Reynold Levy ’66 was featured in a New York Times article about the annual Lincoln Center spring gala, which this year will be held in his honor in advance of his departure as president of Lincoln Center in December.
“Now in the fund-raising finale to close out his 11 years at Lincoln Center, he has set out to raise more than $8 million for the annual spring gala on Thursday,” the article notes. This would be a record for a gala held by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
The article explains how Levy has a unique ability to raise funds, making him a critical asset because, “Lincoln Center must raise nearly half its budget every year.”
Among the ways he does so is through gala events such as the one in his honor.
According to the article, “During his tenure Mr. Levy has increased the number of galas from two a year to about 10 – each of which is pegged to a specific event, like Mostly Mozart or American Songbook and sometimes to a particular audience, like families or real estate executives. He increased the number of board members to 78 from 47 to broaden Lincoln Center’s base of support.”
“To bring the Paris Opera Ballet to Lincoln Center or to bring the L.A. Symphony or to bring the Royal Shakespeare Company, these are expensive propositions that require a relentless effort to raise these funds,” Levy said.
Levy announced his retirement as president of Lincoln Center in 2012. He was inducted into the 232nd Class of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences earlier that year. Levy is a Hobart Medal of Excellence recipient, who was a political science major and a member of Phi Beta Kappa while a student. He is the honorary chair of fundraising efforts for the HWS Performing Arts Center, and served as a member of the William Smith Centennial Honorary Committee.
The full article follows.
The New York Times
A Fund-Raiser’s Finale
Robin Pogrebin • May 5, 2013
There are many artists at Lincoln Center. Reynold Levy, president of the performing arts center, likes to think of himself as one of them. His art is putting the arm on donors, and he is acknowledged to be one of the very best nudges in New York. “I’ve asked everyone for money,” Mr. Levy said in an interview. “They hide behind pillars when they see me.”
The personal letter. The luncheon confab. The pure play to vanity. These are among Mr. Levy’s tools.
The gala, he writes in his 2009 fund-raising guide, “Yours for the Asking,” gives men and women “an excuse to wear those new cuff links and display that new gown.”
“To see and be seen doing some good is a form of public recognition most people cherish,” he continues. “Don’t let them tell you otherwise.”
Now in the fund-raising finale to close out his 11 years at Lincoln Center, he has set out to raise more than $8 million for the annual spring gala on Thursday, which will honor him as he prepares to depart in December. The amount would be a record for a gala held by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and among the higher sums ever raised for an event by a New York City cultural organization.
“He got all of the former chairs to say yes to a figure that is above what we would typically do for a gala,” said Frank A. Bennack Jr., a former Lincoln Center chairman whose company, the Hearst Corporation, bought a table at the top price: $250,000. Mr. Levy, with help from Katherine G. Farley, Lincoln Center’s chairwoman, and others, sold six tables at $250,000, 10 tables at $100,000, two tables at $75,000, 26 tables at $50,000 and 55 tables at $25,000. A journal printed for the gala with paid ads raised another $2 million.
The gala, which will feature a performance by Audra McDonald, had to be moved to the 2,700-seat Avery Fisher Hall from Jazz at Lincoln Center’s 1,100-seat Rose Theater because of demand. Dinner for a high-paying 1,200 (chili sea-salt crusted filet of beef) will follow under a tent in Damrosch Park.
For cultural organizations where performance revenues cover just a portion of the operating budget, a chief executive with the fund-raising gene has become an absolute necessity – particularly given that corporate contributions and government funding have declined. Lincoln Center must raise nearly half its budget every year.
Mr. Levy, 68, came to Lincoln Center in 2002 with considerable management experience, having been president of the International Rescue Committee, one of the world’s largest refugee organizations; president of the AT&T Foundation; and executive director of the 92nd Street Y. And he helped shepherd Lincoln Center’s $1.2 billion overhaul of the campus, which was completed in last fall.
He is also a glutton for “the ask.” Many arts officials consider solicitation conversations a necessary evil; Reynold Levy relishes them. He has perfected the personal touch – researching potential donors and then targeting his pitches to their specific interests. And though donors sometimes find Mr. Levy’s earnest enthusiasm for Lincoln Center a little over the top, his belief in the cause generally carries the day. People reach for their checkbooks.
“He’ll call you, but he does it in a gentlemanly way,” said Philip L. Milstein, the real estate magnate and a Lincoln Center trustee. “He’s not a bully.”
But Mr. Milstein said he got the full treatment when he didn’t respond to Mr. Levy’s initial letter because it arrived in September, so far in advance – eight months before the gala.
“Your pledge,” the letter said, “carries with it an ironclad guarantee that I am confident you never thought I’d utter, let alone commit to writing. Here it is: ‘I, Reynold Levy, will not ever again solicit funds for Lincoln Center from Philip Milstein.Is that a motivational sentence, or what?”
Every letter was personally postscripted.
“That’s how you raise money,” Mr. Levy said.
During his tenure Mr. Levy has increased the number of galas from two a year to about 10 – each of which is pegged to a specific event, like Mostly Mozart or American Songbook and sometimes to a particular audience, like families or real estate executives. He increased the number of board members to 78 from 47 to broaden Lincoln Center’s base of support.
“To bring the Paris Opera Ballet to Lincoln Center or to bring the L.A. Symphony or to bring the Royal Shakespeare Company,” Mr. Levy said, “these are expensive propositions that require a relentless effort to raise these funds.”
What about donor fatigue? “People occasionally say, ‘Oh my goodness, not another gala,’ ” Mr. Bennack said. “But by and large they’ve been responsive and by and large they’ve been enjoyable evenings.
“Occasionally those of us in leadership there have said, ‘Ren, this is probably enough in terms of how many times we’re going to say this is a gala evening,’ ” Mr. Bennack added. “And he’s listened to that.”
For his last hurrah Mr. Levy is determined to give them a gala they won’t forget. Prominent chefs will be on hand to serve hors d’oeuvres on Avery Fisher’s Promenade before the performance – lamb tagine, anyone? (Daniel Boulud). Shrimp with dirty rice? (Marcus Samuelsson).
Mr. Levy also got his friend Tom Brokaw, the former news anchor, to be the M.C.
“Because it’s so large and unprecedented and I’m the honoree, I’ve got a personal interest in making sure that it works,” Mr. Levy said. During the event he won’t even try to steal a bite of the fava bean purée or the sesame biscotti; there is work still to be done. He’ll have that glass of pinot noir when he gets home.
“In my wallet is an index card and on that are the table numbers and the names of the people I have to say hello to and thank and be introduced to,” he said.
And when the gala’s over, Mr. Levy will be right back out there shaking the trees, to pay off Lincoln Center’s renovation. There is $50 million more to go. “This is not something I’m going to leave to my successor,” he said. “The sooner we raise it, the better.”
Didn’t he promise all these people in that letter that if they gave to his gala he would never darken their doors again?
Apparently fund-raisers can’t afford to worry about consistency, or popularity.
“I’m going to have to acquire friends because I’ve run out of them,” Mr. Levy said. “There aren’t any left.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 7, 2013
An article on Monday about Reynold Levy, who is stepping down as president of Lincoln Center, referred incorrectly to the $8 million he is trying to raise for the annual spring gala. It would be a record for a gala held by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; it would not be a record for a gala held at Lincoln Center. (A gala there for the Metropolitan Opera’s 125th anniversary in 2009 raised more than $10 million.) And an accompanying picture caption, using information from Lincoln Center, misidentified an actress shown dancing with Mr. Levy. She is Colleen Dunn, not Deborah Yates.