Bradford (Brad) Voigt is a development veteran who has worked in virtually every nonprofit sector. During the course of his 30-plus-year career, Brad has led development teams for the Harvard Kennedy School, Boston Ballet, and the Peabody Essex Museum, to name just a few of the institutions he’s served.
Now, as Vice President of Development for The Philadelphia Orchestra, Brad turns his attention to raising funds for one of the world’s finest orchestras. Here, he talks with Lindauer about his storied career and goals for his new position.
Q. How and why did you get into the field of development?
A. It was not my intention to go into development. I studied music at Brown University, from which I graduated in 1982. I was a classical music trumpet player, but after playing professionally for about two years, I realized that I didn’t quite have the talent to make a living performing.
I had done some PR work in college at the College Light Opera Company so I turned my attention toward getting a PR/fundraising job. I was lucky enough to land an informational interview with Frank Cook, the founder of Fund Consultants, Inc. and former development professional at the United Way of Rhode Island and Brown University Medical School. Frank was doing about a dozen campaigns in Rhode Island at the time and he hired me to work on some of them. It was truly a baptism by fire, but learning experientially was really the best way to learn. In my first three years, I ran eight capital campaigns, so I got a taste of a lot of nonprofit settings in a very short time.
When I entered the field of development, a million-dollar campaign was a big deal. Aside from the fundraising, what I really like about the profession is the fact that it is a field where I can give back to society in a number of ways.
Q. You held two positions at Harvard, Director of Institutional Advancement for the Art Museums and Director of Principal Gifts for all of Harvard Arts – the first time a development leader had this particular focus at the school. How would you describe the atmosphere there?
A. Harvard was a wonderful experience. It is a bit of an anomaly in the development world – there are over 700 people in development across the University. I worked with a lot of extraordinary minds, and the students are among the most talented in the world. It would be hard to match that experience – Harvard is a world unto itself. Raising money is actually easier there. Prospects are readily identified.
Q. What differences have you found in fundraising for an orchestra vs. raising money for higher education?
A. There are three principal differences. First, in the arts world, there is no “natural” constituency, no alumni. There is a greater emphasis on social engagement with donors. For example, over the past year at the Orchestra, my office executed 88 cultivation events, in addition to attending 100 concerts.
Secondly, the scale of gifts and philanthropic investments is much different in the arts. In higher education, seven- and eight-figure gifts are not unusual. A million-dollar gift to an orchestra is considered a huge donation.
Lastly, the level of infrastructure in the arts is unlike that in education. The Orchestra has a much smaller staff than, say, a Harvard, but the goal is the same – there are just fewer people trying to achieve it.
Q. Are these differences because of the way the arts are viewed by the majority of donors?
A. The arts sector needs to reposition itself, in my view. It is worthy of investments. I would love to see a nine-figure gift for an orchestra, and I truly believe that can happen.
Locally, the University of Pennsylvania just finished a $4.2 billion campaign. A recent study showed that arts organizations in Philadelphia had unmet capitalization needs totaling $1.2 billion. Why can’t a dozen arts organizations raise a billion dollars, too? There is sufficient gift capacity in the community to sustain campaigns of this magnitude – it’s just not expressing itself to the arts.
We have to raise awareness about the relevance and cultural impact of The Philadelphia Orchestra as to why this institution is every bit as worthy as the University of Pennsylvania healthcare system, for example. That’s my goal at the Orchestra. The money is here – I just have to raise awareness with the right donors.
Q. How was your transition from higher education to the musical world of The Philadelphia Orchestra?
A. The transition was all good. The process of getting this job really made me understand that this was the right place for me, the right fit. The way the organization handled the search told me that this was a place where I could make a contribution. And it’s a blessing to sit in a concert hall and listen to some of the world’s most beautiful music performed by some of its greatest musicians.
Q. The Philadelphia Orchestra relies on individual donors, corporations and foundations, events, and planned giving. Is there a particular area that you plan to strengthen and why?
A. Yes. There’s a very clear focus on support from individuals. We’re spending a lot of time and energy on building our Major Gifts program. We’re strong in the foundation area, but could use more corporate support. We’re also growing the Board and activating its role in fundraising.
Q. How is an orchestra board different from other boards you’ve been involved with?
A. Orchestra boards are traditionally large, and can sometimes be unwieldy. To be successful as vehicles to engage major prospects, they require heavy functional involvement and deep engagement. We find that by adding board members, we see an increase in fundraising. We currently have 55 board members, and we are working to better engage them in the cultivation and fundraising process.
Q. You’ve held number one positions at the Peabody Essex Museum, Harvard Art Museums and Boston Ballet. What traits do you look for in a #2?
A. Someone who’s dependable and strong in areas where I’m weak. I want somebody who can play off my strengths and weaknesses. For example, I’m not particularly strong with budgeting, so I need somebody by my side who is good at that.
I also look for someone who is easy to get along with, has a sense of humor and is fun to be around. We often spend more time with people at work than we do with those closest to us at home, so I want to be able to enjoy colleagueship and strong working relationships during my work week.
Q. How did your own love of music inspire you to take this job?
A. Even though I don’t play anymore, I still have great passion for music. It is an art form for which I feel a personal connection, affinity, and passion. My mother was raised in a Salvation Army family, and, because of that, I was introduced to brass music at a very young age.
I have always wanted to work for an orchestra. I feel shivers up my spine when I sit and listen to a beautiful piece of music. The Philadelphia Orchestra has always been recognized as one of the world’s greatest orchestras, but has faced some financial challenges of late. If there ever was a time when my skills and talents could contribute to an organization, it is now! I have my dream job.
Q. What advice would you give to aspiring CDOs?
A. Choose an organization and cause that you are passionate about. Make sure it’s a cultural fit. Don’t make decisions based on getting the big money or the title. The more you can remain consistent with your values, the happier you’ll be.