There are two days of the calendar that are very close together for most arts organizations but that elicit completely different emotions from me and from many other arts executives I know: the first day of the new season and the first day of the new fiscal year.
The first day of the new season is filled with excitement and anticipation. A great deal of planning has been devoted to making the new season important and inspiring, to making the productions affordable, to enticing audiences, etc. All of these efforts to create a perfect package of productions, education programs and other events to excite our families are about to come to fruition. Failures of past seasons are pushed to the back of our minds. If we are truly committed to the mission of our organization, how can we not be excited by this day? Of course, there is some anxiety as well: Will the art be as important as anticipated? Will critics and audiences be happy with our work? Will we sell enough tickets to our work to meet our budgeted goals? But the good feelings certainly outweigh the bad and this is one of my favorite days of the year.
The first day of the fiscal year, however, is filled only with dread. Having worked so long and so hard to achieve last year's fiscal results, the page is turned, the odometer is reset to '000' and we must begin again. The money we raised last year is spent and forgotten even if we achieved a surplus. The phrase, "What have you done for me lately?" comes easily to mind. Our budget for the new year calls for a substantial amount of money to be raised and it is difficult to feel confident that we will reach our target. We must re-solicit all of our existing donors and prospect for new ones. We must energize our board members, yet again, to make their gifts, solicit their friends and to sell gala tables. While we certainly enjoy meeting the challenges, the fear of failure looms large.
Of course, there are things we can do to make the first day of the fiscal year less painful (and coincidentally make the new season even that more exciting): plan the season years in advance to ensure higher quality art, develop the large transformational projects that make ticket sales easier, work early to raise substantial funds for the new fiscal year even before it begins, focus on multi-year gifts, develop realistic budgets, build the family of donors and engage them fully, etc. Organizations that do these things well find that they have an easier time meeting their annual revenue generation targets.
But despite all of my planning and forward thinking, I still hate the first day of the fiscal year as much as I love the first day of the new season. Thank goodness we will be deep into the new fiscal year before we even blink an eye!