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Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra

Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra (MYSO) is one of the most successful and respected youth orchestra programs in the nation, regularly recognized regionally, nationally and internationally for its artistic excellence.  With 1,000 young musicians ages 8 -18 from as many as 215 schools, 60 communities and counties throughout southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois participating in MYSO’s many music training programs, it has become one of the largest organizations of its kind in the United States.

What They Sought

During a time of unprecedented growth, Executive Director Linda Edelstein and the MYSO leadership team approached Spectrum to assist the organization in strengthening its financial health while assessing new opportunities to expand its reach and mission impact.  “I knew Steve was the right individual to lead us through this process,” Edelstein said, “He is the only consultant that I have worked with who addresses strategic deliberations in this way.”  They were also seeking a facilitator to guide them through a set of strategic conversations to create a unified vision for the organization’s future.

Neither board nor staff were interested in the traditional approach to strategic planning as they were not interested in a binder of information which was impossible to implement.  They sought to better understand their current situation and to utilize Spectrum’s Principal, Steve Zimmerman for his insight, experience, and leadership, particularly in tying fiscal stability to mission impact, known as the “dual bottom line” concept.

What Spectrum Provided

Spectrum provided a comprehensive set of services centered around the question of MYSO’s financial sustainability and on the creation of a strategic direction reflecting an understanding of the intersection between MYSO’s impact and finances.  In close collaboration with a taskforce comprised of board and staff leadership, Spectrum designed a process for the team to build the following:

  1. A clear statement of intended impact for the organization together with metrics to monitor MYSO’s progress towards their impact.
  2. An articulated impact strategy that clearly and visually communicated the strategies and programs for accomplishing the impact.
  3. A matrix map to visually demonstrate how the programs, both mission-specific and fund development, currently interacted to create both impact and financial viability.
  4. A better understanding off where MYSO needed to make investments to build financial sustainability and where the capital for those investments would come from.
  5. A set of core strategic priorities by program to achieve a more sustainable organization with increased impact and financial health.

Results

For MYSO, building consensus and flexibility around ongoing strategic decision making was a key step.  Linda recalls, “not only did Steve have the capacity to connect these concepts for the organization, but he also led the process in a thoughtful, integrated way that allowed all constituent voices to be part of the final decision making.”  Because there was no one right answer for the organization, Spectrum’s approach was to help everyone on the team better understand what drives MYSO’s finance and impact.  With custom designed tools and a phased set of priorities to build in flexibility, the leadership team was able to implement strategies for increasing their sustainability immediately and will be able to adapt and adjust as needed to continue strengthening their impact in the future.  As a result of the process and tools, the organization better understands its market and has a clear framework for making sound decisions about programs in a strategic manner with understanding the implications each decision offers.  Their new priorities also allow MYSO to strengthen both short- and long-term sustainability as an organization while providing context for future growth.