforts such as the KnightSounds series, which features casual concerts aimed at newcomers to classical music. The orchestra is enriching the broader community through educational work, such as a “very compelling” music program at Winterfield Elementary.

Wells Fargo announced the challenge grant at Winterfield on Tuesday afternoon. As a few of the school’s 60 young players warmed up before performing, principal Regina Boyd said music has helped the students learn to focus and led their parents to be more engaged in their schoolwork.

Proud moments

“You look out (when the children perform) and see the parents smiling – ‘My baby’s up there onstage,’ ” Boyd said. She fell silent and watched the children, then spoke up again.

“I was having a proud mama moment,” Boyd said.

The bank’s challenge grant could be fruitful beyond the orchestra, Everette said.

“In the Charlotte region, we are still developing a culture of philanthropy,” Everette said. The bank’s leaders think that by encouraging others to open their checkbooks, “we will further that cause.”

Wells Fargo will be watching the results, Everette said, to see whether challenge grants could pay off for other groups.

The ASC’s power2give site aims to draw donors to projects that appeal to them personally.

That could help the orchestra draw in first-time contributors, Martin said.

“That’s the key to our future,” he said. “A person who makes a gift the first time is more likely to give again.”

The orchestra will seek support for about a dozen projects on power2give, Martin said.

By matching donations for the orchestra’s operations, the challenge could help with larger contributions, Everette said. People who are already making donations might increase them because Wells Fargo would match the additional amount.

The challenge grant itself could help the symphony with businesses, Martin said. “It allows me to go to other corporations,” Martin said, “and use Wells Fargo as an example of the types of things that are possible in this campaign.”