As the Institution embarks on a new strategic planning process, Sebby Baggiano, executive vice president and chief financial officer, and Geof Follansbee, vice president of development and CEO of the Chautauqua Foundation, have been working to move toward a more sustainable business model.
At 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Aug.15, during the weekly Leadership Porch Discussion at the Hultquist Center, Baggiano and Follansbee discussed the Institution’s financial status, as well as their plans for the future.
“We’ve gone back and looked at levels of sustainability, including ticket sales, philanthropic support and new revenue sources,” Baggiano said.
Baggiano said that his department has been working to reduce the amount that gate pass prices increase from year to year.
“This year, the overall growth of census ticket sales was flat,” Baggiano said.
However, he theorized that this is not because of flat attendance, but because of the reduction in gate pass price increases.
Baggiano said that only about 80 percent of the capital used to run the Institution is from revenue. The other 20 percent comes from philanthropy, either through annual giving or one-time gifts.
“One of the areas the Institution has been challenged in is funding its capital needs,” Baggiano said. “We have recently developed a series of models to tell us how much (capital) we need to be able to maintain what we have.”
Baggiano said that the models used to estimate the amount of money required to preserve the current assets of the Institution were found to be outdated. Therefore, he said, some of the assumptions that the Institution has been making in the past must be reconsidered in order to fully support the new strategic planning process.
“We are now moving toward what we call a multi-year operational budget plan,” Baggiano said. “This will allow us to look at future initiatives that tend to be more long-term. In order to approach initiatives, you have to have solid business plans, analytics and backing.”
Baggiano then turned over the microphone to Follansbee, who discussed the logistics of managing the Institution’s philanthropic giving.
“Every year in terms of philanthropy, we go back to zero,” Follansbee said. “We need around $7 million of philanthropic giving to sustain equilibrium for that year.”
Follansbee said that going forward, philanthropy must begin to play an even bigger role as the Institution moves in the direction of a multi-year plan. In order to increase gifts to the Institution, Follansbee said that he hopes to get more people to visit Chautauqua and see the value in its messages.
“What’s going to be important for us is how we get the work that we do here out into the world,” Follansbee said. “How does the work we do here impact society? How do we get what we’re doing here to have an even bigger impact?”
The answer, Follansbee said, is “attracting new people to Chautauqua and, in turn, more philanthropists.”
After the discussion, Follansbee and Baggiano answered questions from the audience that ranged from receiving personal property as a donation, replenishing audiences with younger people and the effects of the new tax law on philanthropic giving.
One audience member, Jim Fleischmann, was interested in the philanthropic giving surrounding the Amphitheater reconstruction.
“How did you manage to raise such a substantial amount of money in such a short amount of time?” Fleischmann said.
Follansbee said that the original plan was to raise $25 million, all through philanthropy, to support the Amphitheater.
“Development is a marathon, based on relationships over time,” Follansbee said. “Longtime donors to the Chautauqua Fund, for instance, were encouraged to donate to the Amphitheater renovations.”
After six years of raising money for the Amphitheater renovations, the Chautauqua Foundation collected $41 million for the project, Follansbee said. Most of the funding for the project came through 13 big donations.
The Chautauqua Foundation is still in the process of raising the $5 million endowment that was identified as the required amount to preserve the Amphitheater.
The Leadership Porch Discussions are held at 9:30 a.m. every Wednesday on the Hultquist porch. Next week, Institution President Michael E. Hill will discuss regional and national outreach during the strategic planning process.