The Joffrey Ballet

By Mary Ittelson, Amir Goldberg, Kara Riopelle
2016 | Case No. SM259 | Length 23 pgs.

The Joffrey Ballet is a landmark Chicago nonprofit performing arts organization that helped shape the landscape of American ballet. In 2016, the Joffrey was at a point of transformation after a period of financial crisis and artistic decline. It had successfully raised $4 million for the widely anticipated new production of the Nutcracker. With annual revenues at around $20 million, this production represented a significant investment, and the organization needed to continue its artistic momentum while maintaining fiscal responsibility. The leadership team decided to launch an $80 to $120 all-funds campaign to ensure the artistic and financial health of the organization.

Known for its diversity, the Joffrey Ballet had a history of balancing highly athletic performances of canonical works with boundary-blurring new ballets. Founded in New York City in 1954, it carved a niche as the distinctly American company in the ballet ecosystem known for its classical European influences. After its relocation to Chicago in 1995, the ballet relied upon its New York reputation in the face of financial and artistic woes.

By 2016, however, the Joffrey Ballet was poised to reemerge as a major player in the national and international dance landscape. It had just celebrated its 60th anniversary and its 20th year in Chicago, and the leadership team debated the essential areas for investment going forward. The endowment, currently at about $1.4 million as of June 30, 2016, needed to be grown. The profitable Academy needed more space and funds to grow, while Community Engagement programs offered the potential for impact in the community. Programming large-scale works from the most important choreographers was essential but costly. In order to attract donors and secure the Joffrey’s future, the organization needed to craft a compelling fundraising case supported by a sound business plan.

Learning Objective

The learning objective is to foster strategic thinking in addressing the challenges that are unique to non-profit arts organizations. Students will be required to evaluate how the Joffrey Ballet, an established ballet company with a reputable past that has gone through two decades of commercial and artistic decline, can develop a competitive advantage while resolving the inherent tension between business and artistic demands, and staying true to its social mission. The case touches on the strategic, managerial, organizational and financial challenges stemming from the need to address multiple audiences: ballet connoisseurs, the lay public, arts critics and donors.
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