Opera gala raised $2 million, but HGO has a much bigger figure in mind

By Mark Yost
The Houston Business Journal

The Houston Grand Opera held its annual gala on April 5 at the Wortham Center and raised $2 million from more than 600 of Houston’s most well-heeled guests. That’s up from $1.75 million a year ago.

Your humble correspondent, in black tie.

Your humble correspondent, in black tie.

But the local opera company with a national reputation has a much bigger number in mind: $165 million.
That’s the goal of a comprehensive fundraising campaign, Inspiring Performance, which began in August 2007 and concludes at the end of this year. According to Greg Robertson, HGO’s chief advancement officer, patrons big and small have already donated $151 million.
The opera, which only covers about 23 percent of its operating budget through ticket sales, will use the money raised to fix some long-term, systemic problems. Namely, funding its endowment.
“Arts are chronically under-endowed,” Robertson told Houston Business Journal. “Universities figured this out years ago. Arts are late to the endowment game.”
He noted that San Diego Opera, which recently folded, didn’t have an endowment.
When HGO reaches it’s goal of $165 million — the largest-ever arts fundraising campaign in the history of Houston — it will use the money for a variety of things. Operations will receive $110 million, $21 million will go toward HGO’s endowment, and Robertson hopes to devote $34 million to so-called legacy gifts. That’s when patrons remember HGO in their wills.
While that’s impressive, Robertson is perhaps proudest of the fact that more than 6,500 patrons have contributed to the campaign, in amounts big and small. For instance, before the start of the campaign, HGO had never received a gift of $1 million or more outside of an estate. Since the start of the campaign, HGO has received 25 gifts and pledges of $1 million or more.
“It’s always dangerous to rely too much on a handful of big donors,” said HGO Managing Director Perryn Leech.
He said that instead of going after just the big donors, HGO looks to add 50-60 new patrons every year. And while the opera has 170 donors who have given at the trustee level of $10,000 or above, the opera also has 800-900 contributors at the patron level who give $4,000 or more.
As for that big number — $165 million — that HGO is trying to reach: “We’re very optimistic that we will meet or exceed our campaign,” Robertson told HBJ.

About Mark Yost
Mark Yost is the author of the Rick Crane Noir series, published by Stay Thirsty Press. Rick Crane is the classic, anti-hero private eye in the spirit of Sam Spade and Jim Rockford. He works in the unmistakably noirish underworld of Upstate New York, running errands and fixing problems for Jimmy Ricchiati Sr., one of Upstate New York's most notorious crime bosses. But readers quickly learn that deep down, Rick Crane is one of the good guys. "Cooper's Daughter," the first book in the widely acclaimed series, is a fast-moving tale in which a heartbroken father comes to Rick and asks him to find out what really happened to his daughter, who was murdered and the details buried in the Unsolved Crimes File of the local police department. The second book in the series is "Jimmy's Nephew," which begins with the death of Joey "Boom Boom" Bonadeo, an up-and-coming boxer and the nephew of Rick's underworld boss. What starts out as a routine investigation turns into a case that will test Rick's faith -- in the Catholic Church and his fellow man. Book No. 3 in the series, "Mary's Fate" is due out in August 2015. Mark Yost also writes for The Wall Street Journal Arts in Review page, as well as the Book Review section. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America -- Midwest Chapter, International Thriller Writers, and a number of other author groups. He is also a member of the Amazon Author's Program. Mark lives in the Loyola neighborhood of Chicago, but he and his son, George, call the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn "home."

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