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Contributed Income Over 20-Year Period
Larry Bomback, Director of Finance & Operations, OPERA America
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Original Content4/13/2010

Editor's Note: Through the Professional Opera Survey, OPERA America has collected extensive financial and operational data on professional companies dating back more than two decades. Companies that have participated in 20 consecutive annual surveys comprise the Constant Sample Group referenced in the article below. The 20-Year U.S. Constant Sample Group includes 25 companies: Houston Grand Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Diego Opera Association, San Francisco Opera, Seattle Opera, The Dallas Opera, Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, Austin Lyric Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Pittsburgh Opera, Sarasota Opera, The Minnesota Opera Company, Virginia Opera, Dayton Opera Association, Florentine Opera Company, Indianapolis Opera, Kentucky Opera, Madison Opera, Opera Omaha, Syracuse Opera, Tulsa Opera and Piedmont Opera. Using a constant sample group, rather than the entire field universe (which changes every year) , allows for a more reliable and accurate data analysis.
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OPERA America’s 20-year Professional Opera Company U.S. Constant Sample Group reported a 412% rise in total contributed income from 1988 to 2008. This amounts to annualized growth in contributions of approximately 9% each year. Not surprisingly, by 2008, the lion’s share of contributions was the result of gifts from the opera-going public. Indeed, 62% of all contributions in 2008 came from individual donors; 20 years ago, this figure was 40%.

The chart below confirms what many member companies have expressed, namely, that opera companies are relying more on individual contributions than ever before.

Gifts from private institutions (including family foundations, corporate foundations and businesses) kept pace with gifts from individuals until the mid-1990s. By the turn of this century, however, individuals provided twice as much contributed income as institutions, and by 2008, that ratio had expanded to three to one.

Individual donations have risen 688% (11% annually) from 1998 to 2008, compared to a 225% (6% annualized) rise in private institutional giving. Public support, from the federal, state and local governments, has doubled in 20 years’ time, but this annualizes to only 3.53%, slightly outpacing inflation (3.04%). Note that over the same 20-year period, operating expenses increased 242%, or 6.3% annually, and box office income rose 202%, or 5.7% annually.
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