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Music-Focused Presser Foundation Takes Steps to Modernize

September 30, 2014 Category: FundingUncategorized

The Presser Foundation, a philanthropic organization focused on music education and advancement that awards approximately $3 million a year ($2 million locally), has recently taken steps to modernize and boost its transparency.

Founded in 1939 to fulfill the will of Theodore Presser, a devoted philanthropist who made his fortune in the music publishing business, the Foundation’s trustees have carefully adhered to his wishes, including the annual recitation of a passage in his will “just to remind them of his intentions and commitment to music philanthropy,” said Teresa Araco Rodgers, who was appointed the executive director in July.

Before his death, Presser himself outlined the Foundation’s five areas for grantmaking. He also established the Mount Airy-based Presser Home for Retired Music Teachers, which was restored in 2011.

Two years ago, however, in recognition of the “changing times,” the Foundation’s trustees took a harder look at their operations, including ways to modernize, cut costs, and divert more charitable dollars directly to grantmaking.

The Foundation was completely paper-based until last August, noted Araco Rodgers.

“There was no institutional knowledge outside of paper files. To try to put a story together of its grantmaking, you literally had to go through files,” she said.

In addition, the application process for potential grantees was somewhat elusive, Araco Rodgers added: “Everything was very, ‘You find us,’ because that was the culture.”

Now, the Foundation has a redesigned website, and grantmaking is entirely online. It relocated from the suburbs to Center City, in a move to shrink expenses and be closer to many of its grantees and trustees.

The Foundation has also phased out salaried staff, hiring consultants to trim overhead. Approximately six percent of the Foundation’s overall budget is allocated for administrative expenses.

“The board takes the job of grantmaking very seriously,” Araco Rodgers added.

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The Foundation’s application process is also more open; staff is willing to meet with grantees and work with them to “clarify guidelines.”

“My goal is to provide greater transparency about who we are and what we fund,” Araco Rodgers said. “Hopefully a byproduct of that is more people know about us and apply.”

To mark its 75th anniversary, the Presser Foundation recently announced a one-time round of grantmaking, totaling $350,000, which will support Choral Arts Philadelphia, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra, among others. The next application deadline — for general operating support — is November 15.

Photo by William DiCecca

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