A Guide to Basic Orchestra Governance

orchestra governance

Governance in community organizations encompasses the structures, processes, and practices that enable them to make sound decisions, set strategic goals, and ensure accountability. It serves as the guiding compass that directs their operations, fosters transparency, and creates a framework for collaboration and effectiveness. When implemented thoughtfully, good governance empowers community organizations to navigate complexities, engage stakeholders, and effectively fulfill their missions. 

The role of the orchestra Board members

A Board of Directors is a group of individuals responsible for overseeing an organization’s administration and direction. The Board of Directors is responsible for ensuring that the orchestra is managed effectively and that its mission and goals are being achieved.

The role of the Board in the governance of an orchestra is crucial to effective orchestra governance. The Board is responsible for setting policies, approving budgets, and overseeing the financial management of the orchestra. They are also responsible for selecting and hiring the Music Director in partnership with the Executive Director, who is responsible for the artistic direction of the orchestra. Setting policies and hiring decisions can significantly impact the diversity and equality in the orchestra and the board members should take care when actioning these items.

The Board of Directors is also responsible for fundraising and development. They are responsible for ensuring that the orchestra has access to the resources it needs to operate effectively and to achieve its goals. This includes identifying potential donors, developing fundraising strategies through things like grants, and ensuring that the orchestra has a strong and sustainable financial base.


In addition to these responsibilities, the Board is also responsible for ensuring that the orchestra operates in compliance with all relevant laws and regulations. They are responsible for ensuring that the orchestra is in compliance with tax laws, labor laws, and other relevant regulations.

Another important role of the Board is to represent the orchestra in the community. They are responsible for promoting the orchestra and its activities, and for building relationships with other organizations and community leaders. This includes attending events, speaking to the media, and building partnerships with other arts and education organizations.

orchestra board

Failure of a Board

The Board of Directors is entrusted with a critical role in overseeing the management and operations of an organization. They are expected to provide strategic direction, make important decisions, and ensure that the organization is operating in a responsible and ethical manner.

However, when the board fails to fulfil its duties, the consequences can be severe. Without proper oversight, management may make poor decisions that put the organization at risk. Additionally, there may be a lack of accountability and transparency, which can damage the reputation of the organization and erode stakeholder trust.

In some cases, not meeting the expectations of the Board may be due to a lack of understanding of their role and responsibilities. This can result in a lack of engagement, leading to decisions being made without proper consideration of the potential risks and benefits. Alternatively, the Board may be too focused on short-term gains or personal interests, neglecting their duty to act in the best interests of the organization.

When a Board fails to meet its obligations, it can lead to significant consequences, including financial losses, legal liabilities, and damage to the organization’s reputation. It is essential that Board members understand their role and are committed to fulfilling their duties to ensure the long-term viability of the organization.

Hiring the Music Director

The Music Director is the face of the orchestra, responsible for its artistic vision, and plays a vital role in shaping its sound and reputation.

When hiring a Music or Artistic Director, the Board should seek to find someone who shares the orchestra’s values, mission, and goals. They should look for candidates who have demonstrated musical excellence, serious service, strong leadership skills, and a vision for the future of the orchestra.

In addition to these qualifications, the Board should also prioritize diversity and equality when hiring a Music Director. It is essential to ensure that the selection process is inclusive, and candidates from all backgrounds are given an equal opportunity to be considered for the position.

Diversity in the arts is crucial as it promotes a variety of perspectives, experiences, and voices, leading to more dynamic and innovative artistic output. When the Board actively seeks diversity in the hiring process, for example, it helps to promote a welcoming and inclusive environment in the orchestra.

Moreover, promoting equality in the Boards’ hiring ensures that underrepresented groups, such as women and people of color, are not discriminated against in the selection process. By creating a fair and inclusive selection process, the Board can attract a diverse pool of candidates and select the most qualified individual for the position.

In conclusion, when the Board hires a Music Director for an orchestra, it is essential to prioritize diversity and equality. The Music Director plays a critical role in shaping the orchestra’s artistic vision and practice, and by selecting a diverse range of candidates, the Board can promote a more inclusive and innovative environment. By prioritizing diversity and equality in the hiring process, the orchestra can continue to thrive and produce excellent music while promoting a welcoming and inclusive environment for all.

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Financial Management

Another crucial responsibility of the Board of Directors in the governance of an orchestra is financial management. The Board is responsible for ensuring that the orchestra operates within its means, and that its financial resources and investments are allocated efficiently and effectively.

The budget

The Board’s responsibility starts with the creation of the orchestra’s annual budget. They must ensure that the budget aligns with the orchestra’s mission and goals while also taking into account any financial constraints or opportunities. The Board President should carefully review the budget and ensure that it is realistic and sustainable.

The Board is also responsible for overseeing the orchestra’s financial operations, including ensuring that accurate financial records are maintained and that all financial and business transactions are conducted in compliance with applicable laws and regulations. This includes regularly reviewing the orchestra’s financial statements and working with auditors to ensure the accuracy and completeness of financial reports.

One of the Board’s primary responsibilities is to fundraise for the orchestra. This includes identifying potential donors, developing fundraising strategies, and ensuring that the orchestra has a strong and sustainable financial base. The Board should also ensure that the orchestra’s fundraising activities align with its mission and values and that the orchestra maintains the trust and support of individual musicians and its donors.

It is essential for the Board to prioritize transparency and accountability when it comes to financial management. They should communicate regularly with stakeholders, including the musicians, orchestra members, donors, and the community, about the orchestra’s financial health, performance, and objectives. They should also be open to feedback and suggestions from stakeholders on how to improve the orchestra’s financial management.

Lastly, the board should be aware of the potential risks and uncertainties that can impact the orchestra’s financial health. They should develop contingency plans and risk management strategies to address these challenges and ensure the orchestra’s financial sustainability over the long term.

The role of the Executive Director

The role of the Executive Director is also an essential part of orchestra governance. The Executive Director serves as the orchestra’s Chief Executive Officer and works closely with the Board to execute the orchestra’s mission and goals.

One of the primary responsibilities of the executive director is to manage the day-to-day operations of the orchestra. This includes overseeing administrative staff, managing the orchestra’s finances, and ensuring that the orchestra’s activities and performances are delivered to a high standard.

The Executive Director is also responsible for developing and implementing the orchestra’s strategic plan in collaboration with the Board of Directors. They must ensure that the orchestra’s activities, events, and performances align with its mission and values while also considering the needs and interests of its stakeholders.

Another important aspect of the Executive Director’s role is fundraising and development. They work closely with the Board of Directors to develop fundraising strategies and cultivate relationships with donors and sponsors. They must also ensure that the orchestra’s fundraising activities align with its mission and values and maintain the trust and support of its donors.

The Executive Director is also responsible for maintaining relationships with key stakeholders, including orchestra members, guest artists, venue managers, and the community. They must communicate effectively with stakeholders to ensure that the orchestra’s programs and events are well-received and have a positive impact.

Moreover, the Executive Director must maintain an awareness of industry trends and best practices and ensure that the orchestra remains competitive and relevant in a rapidly changing landscape. This includes developing new initiatives, exploring new revenue streams, and leveraging technology to reach new audiences.

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American Symphony Orchestra League

The League of American Orchestras Noteroom Governance Center provides an extensive array of assistance, techniques, and initiatives aimed at enhancing the governance practices of orchestras. These include local seminars for Board members and CEOs, peer groups for Board Chairs and Presidents that concentrate on high-level governance and strategic obstacles, exchange and training sessions for peers at the National Conference of the League, and online discussions and resources available through the League360 board member communities.

For American orchestras, the League should be referred to alongside a legal professional and perhaps the Government body for any governance issues the board members need advice with.

In conclusion, the role of the Board in the governance of an orchestra is essential in ensuring the effective management and direction of the orchestra. To ensure the success and sustainability of the orchestra, it is crucial that the Board and the Executive Director work together effectively towards the orchestra’s mission and goals.