There's good news for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in its latest annual report. The organization managed to post a surplus for the 2015-16 fiscal year, which ended June 30, of $831,540, and it increased both its number of donors and number of patrons. The TSO announced those details in the summer, well before the annual report's release late last week.
However, the document also gives a glimpse behind the scenes of the TSO's fiscal year, which offers a more complete view of the organization's financial picture. And although his name is avoided in the annual report, former president and chief executive officer Jeff Melanson looms large. Melanson was the TSO's president and CEO until the end of March, 2016, when he and the board of directors agreed upon his premature departure. He had served in the president's job for 20 months.
Primarily under Melanson's leadership (the TSO's fiscal year continued for three months after his departure), the organization's expenses increased $3-million in fiscal 2015-16, from $28-million to more than $31-million. Production costs were up 9 per cent, marketing up 11 per cent (although revenue from ticket sales declined) and administration costs increased 39.7 per cent, to almost $4.5-million.
In the two years of Melanson's tenure, total expenses at the orchestra increased by almost a third, administration costs by 80 per cent. In previous years, the TSO's expenses had either stayed flat or declined.
The TSO did not see an accompanying increase in revenues in the last fiscal year. Ticket sales declined slightly in fiscal 2015-16, as did government support. Thus the organization's surplus was created, in the first instance, by having the Toronto Symphony Foundation, the organization's long-term funding support, make a contribution to the orchestra of almost $5-million in fiscal 2015-16, more than double its usual contribution. That money helped the TSO avoid a deficit, but left the foundation, for the first time in the seven years in which it has reported its total holdings, with less money in the bank at the end of the year than at the beginning.
Fundraising generally was up for the organization, increasing to $9.7-million, a slight increase over the previous year, but a substantial increase over levels of the past five years. Fundraising now accounts for 35 per cent of the organization's total revenue, a figure that keeps growing every year. The total number of donors to the TSO increased by 15 per cent over the previous year.
The fundraising increases were not uniform across the board. Corporate giving (including sponsorships) declined last year. The big increase is in what the TSO calls Major Gifts and Bequests, which expanded by more than $2-million this past year. Included in Major Gifts are the TSO board's own contributions to the organization, which amounted to over $2.5-million in fiscal 2014-15. This year, however, for the first time in a decade, the TSO has not reported the board's contributions separately, saying that their donors had requested this change. (Although Sonia Baxendale, as acting CEO, told The Globe and Mail in the summer that all categories of fundraising had seen increases.)
In releasing the report, Richard Phillips, the TSO's chair, said, "We are heartened by the growth in the number of donors who supported the TSO last season and the very strong growth in audiences at our concerts. Our revenue is … growing and we know we have more upside ahead with both current and new supporters."
The TSO is under new management now, with veteran Canadian arts administrator Gary Hanson sitting in the president and CEO's chair for the next two years.