Business Irish

Friday 29 August 2014

Row over fundraising in US led to NCH resignations

PHILIP RYAN

Published 27/04/2014 | 02:30

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NCH boss Simon Taylor
NCH boss Simon Taylor

THE bitter fallout at the National Concert Hall which led to the resignations of five board members last week centres on a dispute over how almost €200,000 was spent on a US fundraising drive that has so far produced little return.

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Five members of the State-funded board resigned last week citing a letter circulated to members which they perceived to be critical of their work.

The Sunday Independent can reveal the internal row was sparked by a disagreement over how €190,000 was spent over three years trying to raise funds from American donors.

This included spending €34,000 flying three senior executives from the Lincoln Center in New York to a gala dinner held in the National Concert Hall in Dublin.

The top officials flew business class and stayed in the exclusive Shelbourne Hotel for five days.

The costs also included fees paid to the executives who were advising the NCH on fundraising strategies in America.

The NCH also held a gala fundraising event in New York – where celebrated Irish-American flautist James Galway performed – in a bid to raise its profile in the US.

NCH sources have said they have so far raised very little money in America from these initiatives.

The NCH is 35 per cent funded from the State. The remainder is raised through ticket sales and fundraising initiatives.

In total, fundraising makes up around eight per cent of its funding and in the past two years about €1m was raised - the majority coming from Irish donors.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, NCH chief executive Simon Taylor said the money spent on the US project was to build relationships with potential American donors.

"There's an adage in fundraising 'you raise friends before your raise funds'," he told the Sunday Independent.

"It came with a lot of potential for us. But at the end of the day the board made the decision that this was not how they wanted to proceed. Therefore I was asked to write to Lincoln Center and say 'thank you very much we will not be preceding'."

The National Concert Hall's proposal to form a partnership with the Lincoln Center in Manhattan was initially welcomed by the board and Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan.

The Lincoln Center is seen as the world leader in fundraising for the arts.

Mr Deenihan visited the famous New York performance arts centre after three executives came to Ireland in 2012.

In a letter to Lincoln Center president Reynold Levy – seen by the Sunday Independent – Mr Deenihan said the partnership represented a "unique opportunity" to bring world class cultural management to Ireland.

However, the deal fell through as the NCH was not prepared to pay the Lincoln Center more than €500,000 for consultancy services which would help develop fundraising initiatives in the US.

Pat Heneghan, Bruce Arnold, Artemis Kent and Patricia Slavin resigned from the NCH board last week.

Board chairwoman Margaret Ryan, who was due to step down shortly as she is joining Failte Ireland, also quit the board of the NCH.

A letter sent by fellow board member John McGrane to the board, the CEO Simon Taylor and Mr Deenihan was cited by some members as the reason for the resignations.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr McGrane said he "disagreed professionally" with some board members but would now encourage his colleagues to "focus on a positive strategy to realise the potential of the National Concert Hall".

Sunday Independent

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