An Open Letter to patrons, donors, and supporters of the Peninsula Symphony
As you may know, in September 2013, just prior to the opening concert of the 2013-14 Season, the Peninsula Symphony discovered that nearly all of its endowment and operating funds and financial records for the prior three years were missing. The Los Altos Police Department conducted a months-long investigation that resulted in the arrest and prosecution of the Symphony’s former Executive Director by the Santa Clara County District Attorney. He has been found guilty on nine charges of embezzlement, grand theft, forgery and tax evasion. On June 4, 2015, the former Director was sentenced to nine years in state prison. In the meantime, the Symphony has retained pro bono the law firm of Baker & McKenzie and is in the process of investigating options for recovering funds through civil proceedings.
The most important thing we can do for you is to assure you that: the Peninsula Symphony is in no danger of closing its doors or experiencing any disruption in our programming or mission; and that we have taken swift and comprehensive measures to strengthen the organization and to ensure that this sort of activity will never happen to us again.
First and foremost, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to our Board and musicians who, through a tremendous show of support and confidence, pledged over half the needed funds to move forward with our 2013-2014 Season as originally planned. The balance of the funds came through a generous response to our year-end appeal and record attendance at our annual fundraising gala.
This demonstration of confidence was echoed by our audiences, who turned out in record numbers for our 2013-2014 Season concerts – attendance was up nearly 40% over the previous season. We are now well into our 2014-2015 Season and are pleased to report that attendance continues to exceed expectations, and we are excited to kick off our 2015-2016 Season in the coming weeks.
On the administrative side, we brought in Andrea Temkin, a veteran non-profit executive and arts education professional, as Interim Executive Director in November 2013. Previous former Executive Director Margrit Rinderknecht came out of retirement and volunteered to assist with communications with donors and re-establishing the administrative office. Stacy Huisman from AST Consulting Group stepped in as Development Associate. The Board of Directors reconstituted a new Finance Committee. Board members worked collaboratively to rebuild confidence with its network of supporters and with the community at large.
The Symphony secured pro bono accounting services from accounting firm Young Craig & Co. LLP, to implement strengthened financial control mechanisms to protect future donations and revenues, and with their assistance, a new Financial Controls, Policies and Procedures Manual was created and approved by the Board in April 2014. Internal bookkeeping and financial reporting was restructured to allow greater transparency and immediate access and review by Executive Board members as well as staff, including the conversion to online banking and bookkeeping functions.
Records from Fiscal Year 2012-2013 were carefully reconstructed from bank statements, ticket sales records, donor records and documents obtained by the police in their investigation. Substantial assistance in this was provided by volunteer Michele Braucht, former Finance Director for the Town of Los Gatos. The Symphony was eventually able to file a complete Form 990 and appropriate schedules with the Internal Revenue Service. The filed tax return for the Fiscal Year ending June 30, 2014 is available for public review here.
With a seasoned transitional leadership team and renewed commitment by key supporters, the Board worked hard all year to rebuild confidence with its network of supporters and with the community at large.
Thanks to a special grant from the Packard Foundation’s Organizational Effectiveness Program, the Board was able to work with professional consulting firm Brakeley Briscoe to ensure good governance policies and activities remain up to date, assist with Board infrastructure analysis and development, and provide a roadmap and benchmarks so that the Board can proceed with building its membership and engaging in effective donor stewardship and development. Based on the findings by Brakeley Briscoe, the Board has activated an Executive Committee that meets monthly in addition to revitalizing their Finance, Marketing, Development and Governance committees.
As the interim leadership completed their work, a new administrative staffing structure was put into place, and in late 2014 Peninsula Symphony was pleased to hire two highly experienced and capable individuals – Managing Director Sheri Frumkin, former Development Director with several major San Jose performing arts institutions, and Operations Manager Daniel Thomas, former General Manager with Los Angeles area musical theatre and presenting organizations.
Following a retreat in April 2015, staff and Board are developing a three-year strategic plan that moves the Symphony definitively out of recovery mode and uses the artistic and financial successes from the 2014-2015 Season as a foundation to pursue aggressive yet realistic goals for growth.
We have also used this restructuring as an opportunity to better communicate with our patrons, donors and community. The Symphony has re-designed its website and integrated it with a new online ticketing and donor database. Thanks to grants from SV Creates and Applied Materials, we were able to contract with Kate Akos, an expert in orchestra management, development and marketing. With her assistance and leadership, a Marketing Committee with representation from the Board, orchestra and staff was established, and is revitalizing the Symphony’s approach to marketing, ticketing and social media.
Events such as this can shake any organization to its core, and often times those organizations find themselves unable to recover. But thanks to the tremendous efforts, support and love from our family of supporters, the Peninsula Symphony has been able not only to withstand this crisis and rebuild, but to find ourselves poised for growth and many more years of enriching the lives of our community through music.
We are here for your questions and your thoughts, and we cannot express enough our gratitude for your support. We look forward to seeing you at our next concert!
Peninsula Symphony is committed to transparent and effective governance, and to compliance with high ethical standards and best practices for non-profit organizations.
If you have questions about our operations, policies, governance, programs, or finances, please contact our office at 650.941.5291 or