The Sydney Opera House is a World Heritage-listed “masterpiece of human creative genius.” It is the country’s pre-eminent performing arts centre and leading tourist destination, staging more than 2,000 performances for 1.5 million people and welcoming more than 8.2 million visitors a year.
The Opera House is a not-for-profit public asset that generates around 88% of its annual operating revenue through its own activities. In 2013, a Deloitte Access Economics report estimated the Opera House’s annual contribution to the national economy at $775 million, and its cultural and iconic value to Australia at $4.6 billion.
Philanthropy has been part of the Opera House’s DNA since its inception. The Opera House Appeal Fund was first established in 1957, 16 years before the Opera House opened in 1973. However, the scale of philanthropic support had never matched the Opera House’s impact on Australian society or identity.
In the lead up to its 40th Anniversary in 2013, the Opera House acknowledged that the much-loved institution was still perceived as a fully-funded government organisation with no clear or compelling message as to why people should support it philanthropically. The Opera House recognised that a renewed focus on philanthropic support would allow it to increase the scope, scale and ambition of what it is able to do for the community it serves and to which it belongs.
The partnership with the Opera House began in 2013. Working alongside CEO Louise Herron AM and the Opera House’s Executive Team, Philanthropy Squared helped to refine and stress-test the model for their major gift fundraising program launched in the lead up to the October 40th Anniversary, the Idealists.
Working closely and collaboratively with the Executive Team, Philanthropy Squared provided objective, strategic counsel to guide the design and implementation of a sustainable fundraising model for the Idealists – so that more people would give and people would give more, over the long-term as relationships deepened.
Philanthropy Squared also brought to the table an in-depth understanding of the sector to enable the organisation to test and challenge established ideas and assumptions against industry benchmarks.
Philanthropy Squared continues to provide ongoing counsel to the Opera House.
Five years after launch, the Idealists donor group continues to flourish. The model has allowed for the program to evolve in new and interesting ways, such as the Utzon Idealist program launched in 2015, and continues to welcome new donors and inspire new levels of giving. The organisation has realised an increase in philanthropic income of 310% since the Opera House’s 40th Anniversary, with donor-retention rates above 90%.
Further, as a result of the organisation’s consistently measured work, the Opera House has firmly established itself as a fundraising organisation. The Opera House has become a trusted and revered institution amongst its donors and there is an inherent ability to articulate the value and the meaning of philanthropy amongst staff at all levels of the organisation.