Why diversify audiences? Simply put, “the mission of a nonprofit is to serve the public,” Jesse Needleman, Vice President of Marketing, Sales, and Communications at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, reminds us. “Society is changing,” says Dan Hart, President and Executive Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, “and we exist to serve the whole community, not just a slice.” In fact, this is why our donors benefit from the charitable deduction on their federal taxes.

The Catalyst Guide Making the Case for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Orchestras details the mission, business, and creative case for EDI work.

“What does this orchestra look like in 20 years if our audience doesn’t look like two-thirds of the population?” asks Katie Bonner Russo, Marketing Director at the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. Boston’s Needleman points out that “as America becomes more racially diverse, we’ll be serving a smaller share of population.” From this perspective, redesigning the experience we offer to be genuinely attractive to racially and generationally diverse groups makes sound business sense too.

So broadening our definition of audiences to embrace all the communities we serve fulfills both mission and business objectives. Our music already engages many more people than those who buy tickets through activities ranging from outdoor events and educational concerts to performances given in hospitals and other free ticket initiatives. Taking the initiative on audience diversification — with a long-term commitment across the organization, and a focus on building relationships rather than on transactions — can not only enhance orchestras’ relevance to their communities, but also build a sustainable foundation for long-term overall revenue growth.

Moreover, many funders are now investing in those arts organizations striving to broaden their audience bases. But “if you’re doing it to find grant funding it’s not going to work; it’s the other way around,” advises Elaine Carroll, CEO of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. Orchestras need to demonstrate their efforts at relevance to the whole community. Such efforts are no longer an enticement to funders: they have become a baseline.


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