Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Money, Money, Money

Money dominates our lives.  We need it in order to live in our society, i.e. to pay the bills for shelter, food, utilities, phone, transportation, etc.  We spend our time in general in pursuit of money whether we go to work or not.  The purpose of our lives, in order to live our lives, is the acquisition of money.  Then we create institutions that spend their time offering services for a price, including our various levels of government.  Companies hawk goods and services in exchange for money.  Is there no aspect of life that isn't touched in some way by the color green?

Money is a pet peeve of mine.  It has been on my mind even more lately because of different things that have come to my attention:

While the federal government is no longer "partially" shutdown, the problems remain.  Congress only shoved them down the road of time a bit.  For all those politicians who say they want smaller government and lower taxes, I would ask them, why not work for a more efficient and effective government?  That's something we clearly do not have at the moment, especially with the Tea Party group in the GOP stomping their feet and throwing tantrums over the ACA.  Efficient and effective -- how do we get that?  Is it a matter of electing people who want that too?  Will they stick to their guns as ferociously as the Tea Party has theirs?  And by the way, where are all the available jobs for the unemployed (like me)?

Then you have the bunch at the Minnesota Orchestral Association who are so obsessed with money they have forgotten what the true mission of the organization is.  They even tried to change the mission to one that emphasized money instead of music.  They have ignored the people to whom they come for donations every year, and I don't mean the super rich of the state.  I was looking at an MOA annual report from the mid-1980's recently and was quite surprised to see pages of donors listed who gave less than $1000.  The MOA doesn't do that anymore.  They can't be bothered.  The smaller donations from people who attend concerts aren't "enough" for them, I guess.  I have become more and more convinced that the MOA Board of Directors grossly mismanaged the Association's money for the last decade and it's now caught up with them and the only thing they can think of to do is blame someone else, e.g. the musicians in the orchestra, the community who "doesn't want to pay for a world class orchestra," and the economy.  I have never witnessed such an amazing train wreck of non-profit management in my entire adult life, including the complete lack of focus or attention on the primary reason and priority of the organization: orchestral music.

Bravo to former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson for speaking his mind about the MOA debacle, and bringing up another interesting issue concerning money: the new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings.  Considering they are having a totally abysmal season, I wonder how the state of Minnesota, Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis could want to proceed with building that stadium.  We've been learning even more about where the money from the Vikings will come from -- their portion to pay for the stadium -- the fans.  Yes, indeed.  The fans will have to pay license fees for each seat they buy tickets for, and some of those fees are in the thousands of dollars.  Really?  After Minnesota fans, in paying state taxes, have already given money to the stadium's construction?  Really, where's the Wilf family with their contribution?  The October 2013 issue of The Atlantic has a fascinating article about NFL stadium funding entitled "How the NFL fleeces taxpayers" by Gregg Easterbrook.  I'm not sure what outraged me more: the team owners enriching themselves at the expense of the people they are supposed to be serving or that the NFL enjoys non-profit status.  That's right.  They are non-profit organizations, each team, and do not pay taxes.  Can you believe it?  Especially when they are clearly so very concerned about making money, i.e. the owners.  Governor Carlson asks why the state of Minnesota shells out hundreds of millions of dollars for the Minnesota Vikings and next to nothing for the Minnesota Orchestra.  Good question.

In the same issue of The Atlantic, another article provided a hefty dose of irony for its readers.  According to Amanda Ripley in her article "The Case Against High School Sports," the campaign for money begins in high school where our country "spends more tax dollars per high-school athlete than per high-school math student."  In the American educational system, sports are more important than academics.  In other countries of the world, schools focus on academics.  Sports are pursued after school in programs organized by communities.  Wow.  Cricket clubs in Pakistan and India.  Soccer (football) clubs in Europe and South America.  Could you imagine something similar in America?  I actually really like the model of sport being an after-school pursuit for kids.  While physical education does need to be a part of a school's curriculum, organized team sports as well as individual sports like tennis and golf could be shifted to a club-type of activity after school.  Maybe American students would actually do better academically and school districts could pay their teachers more, too.

Money, money, money.  Acquiring it is important, but how we spend it is just as important.....

Addendum on October 29: Gwen Pappas, the Director of Public Relations at the Minnesota Orchestral Association, sent me an e-mail pointing out something inaccurate that I'd written in this post.  It is the following:
"I was looking at an MOA annual report from the mid-1980's recently and was quite surprised to see pages of donors listed who gave less than $1000.  The MOA doesn't do that anymore.  They can't be bothered.  The smaller donations from people who attend concerts aren't "enough" for them, I guess."
Here is Gwen's response:

"It is incorrect to suggest the Orchestra does not acknowledge donors under the $1000 level.  If you look in any of our recent Annual Reports, which are part of our December program book, we consistently list donors in the $250-$499 level and above.  (You can find the most recent Annual Report on our website:  to see an example of this. )  Donations serve as the foundation of this organization, and we are appreciative of donors who generously give any amount to the Minnesota Orchestra."
I stand corrected and apologize for any damage I may have done the MOA.  I could have done a better job of research before writing.

I returned to the mid-1980's Annual Report that I possess and looked more closely at the listing of donors.  Then I compared it to the Annual Report Gwen's link connects to.  My first observation is that in mid-1980's, the categories of donors do not specify the dollar amount giving level as the 2011-12 report does.  Second, while there are a substantial number of donors (7856) in the most recent report, I was really impressed to see the 3 pages of institutional donors listed in tiny type, and 9 pages of individual donors in the same tiny type, plus a page listing institutional and individual donors in Rochester and St. Cloud.  The introduction claims a total of 28,000 donors.  I think the present Development Dept. needs to talk to members of the mid-1980's Development Dept. to find out what they were doing to have so many donors participating in the Guaranty Fund.

I thank Gwen Pappas for correcting me, and by correcting me, encouraging me to go back and give it another look.  Personally, I think Gwen has one of the hardest jobs in the country right now.  She is the consummate PR professional, and every time I have contacted her, I have received timely and professional replies.  


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