March 30, 2015

Dance Group's End Shows Perils of Single-Donor Dependence

The impending shutdown of New York's Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet points up the danger for nonprofits that rely largely on a single patron, The New York Times writes. The troupe, which was founded in 2003 by retail heiress Nancy Laurie and earned a reputation for innovative programming, announced earlier this month that it would close after scheduled performances in June.

Ms. Laurie, the billionaire niece of Walmart founder Sam Walton, provided more than three-quarters of Cedar Lake's revenue in the 2012-13 fiscal year, with tickets and touring accounting for only 7.6 percent, according to tax filings. The company advertised last year for a manager whose duties would include developing sponsorships with outside partners, but the position was never filled.

A spokeswoman for Ms. Laurie, who declined an interview request, said that "prevailing circumstances make running Cedar Lake no longer viable in this community." Katharine DeShaw, the executive director of consulting firm Philanthropology, said the message of the ballet's demise "is that whoever [a group's] founding donor is, unless they're willing to put enormous endowments behind their vision, their organizations won't survive if they don't invite other people in, and I would argue early in the game."