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Article Published: 15 Mar 2018

Opera 101 For Trustees: Five Tips For Being a Great New Board Member

Congratulations on accepting a position on the board of directors! Here are five tips for getting up to speed so that you can hit the ground running.

1. Chat with Your General Director
Start by asking your general director about the company’s strategic plan: What are the priorities? What are the most important initiatives? You should do your homework before this conversation by reviewing the company’s website carefully. It will give you a preview of the vocabulary needed to talk about the company and its projects.

2. Study the Financials 
Your company’s financial statements will reveal opera’s unique operating model, notably in the imbalanced mix of contributed and earned revenue. Examining the financials will provide the basis for understanding future board conversations about actuals against budgets, cash flow, and planning budgets for future seasons.

3. Meet with Your Head of Development
Sit down with the head of development to talk about your annual support and involvement in fundraising. There will be a minimum expectation for an annual gift — many foundations expect to see 100 percent board participation when considering grants — but you should ask about the average range of board giving so you have perspective on your gift. Also, talk about how your expertise and connections may allow you to contribute to the company’s strategic priorities and fundraising goals.

4. Do Not Skip the Social Time 
One of the biggest returns on your investment in board service will be the social ties you make with other board members. Get to meetings early and chat with colleagues. Make time to go to the social gatherings offered to trustees and consider joining board trips.

5. Learn Everything You Can About Opera
Your role on the board is to be an advocate for your company and for the art form. If you are just getting into opera, start your education with what your company is performing this season and next. You will find synopses, program notes and cast listings on your company’s website, and you should try to go to all pre-performance lectures. You might also subscribe to magazines like Opera News and Opera (U.K.). OPERA America’s quarterly magazine, as well as its National Trustee Forum and Opera Conference, will help you gain perspective on the broader field.

This article was published in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Across the Board, a publication of OPERA America for opera company trustees.