Our Strategic Plan
Over the course of several year ACS has developed a strategic paln, recently updated in Auguat 2023. It serves to guide the board as we look to the future and seek to grow in important ways and to maintain a joyful and exciting choral group with an outstandin Artistic Director.
ACADIA CHORAL SOCIETY STRATEGIC PLAN 2023-2026
The Board of Directors of the Acadia Choral Society (ACS) completed a comprehensive Strategic Plan in June of 2018, with the intention of reviewing it annually and developing an updated Plan in 2021. While a an initial 2021-2024 Plan was drafted in 2021, it was not finalized. This 2023-2026 Plan incorporates relevant aspects of the 2021 draft and also reflects the chorus’s experience since that time. Although several of the 2018-2021 Plan objectives were achieved, the COVID -19 pandemic thwarted some of those efforts and played a role in delaying the finalization of a revised Plan.
One of the major goals of the original Strategic Plan was to hire an Artistic Director. The Board hired Dr. Daniel Pyle in 2019, bringing to a close the period of uncertainty while we were led by several interim directors. The initial sense of stability that followed Dr. Pyle’s appointment was interrupted by the pandemic, which resulted in cancellation of the concerts for Spring 2020, Winter 2020, and Spring 2021.
During the shut-down the chorus gathered for rehearsals via Zoom. The electronic format was not ideal, but it served to keep members connected and provided a sense that we were a group who would sing together again. Indeed, despite ongoing COVID challenges, the chorus resumed in-person rehearsals in the Fall of 2021 and performed its traditional concerts that December under strict COVID precautions for both singers and audiences. We have maintained our regular rehearsal and concert schedules since then, performing for the first time without masks in Spring 2023.
The pandemic has continued to affect the chorus and its goals for the future. The financial burden of COVID was partially offset by two Maine Economic Recovery grants and a generous response to our semi-annual appeals. We have emerged financially healthier than in 2019, but there is a need to diversify our sources of revenue and not rely so heavily on the financial support of members. The chorus has lost about 50% of its membership since pre-pandemic times, so a major goal is to attract new singers. Fortunately, we have also welcomed some new and younger singers, who have added fresh voices and vibrancy to the group.
In reviewing the original Strategic Plan, the Board identified the goals that were achieved, those that were partially met, and those that were not met at all. Those that were met include:
• Clear structure of board meetings
• Hire a new permanent Director
• Develop and maintain a Facebook page
• Design a new webpage
Goals that were partially met but that need additional focus include:
• Review job descriptions of Artistic Director and Accompanist to clarify responsibilities and possibly include more publics relations and community outreach
• Stabilize the financial well being of the chorus
• Improve the quality of the chorus and its music
• Define roles of all Board and volunteer positions
Unmet goals include the following:
• Improve chorus morale
• Increase size of chorus
• Increase audience size
• Increase public awareness of the chorus
Of the above unmet goals, it’s clear that the widespread impact of the pandemic upon society and the performing arts in particular contributed to the lack of progress in these areas. The Board intends to reemphasize these goals going forward, especially as post-pandemic conditions improve. This Plan also establishes some new goals for he future. Some of the new high priority goals involve
• emphasizing the enjoyment and quality of rehearsals,
• choosing music that reflects our vision,
• committing to ongoing collaboration and support of the Artistic Director.
Goals that were previously identified but are unlikely to be achieved within the next three years (for financial or other reasons) are listed on the yellow page and remain the same as the previous plan.
There are no changes to the mission, values, and by-laws we set forth in the 2018-2021 Plan. (See Appendices A and F.)
The members of the ACS Board of Directors who participated in developing Strategic Plan 2023-2026 are Nancy Roberts (President), David Cuthbertson (Vice-President), Debbie Kiley (Secretary) Gerry Gregersen (Treasurer), Debra Bjornard, Howard Evans, Carl Faulstick, and Michael Marion. Special thanks go to Dennis Wint for his generosity of time and expertise in guiding us through this process of reviewing and updating the Strategic Plan.
Just as the need for the original Strategic Plan grew out of crisis (the sudden retirement of its Music Director for health reasons), so does this updated version reflect the affects of crisis. When rehearsals and concerts were abruptly cancelled in March of 2020 because of the pandemic, nobody could have predicted that the shut-down would be so protracted. When we resumed rehearsals in September 2021, we did so after very careful deliberations and with some trepidation. Frankly, not everyone agreed it was the right choice.
The 18-month period since we’d stopped gathering in person left us uncertain about whether members would want to resume singing together, whether it was even safe to do so, and whether we would attract an audience. Besides the CDC and health professionals’ advice for everyone to continue taking precautions against COVID, people had become accustomed to staying at home. The Board wondered if we waited too long to start up again, singers might lose the inclination to come back. They decided it was better to resume singing with strict precautions rather than to delay until spring. All singers were required to be vaccinated against COVID19, to wear masks in rehearsals and performances, to inform the Board if they contracted COVID, and to sign a waiver of liability holding ACS harmless if they should become ill.
A chorus of 28 voices presented three performances in December 2021, but there were challenges to overcome. Our regular rehearsal space was no longer available to us; nor was our Ellsworth concert venue. Both of these obstacles were overcome and actually helped us pursue new options and expand our geographical reach. But audiences were small, and ticket revenue suffered. Since then we continue to be challenged to grow the chorus and to find an effective approach to publicity. Consequently, attracting new and younger singers, improving chorus morale, and expanding public awareness and support of ACS remain important areas of focus for the future. The Board is committed to working closely with and supporting the Artistic Director to help achieve these goals through more targeted outreach, more varied choices of music, and more effective use of rehearsal time.
The Strategic Plan also addresses internal management issues, including more clearly defined roles for the Board, the membership, the Artistic Director and Accompanist. The goal is to operate as efficiently as possible while protecting the organization’s legal, fiscal and artistic integrity as a valued contributor to the musical and cultural life of our communities.
Prior to 2020, the Acadia Choral Society (ACS) was a community chorus of forty to sixty members who would come from far and wide – from Brewer to MDI to Bucksport, Franklin, and Thorndike. As in the past, the present chorus of twenty-five to thirty members prepares two concerts each year and performs them in May and December. In the past several years the chorus has held three performances of each concert at venues in Bar Harbor, Ellsworth, Hancock and Bucksport.
The Acadia Choral Society began in Ellsworth in 1957 under the direction of Madame Tsuin Hsa Hsu. The chorus performed several times a year throughout the late 1960’s at venues in Hancock, Washington, and Penobscot Counties. Particularly noteworthy were concerts with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and with renowned guest conductors such as Erich Kunzel and Pierre Monteux. After a hiatus of several years, ACS was re-established by George Emlen in 1978. Shirley Smith directed the chorus for 23 years, from 1984 to 2007. Dr. Jamie Hagedorn served as Music Director from 2007 to 2016.
When Dr. Hagedorn suddenly retired in January, 2017, because of a serious health event, Douglas Beck was named Guest Director for the spring concerts performed in May of that year. Douglas was very well received, but his life took him on a different professional path, and so he was unavailable as a candidate for the position of permanent Director. (He currently serves as our Accompanist.) As part of a plan to audition candidates for the Director position, the Board engaged four subsequent Guest Directors: Molly Webster, Sing Rose, Joan Kroehler, and Daniel Pyle. Each one chose repertoire and directed the chorus for a full term. After his Guest Directorship in Spring 2019, the Board hired Dr. Pyle as Artistic Director. He began his tenure as permanent Artistic Director in September 2019.
After Dr. Hagedorn’s sudden retirement, The Board saw the transition to new artistic leadership as an opportunity to plan strategically for the future of ACS. We applied to the Maine Community Foundation time, seeking funding for both Board development and strategic planning, and the grant was approved.
Because the Board was so occupied finding Guest Directors and managing chorus details that a permanent Music Director would have handled, we were not able to pursue putting the MCF grant to work until January 2018. The Strategic Plan was completed later that spring with the help of consultants Dennis Wint and Anthony Antolini. The update of the 2018-2021 Strategic Plan was delayed largely because of the Board’s attention to issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
MISSION AND VALUES
In establishing our Mission Statement and defining our Values, the Board considered whether the purpose of Acadia Choral Society is primarily for the enjoyment and musical nurture of its members, or if the chorus exists for a broader purpose. We concluded that, while making music together is certainly an important part of our mission, the chorus has a strong sense of community that extends beyond the membership. Our supporters and audiences are an important part of who we are, what we do, and why we do it. They help motivate us to maintain high musical standards and to perform works that are challenging, enjoyable and appreciated. Part of our mission is for our community of both singers and listeners to grow, not only in numbers, but also in diversity of age and backgrounds.
The process of defining values led us to establish two sets of values: one that guides us as an organization with a public mission and following, and one that’s internal and guides the membership in their responsibilities to one another as a chorus of dedicated singers. The second internal set of values is attached as Appendix A.
We wanted our Mission Statement and Values to be succinct while clearly stating who we are, what we do, how and why we do it.
Believing that music inspires and strengthens community, we perform a variety of
choral works, both new and established, engaging persons of diverse ages and
backgrounds as our members and our audiences.
We value the relationship the chorus has with our communities.
Diverse musical genres
We value sharing a variety of musical genres with our audiences.
We value the commitment necessary to perform music that inspires.
Joy and enthusiasm
We value the enjoyment that singing brings to our members and audiences.
(STRENGTHS, WEAKNESSES, OPPORTUNITIES AND THREATS)
Identifying the internal strengths and weaknesses of ACS alongside external opportunities and threats
helped to form goals and objectives that would build on the positive and minimize negative issues.
The analysis revealed that sometimes a strength is also a weakness. ACS has always welcomed all singers without requiring auditions. This has helped to attract singers of varying abilities, and has allowed inexperienced singers to learn and grow musically and vocally. But the downside is that without auditions, there’s no way to screen for singers who are simply not able to perform at the level required for this chorus. For example, it’s necessary for chorus members to be able to learn the music and text outside of rehearsals, as well as to be able to match a pitch. Our experience is that singers will typically drop out if they find learning the music too challenging.
It was heartening to discover more strengths and opportunities than weaknesses and threats. For the most part, strengths are part of ACS’s status as a long-standing organization with a core of dedicated members and an established following within the community. Our plan includes goals and objectives to counter each one of the weaknesses, as well as approaches to take advantage of opportunities. For example, our goal of expanding our audience may be helped through outreach concerts and performing in new venues. And the goal of appealing to younger singers and audiences may be facilitated by reaching out to high schoolers.
Most of the threats, which are external to the organization and harmful to achieving our objectives, are beyond our control. We can’t control the weather or a world-wide pandemic. But external factors have an impact on ACS and its future, and one of the strategies of this Plan is to acknowledge those trends and address them during the annual review of goals and objectives.
SWOT ANALYSIS CHART
(Internal attributes of the organization)
friendly & welcoming low level of personal commitment from some
non-audition lack of consistent rehearsal attendance
long history negativity
established venue non-auditioning
established audiences lack of name recognition
core of dedicated members volunteers
strong consistent director
(External attributes of the environment)
attend concerts of other groups conflicts with other groups’ performances
reach out to high schoolers change in musical preferences throughout society
working relationship with Director wide availability of music in our lives
collaboration with other groups weather effects on concert attendance
benefit concert wearing masks
outreach concerts: nursing homes continuing spread and transmissibility of COVID
museums apathy about participation
Strengths and Opportunities are helpful to achieving objectives;
weaknesses and threats are harmful to achieving them.
Our current audience is comprised primarily of family and friends of chorus members, as well as some former members and long-time community supporters. The size of the Bar Harbor audiences continues to decline. We are aware that our audience is limited by geography and musical tastes, and our goal is to expand it beyond the expected family, friends and traditional supporters. We are encouraged that the addition of the Ellsworth, Hancock and Bucksport performances has attracted followers beyond the traditional Bar Harbor audience and draws from a wider geographic area.
We are also aware that a high percentage of our audience members are seniors. We would like to appeal to a wider range of music lovers, including younger ones. At the same time, it’s important to maintain our current audience, including our donors, who tend to repeat their donations year after year and who attend performances regularly.
Our target audience includes
• Music lovers
• Classical choral music lovers
• Friends and family of chorus members
• Younger people
• Local community of singers
• Donors and local advertisers in appreciation of the support of ACS
The effect of the COVID pandemic upon the chorus has been similar in some key ways to the period when we were auditioning guest directors. In both cases, attrition rates among chorus members increased, resulting in a smaller chorus and a perceived dip in morale. The need to mask during the pandemic affected the morale of some singers. Others chose not to participate because group singing – even with masks – didn’t feel safe. Still others chose not to be vaccinated. (That requirement was dropped in Fall 2022.) One positive side of the smaller group is that the singers bonded together as a strong community who genuinely appreciate one another. But with COVID now largely behind us, we trust the related issues are, too. The goals are to retain those members who sang through the pandemic, encourage former chorus members to return, and recruit new members, focusing on attracting younger singers, as well as specifically tenors and basses. The objective is to have well-balanced chorus that is large enough to perform music that reflects our Vision with satisfaction and joy.
Good governance and Board effectiveness are also an important part of the strategic planning process. The Board has made good progress in improving its meeting structure and following a prepared agenda. Because of turnover on the Board and among member volunteers, the roles of the Board members and other volunteer positions still need clarity, definition, and documentation for ongoing reference. This includes updating the Artistic Director and Accompanist’s role descriptions.
The relationship of the Board and singers with the Artistic Director is critical to the success of the chorus.
The Board is committed to ongoing collaboration with and support of the Artistic Director.
The Board is aware of its crucial role in assuring the financial viability of the chorus. Although the financial position of ACS is somewhat improved, we have relied heavily on support from a few generous and consistent donors, and con horus members themselves. Diversifying and expanding our donor base is a key goal, as well as continuing to seek new corporate sponsors. In addition, the process of getting ads for our concert programs has become burdensome for chorus members, especially since there are fewer of us. One positive aspect of a large number of advertisers is that it reflects the community nature of our endeavor, which is a mjor aspect of our mission. One new goal is either to find ways of streamlining that process while maintaining strong advertising support, or to simplify the program by reducing reliance on advertisers and reduce production and printing costs. The objective is to fortify the organization’s financial security by seeking new sources of revenue and enhancing relationships with patrons and sponsors.
The Board has identified the following goals for the 2024-2026 Strategic Plan:
Process Goals (Tactics) with target completion dates
• Continue to improve Board meeting and planning structure (summer/fall 2024)
• Maintain collaborative and supportive relationship with Artistic Director (ongoing)
• Clarify, document and monitor roles of Artistic Director and Accompanist. (ongoing)
• Create a Board Book of policies and procedures and update the Volunteer Book of task roles (summer/fall 2024)
• Evaluate current publicity methods for effectiveness in recruiting new singers and publicizing concerts; consider alternative approaches. 2023/24
• Keep Facebook page current and informative to help promote chorus activities and appeal to broader potential audience and member base (ongoing)
• Continue to update and revise website as needed for attractiveness, usefulness, and navigability (ongoing)
• Consider alternative approaches to advertising in the concert program (2023)
• Schedule and meet deadlines as set by the Board throughout the year. (ongoing)
• Develop a Financial Pro-Forma (fiscal year 2024)
Outcome Goals with target achievement dates
• Maximize the Artistic Director’s gifts and minimize effects of growing edges (Fall 2023)
• Improve quality of rehearsals (immediate and ongoing)
• Select music the reflects the ACS Vision (ongoing)
• Perform quality concerts (ongoing)
• Increase size of chorus (to 40) and age diversity of members (spring 2024)
• Increase concert attendance and attract new audience sectors, with an emphasis on younger people (ongoing)
• Improve chorus morale (2023 and ongoing)
• Achieve financial well-being of chorus. (ongoing)
• Increase public awareness (ongoing)
The attached chart (Appendix B) details and prioritizes goals, objectives and target dates for achieving them.
The Acadia Choral Society annual budget dereased significantly since and during the pandemic, registering its lowest revenuwelevel $8,561 in in the 2020/21 fiscal year. Recovery was slow, but the Revnue for 2022/23 was $29,106, approaching pre-pandemic levels of $30,000 to $35,000. Income sources include member dues and music fees, program advertising sales, donations, corporate sponsors, and ticket sales. The Board recently increased the cost of tickets from $15 to $20, which is commensurate with the ticket prices of similar organizations in the area. Member fees and member donations currently reflect about 50% of total revenue. We would like to see our financial dependence on the chorus members shift to other sources of revenue, including a larger donor base.
The attached Financial Pro Forma (Appendix C) reflects an annual increase in both income and expense of 3% through Fiscal Year 2026 (September 1, 2026 – August 31, 2027. Accomplishing the goals of increased chorus membership and audience should make the projected income achievable.
Expanding the donor base will also increase income. Higher expenses may be weighted more toward instrumentalist and soloist fees than in the line-by-line increases reflected in the Pro Forma.
Staff and Volunteers
The Artistic Director and Accompanist/Assistant Director are the only paid staff. Those positions are focused on planning, preparing, and performing the music program. The Artistic Director also writes the program notes and assists with drafting donor letters and press releases. Volunteers are primarily responsible for all administration, publicity, and public relations.
Volunteer support for taking on all the administrative and outreach tasks is limited. Some choristers have been doing the same jobs for years and are ready to give them up. Since membership has decreased, the the volunteer pool is smaller. Many volunteer tasks have been absorbed by Board members, resulting in an over-extended Board. Recruiting and attracting new singers is one way to add to the volunteer base. The Artistic Director’s job description could be expanded to include some of the publicity and community relations activities.
Time Frame and Schedule
This is a 3-year Strategic Plan, to be reviewed annually. A schedule of projects, initiation dates and completion dates appears in the Evaluation section, below. Much of the groundwork ihas been accomplished since the initial Strategic Plan was put in place, and many of those initiatives are ongoing. Some of the more immediate intiatives include elevating chorus morale, clarifying the Artistic Director’s role and responsibilities, and improving rehearsal efficiency..All these should be accomplished during the remainder of 2023.
ACS has a good relationship with the churches and organizations that provide space for rehearsing and performing. The rental fees are reasonable, and the space generally meets our needs.
For many years prior to the pandemic, the chorus rehearsed at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ellsworth. But that space was unavailable when we resumed in-person rehearsals in September of 2021. We moved our rehearsals to the Moore Center in Ellsworth, and that arrangement has worked out well. We have also performed concerts at some new venues, including the Ellsworth High School Auditorium, the Hancock Congregational Church, First Congregational Church of Ellsworth, and the Elm Street Congregational Church in Bucksport. Each of these locations presents both advantages and disadvantages, and we continue to evaluate which ones work best for us. We have maintained our long-standing tradition of performing at St. Saviour’s in Bar Harbor and have also resumed performances at St. Andrew in Ellsworth, which were curtailed during the pandemic.
There is a need for more help with setting up and dismantling risers and other equipment for performances. As the chorus ages, fewer strong backs are available to serve in this important way. One suggestion is to hire some local workers to perform this task while a few of our experienced chorus members supervise.
GOVERNANCE STRUCTURE AND BOARD DEVELOPMENT
While Board function and meeting structure have improved considerably since implementation of the Strategic Plan 2018-2021, the Board continues to work toward more efficient and productive use of its meeting time and processes. This includes working with an agenda that is distributed in advance with time frame indicated for each item, staying on topic and using a clear decision-making process.Each meeting should have a flow from agenda approval, previous meeting minutes approval, reports from the Artistic Director, the Finance Committee, the Nominating and Board Resources Committee, and other ad hoc committees. Decisions are made on the reports and issues before the board.
One recommendation from the previous Plan that was not accomplished was the purchase of Directors and Officers insurance. Quotes for that coverage were not affordable. However, the Board did purchase General Liability insurance, which covers ACS for liability in the event of property damage or bodily injury resulting from our operations. Several of the venues we have used for performing and rehearsing require evidence of this type of insurance. This coverage is renewed annually at a cost of $500.
Recognizing the board’s legal responsibility as a non-profit corporation, the by-laws were revised in 2018 and have guided the Board in making decisions that are faithful to ACS priorities and to its mission and purpose, and that adhere to the by-laws.
The revised by-laws include a new standing committee – the Nominating and Board Resources Committee – which addresses the need for new board members with skills that can help board effectiveness. This committee’s work is to be aware of the needs of the board, to cultivate, recruit and nominate new directors, and to orient new directors. This committee also spearheads an annual evaluation of the board (Appendix E) and individual directors (Appendix D). The revised by-laws also stipulate that a Finance Committee be formed and make regular reports to the Board and Membership. A current review of the function and membership of both these committees is appropriate.
To enhance governance structure and effectiveness, we reestablished a goal to develop a Board Book to guide current and future Board members in carrying out their responsibilities and Board’s purpose.
The Board acknowledges that an effective Strategic Plan depends upon regular evaluation of processes, Board functions and meetings, goal achievement, committee effectiveness, and employees.
Performance Measures – Board, Governance and Functioning
Board of Directors performance measures include
• Effective governance structure
– Bylaws review and revision
– Committee structure
– Developing and maintaining a Board Book for current and new Directors
• Implementation of the Strategic Plan 2023 – 2026
– Strategic Planning Committee makes progress reports at least quarterly
– Strategic Plan performance reviewed annually
– Strategic Plan 2026 – 2028 begins in early 2026
o Develop process for the next strategic plan, possibly following the
process and template used for Strategic Plan 2023-2026
o Decide whether the next plan is an update, new direction, or combination of both.
• Achieving annual goals and objectives derived from the Strategic Plan
• Annual evaluation of the performance of the board (Evaluating the Board form attached).
Individual Directors’ performance measures include
• Annual self-evaluation and review by the Nomination and Board Resources Committee
(Director’s self-evaluation form attached)
• Review of performance after term of office by Nominating and Board Resources Committee
before nominating for another term.
Board Meeting Effectiveness is measured by
• Annual assessment of how well the meetings
– Effectively and efficiently conduct the business of the ACS
– Address the strategic issues to achieve the mission and goals of the
– Are planned in advance, including whether Board materials are distributed prior to the meeting
Organizational Effectiveness is measured by
• Performance of the Finance Committee
– Management of finances
– Financial stability
• Performance of the Nominating and Board Resources Committee
– Outlined above in “Governance Structure and Board Development”
Performance Measures – Artistic Director and Accompanist
The Board or a sub-committee of the Board will conduct an annual performance review of the Artistic Director and Accompanist, both in person and in writing. Other employees, if any, shall be evaluated annually.
Some of the criteria used to evaluate the Artistic Director’s performance may include
• Meeting performance expectations, which have been clearly defined and articulated in a job description
• Strong positive relationship with the Board
• Leadership of the chorus
– Strong positive relationship with ACS
– Recruiting of new singers
– Improving the morale of the chorus
• Creating a high quality chorus
• Programming and delivering an exciting choral experience for the chorus and audience
• Serving as the spokesperson for ACS
• Fund-raising and donor building
• Contributes to achieving the goals in the strategic plan
Some of the criteria used to evaluate the Accompanist’s performance may include
• Meeting performance criteria, which have been clearly defined and articulated
• Positive working relationship with and supports the Artistic Director
• Positive relationship with the chorus
• Positive relationship with the Board
Formative: Key Performance Deadlines during the Plan
The attached chart of Goals and Objectives with Timetable indicates specific goals of the Strategic Plan and when they are to be achieved. The overall plan will be reviewed annually for effectiveness and possible revision.
Summative: Final Assessment of Performance
The primary purpose of this Strategic Plan is to bring to life the mission of Acadia Choral Society in accordance with its stated values. As noted in the Executive Summary, the Board has identified several key areas of focus
• Improve chorus morale
• Emphasize the enjoyment and quality of rehearsals
• Increase and stabilize the size of the chorus and attract younger singers
• Increase audience size
• Increase public awareness of the chorus and improve publicity
• Achieve more financial stability
• Continue to improve Board function and governance
The Board has established specific interim goals and objectives as a strategy to affect these focus areas positively. The success of the strategy will depend upon how much progress has been made in each of these areas by 2026. At that time it will be necessary to assess the effectiveness of both the plan itself and the implementation in achieving the overall purpose.
Draft #2, 8/8/2023, by Gerry