Eckart Preu addresses the audience during a season-opening concert at Merrill Auditorium. Photo by Mical Hutson, courtesy of the Portland Symphony Orchestra

With new music director Eckart Preu in place, the Portland Symphony Orchestra is looking to its long-term future with a capital campaign designed mostly to bolster the orchestra’s endowment.

The orchestra recently announced the public phase of its $6.5 million Crescendo Endowment Campaign, and has already received donations and pledges worth $5.9 million. Carolyn Nishon, the orchestra’s executive director, expects to complete the campaign by the end of 2020.

“The endowment is a really important piece of making sure the orchestra can function and sustain itself for many years in the future,” she said. “We see this campaign as a way to welcome a new music director and as an investment not just in the present, but also looking forward to support Eckart’s artistic vision.”

Preu began his duties with season-opening concerts Sept. 22-23 at Merrill Auditorium.

Of the $6.5 million the orchestra hopes to raise, $5 million is earmarked for the endowment. The other $1.5 million will be used over five years for what Nishon called “near-term funds” to support the musicians, concerts and other artistic efforts beyond the orchestra’s primary concerts, and specific investments, such as a rebranding, updating the website and the cost of running a capital campaign.

The endowment recently topped $10 million, after falling below $2 million a decade ago. The orchestra draws 4.25 percent from the endowment each year to apply to its annual operating budget, which is about $3.7 million for the fiscal year that began Aug. 1. As part of its Crescendo campaign, the orchestra plans to reduce its annual draw to 4 percent, she added. The endowment draw for this fiscal year is $306,062, Nishon said.

The Crescendo campaign represents a triumph for the orchestra and its fiscal sustainability, Nishon said. It is already the orchestra’s most ambitious and successful fundraising campaign, she said.

When the financial crisis hit in 2008, the endowment went “underwater,” meaning the orchestra did not draw on it for a few years to allow it to rebuild. A capital campaign in 2009 was a bridge initiative that served as a surrogate endowment draw while the actual endowment began to regrow, she said.

“That was a time where we went to the community to help save the orchestra. Now, with this Crescendo campaign a decade later, it is not about surviving but thriving,” she said. “We are in a very different place now. That is why, I think, we have seen such success, above and beyond previous efforts. It has been completely inspiring.”

The orchestra has operated in the black for the past 11 fiscal years, she noted.

The PSO has recently received an anonymous pledge to match up to $100,000 in donations to either the Crescendo campaign or the orchestra’s annual fund. It has received recent gifts from the Bingham Trust, the Lunder Foundation, the League of American Orchestras and the Crewe Foundation. Orchestra trustee Jim Konkel is leading the fundraising effort.

Nishon hopes people don’t assume the campaign is wrapped up because the bulk of the money has been raised or pledged. The final $600,000 or so represents an important final push.

“Our fear is that people will just assume we are there. It’s still about $600,000, which is significant. You always make sure you have your largest and most secure gifts at the outset, before moving in the public part of the campaign,” Nishon said. “Every single gift counts, whether it’s $50 or a six-figure gift.”


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