For ballet companies to survive increasingly difficult financial times, many are looking to endowment funds as the answer. An endowment is donated money that an organization cannot generally access, but which
generates interest that can be used toward the budget each year.
According to Dance/USA, 24 of the 30 largest ballet and modern companies in America reported endowment funds in 2003. Many more have them on wish lists. The idea is that smaller institutions that lack endowments are more susceptible to unforeseen cash-flow problems—which forced Oakland Ballet to close its doors in January.
“The entire community is being impacted by what happened at Oakland Ballet,” says Karen Brown, its
former artistic director. “But if you’ve got an endowment, then you can draw on that to help bridge the gap of your cash flow. If you don’t have that, then you are going to go under. That’s just the bottom line.”
Terrence Orr, artistic director of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, says the company’s $10 million endowment helped during the hard times in 2004. “I think that’s probably one of the things that kept us afloat, or we might not have made it either,” Orr says.
In April, Atlanta Ballet started a study of how much it could expect to raise from the local community. Other medium-sized companies, such as Louisville Ballet and Richmond Ballet, have smaller endowments—in the
thousands—with goals of making them larger.
So far though, it’s the big companies that have been most successful at growing endowments. Houston Ballet’s $53 million endowment, for example, pays 12 percent of the company’s $16 million yearly budget.
In 2002, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater also effectively raised about $60 million for a new building and endowment fund.
New York City Ballet launched the largest endowment campaign in dance history in 2000, with an end goal of $80 million, only to be topped last year by San Francisco Ballet, which announced its goal of $85 million by 2008.
The trouble with endowments is that they take time, effort and even, yes, money to raise. And not all companies have the resources to make them a priority. Still, smaller companies are finding ways to show their communities that their institutions deserve secure futures.
“People have to understand and value what you do and [think] that you deserve a long life before they’re going to give you an endowment,” says Richmond Ballet Artistic Director Stoner Winslett. “I think we are there.”