James Morton brings a lot to the table when he sits down at a meeting of the board of directors of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.

As a partner in the Calgary branch of Montreal-based Jarislowsky Fraser Ltd., one of Canada’s top money managers for endowments and foundations, Morton’s knowledge of how foundations dispense money is invaluable to the orchestra.

“My background in this business — I have managed portfolios and relationships with foundations and endowments for the past 12 years — puts me in a good position,” Morton says, “and I can give the management of the orchestra and the other board members the benefit of my knowledge.”

The Calgary Philharmonic isn’t the only musical organization that benefits from the knowledge and participation of financial services professionals. For instance, Jacques Ménard, president of the Quebec division of Bank of Montreal as well as chairman of BMO Capital Markets and BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc.in Montreal, serves as treasurer and sits on the board of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. And the Toronto Symphony Orchestra benefits from the presence of George Lewis — group head of wealth management for Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto and chairman of RBC Asset Management Inc.— as its co-chairman of its development committee.

All three men bring their time, financial savvy and corporate connections to the boards of these arts organizations. But all three would agree that they are taking as much away as they are giving.

Lewis, for example, has served on many charitable boards. But, he says, serving on the TSO’s board is different. His TSO experience has enriched him by broadening his knowledge of classical music. He also likes the power of live performances.

“I wouldn’t say I’m an expert, by any means,” Lewis says of classical music, although he does have some musical experience. At one time, he played rhythm guitar for a band, the Tragically Hip Replacements, with colleagues from RBC.

“It was a high-quality group,” he says with a laugh. “I wasn’t able to keep up with it.

“But,” Lewis admits, “I’m enjoying the education process [of being involved with the TSO].”

Morton agrees. “While I believe I have something to add,” he says, “it’s a learning environment for me.”

Morton got involved with the Calgary Philharmonic through his participation in the Friends of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, a volunteer organization that helps with fundraising. After Morton and his family had moved to Calgary from Toronto three years ago, he looked to help his new community by supporting the orchestra.

“It’s a very, very important central pillar of the arts community in Calgary,” Morton says. “I wanted to join something that I considered to be important.”

Eventually, Morton was recruited to sit on the Calgary Philharmonic’s board of directors. Morton’s work for the board involves about 10 board meetings a year. He also attends about six meetings each year of the governance committee.

Morton’s role is to provide insight into how securities markets affect the level of income derived from the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra Foundation, which, through its annual grant, is responsible for a healthy part of the orchestra’s budget.

“As a financial guy,” Morton says, “I had some attributes that were perceived to be either lacking and/or useful.”

As both an advisor and portfolio manager — Morton works with about 40 high net-worth families and a handful of institutional investors, as well as co-managing Toronto-based TD Asset Management Inc.’ s TD Balanced Income Fund and TD Canadian Blue Chip Equity Fund — the 17-year veteran of the financial services industry has developed a thorough understanding of the ways in which charitable foundations can be structured and how they distribute donations.

Payouts to arts groups may be determined by the overall capital value of a foundation’s portfolio over a rolling two- to three-year period. If a market downturn reduces the portfolio’s value, Morton says, the amount of grants will suffer.

Alternatively, the foundation might be set up to pay out a certain percentage of its annual income, a figure that is likely to be less volatile than the value of the overall portfolio, assuming many of the companies in the portfolio don’t cut their dividends. “In this situation,” says Morton, “the recipient of the monies might be in a better position.”

@page_break@Morton’s expertise is important, particularly in times of slumping markets. The biggest concern of arts organizations these days is the harsh impact of the global economic woes on the foundations on which they rely for funding.

Indeed, fundraising can be tough during the best of times, but during a market downturn and recession, when individuals and corporations are cutting back, fundraising gets even tougher. Lewis has just taken on the challenging task of co-chairman of the development committee of the TSO board, which oversees the TSO’s fundraising efforts.

“It will be a multi-year strategy,” Lewis says, “given the current economic times. We’re at the very early stages.”

BMO’s Ménard, who has sat on the board of the MSO for about three years, also acknowledges the obstacles facing those raising funds for arts organizations during an economic contraction.

“Most symphonies are going to be challenged to meet budget expectations,” he says. “All cultural institutions are going to be challenged. It’s a huge subject of concern in the non-profit world right now.”

What is easy, when it comes to money, for Ménard in his role as MSO treasurer is the actual logistics of looking after the MSO’s books.

“Orchestras aren’t very complicated businesses,” he says. “There aren’t very many moving parts.”

Most costs are fixed (musician salaries, for instance), and one variable is always certain: revenue from ticket sales never cover actual expenses. Thus, every symphony has a “structural deficit,” Ménard says: “They only way they survive is because they have significant endowments.”

So, as a finance expert, Ménard’s duties extend beyond signing cheques; he must also work his industry contacts and network to raise cash.

“The tougher task is to make ends meet,” he notes. “The reason boards are there is to reach out to the community and use the influence of the directors to help the cause they happen to be serving.”

In Ménard’s case, he is serving a cause rooted in BMO’s history. William Mulholland, who served as CEO of BMO from 1979 to 1989, was a classical music aficionado who decided BMO should become a sponsor of an orchestra, says Ménard. Mulholland loved the orchestra so much he even travelled to concerts in Europe when it toured under its former conduc-tor, Charles Dutoit.

Mulholland also started the tradition of an annual December holiday season concert for BMO employees in old Montreal in the Notre Dame Basilica, located across the street from Montreal’s first bank branch, the 1817 BMO building on the Place d’Armes. Says Ménard: “To this day, we still do it.”

Ménard admits he is still absorbing the art form of classical music. “I continue to see myself as somewhat of a neophyte,” he says. “I’m still learning.” IE