Nicole Richards explains how an inspirational lead gift and the power of music helped Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s award-winning capital campaign raise more than $3 million.

The impetus for the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s (QSO) first-ever capital campaign was an urgent need to find a new home. The purpose-built premises they’d occupied since 1977 in Brisbane’s West End had been sold and the pressure was on to find a venue capable of housing the state’s largest performing arts company.

After a site was identified in the South Bank arts precinct, QSO secured $9 million from the federal government and $3 million from the Queensland government, leaving it $2 million shy of critical funding required. An additional $2 million was also sought to enhance QSO spaces within the building.

Gaelle Lindrea, QSO’s director of philanthropy, says the capital campaign hit the ground running. “This was a major step up for us,” she explains. “We had a history of well put together annual campaigns but no effective major gift program in place.”

Faced with a tough economic climate when the campaign was launched in 2011, and being remote from the heart of arts philanthropy in the southern states, QSO commissioned a consultant to establish the parameters of the campaign, design a marketing brochure, undertake data analysis and focus group dinners and identify a list of prospects.

Working within a tight budget which averaged 3.2% of funds raised, QSO staff from all departments rallied to support the campaign. “We had tremendous internal support,” Lindrea explains. “Though there was just myself and a project officer involved in the day-to-day work, we received support from all our teams: marketing, artistic, development and other staff who acted as ushers at our launch. Plus we were able to use volunteers from time-to-time.”

$500,000 gift gives campaign momentum

A campaign committee worked closely with the enthusiastic board and supportive chair, Greg Wanchap. Of the many meetings that board members and executives attended with prospective major donors, it was the chief executive officer’s approach to Harold Mitchell AC that set the campaign’s trajectory.

“Securing the lead gift prior to launch was critical,” Lindrea says. “Harold Mitchell’s gift of $500,000 inspired people and set the benchmark for the campaign. If you don’t have that, it just doesn’t gain traction. For instance if we’d received a gift of $15,000 to start the campaign it would’ve been extremely difficult to secure the top gift afterwards – people tend to slot in under the benchmark that’s been set and of course, most of the money comes from the top 10 gifts.”

Renowned for his love of classical music, Mitchell was the keynote speaker at the campaign’s official launch which featured a stirring live performance by the orchestra. Mitchell, who was conducting a review of private support for the arts for the Australian government at the time, announced his leadership gift at the launch. Lindrea credits this, along with the power of the music, for the launch’s success.

“At the end of the night we were approached by an anonymous donor who told us he’d seen a million orchestras but this performance put tears in his eyes. He then handed us a cheque for a six figure sum,” Lindrea recalls.

EFTPOS, telemarketing and newsletter trialled

Looking to maximise donation opportunities on the night and capitalise on the uplifting performance, QSO staff toted portable EFT units in the concert hall as guests were leaving. It was a shrewd move that delivered an additional $153,000 into the campaign coffers.

The launch event was followed up with a telemarketing campaign targeting guests who didn’t donate on the night. It was the first time QSO had used telemarketing, but the results were modest with $10,000 raised from 500 contacts.

In its first five months the campaign had raised more than half of its target figure. The chance to reinvigorate the campaign came in the form of a feature in QSO’s substantial and highly regarded newsletter, mailed to 2,000 subscribers and members twice per year. “People love our newsletters,” Lindrea says. “They’re quite lengthy with musician stories and supporter stories and they tend to sit on coffee tables for a good while. We were really pleased to raise $40,000 through it.”

Success builds with major backers

With additional major gifts from Trevor and Judith St Baker and their company, ERM Power, plus John B Reid AO and Lynn Rainbow Reid, the campaign surged beyond its target to reach more than $3 million. QSO operational staff took up residence in their new home, replete with performance rooms, guest artist suites and an expansive music library, in December, 2012.

At a recent thank you dinner, donors were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility which sits between the Queensland Performing Arts Centre and the Conservatorium of Music. “The donors were very impressed with what their money helped fund,” Lindrea says.

Not only has the new building won accolades from donors, but the capital campaign itself was awarded the state and national 2012 Australia Business Arts Foundation Giving Award.

“The stakes are high in a capital campaign, but people can also really see the need to get behind it,” Lindrea says. “We’ve developed so many new relationships and the fact that we’ll be able to stage our contemporary classical series, many open rehearsals and expanded education forums in the new studio will help to raise our profile and our ability to raise funds with a really solid, sustainable base behind us which is something we’ve never had before.”

Figure A: Queensland Symphony Orchestra capital campaign gift table

Gift amount


No. of gifts (donations)





















Up to $9,999






Figure B: QSO celebrates moving to the new building with a flash-mob performance


Nicole Richards
Nicole Richards is a freelance writer who specialises in NGO communications.

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