Interview with Kate Eccles and Dan McKinnon
For over 50 years, the National Youth Orchestra of Canada has provided in-depth training to young Canadian classical musicians. In 2017, several large gifts allowed the orchestra to grow their endowment fund with the Ontario Arts Foundation. NYOC and the OAF jointly applied to the Department of Canadian Heritage for matching endowment funds, which significantly increased their endowment fund and its income. This is a great model for other donors to see and understand.
We recently met with Dan McKinnon, Manager of Marketing and Communications and Kate Eccles, Director of Development and Communications to chat about the history, mission and success of the orchestra.
What brought you to the National Youth Orchestra of Canada?
Dan - I have music performance background and am an active Blues musician here in Toronto. I also have a degree in arts management which lends itself well to my role as Marketing Manager at the NYOC. I spent eight weeks last summer watching musicians begin training in small chamber ensembles, then move to the orchestra and work directly with the conductor. I observed firsthand the formation of skills in these young musicians within a compressed period of time and it is quite impressive.
Kate – I have held senior positions in the health care sector and worked in fundraising at the Royal Conservatory of Music. I joined the NYOC to support fundraising for the orchestra’s Canada 150 cross-country tour. My heart was captured by the arts and this organization and I wanted to work with donors to make the tour a success.
What is the NYOC's mission?
The orchestra fills a critical training gap, bridging a young musician’s training received at school to turning professional. The NYOC does this in a safe environment. Instructors and conductors treat these students in exactly the same way they would treat experienced professionals. As one alumnus put it, “The education I received at the NYOC was the most important thing in my career development. I benefitted from the camaraderie established with fellow students, detailed instruction and performance opportunities in leading concert halls across the country.”
Few programs offer this breadth and intensity of experience. As well as musical instruction, students learn self-marketing skills, personal branding, how to build a résumé, and importantly self-management. The students learn that they need to be ready for all the logistics of touring. They also realize that on tour they are “cultural ambassadors” for Canada.
Are there any new programs or initiatives that you are currently working on?
A new donor funded initiative the NYOC is offering is a program that assists with mental health issues for young musicians. The program teaches these gifted students the skills required to deal with performance pressures and be successful and confident in their abilities.
What are the challenges of fundraising for a national orchestra?
Most of the training takes place in Ontario, but musicians are given national exposure through annual touring. It can be hard to cultivate donors in the traditional manner. A donor typically can only attend one of the national tour’s performances in their home town and are not a part of the other touring locations. They can’t put their name on a building or have a more tangible connection, which makes the relationship a little harder.
We have learned that small local groups, such as womens auxiliary groups, can be incredibly resourceful by either organizing local dinners or hosting students. They may not be able to make significant financial contributions, but they are extremely well connected, and can recommend donors to approach for larger financial gifts. They also actively encourage each other to do more and promote the organization organically.
What is your long-term goal(s) for your endowment fund?
We would like to have income from our endowment support as much as 25% of our operations.
In the meantime, we are seeing opportunities where endowment donations can help support other areas of our activities such as our scholarship program. We recently received a large gift from the Leonard and Gabryela Osin Foundation who had faithfully given $20,000 annually for student scholarships. Several discussions with the NYOC resulted in the Foundation making a $1.0 million donation to a new endowment to provide long-term support for student scholarships. The donor was delighted and relieved to know the money would be well looked after for many years to come. All they asked for was that they continue to receive thank you notes from the young musicians.
In the next five years, the idea of financial stability is not trivial. There are enormous challenges in the arts, but good staff and a strong message will ensure the continuity of the orchestra. Everyone somewhere in their life has a musical background.