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San Francisco Ballet’s Finance Team Moves Center Stage

Professional Ballerinas on Stage shallow depth of field

Today, the San Francisco Ballet opens its holiday showing of Nutcracker, a beloved tradition that first premiered in 1944. What does this have to do with finance? Well, this holiday classic was born out of necessity. San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House was almost always empty during the month of December. As a result, San Francisco Ballet’s first director, Willam Christensen, saw this as a golden opportunity to produce an annual Christmas ballet festival. The first year they performed Hansel & Gretel, and the second year they debuted Nutcracker. It has since grown to be one of the most popular and enduring ballet performances of all time.

And while producing a Christmas-themed ballet during the holidays may seem obvious, there is much more to the programming and production of this and all other performance art. Behind the scenes, the finance team is hard at work leveraging data and analytics to drive planning and forecasting, ensuring the continued financial success of the San Francisco Ballet—without sacrificing the quality of the art.

The San Francisco Ballet is the oldest professional ballet company, and now one of the three largest, in the U.S. Throughout its 83-year lifespan, the nonprofit organization has been challenged with applying donor dollars through economic ups and downs. Ticket sales only account for roughly half of the production expenses, so planning plays a key role in the 100-plus shows they produce annually. Previously, they had relied on a complex process of maintaining data in spreadsheets, which lengthened planning time and inhibited their ability to perform forecasting analytics.

At the height of the tech boom, SF Ballet saw an influx of revenue that covered a wide range of expenses, including personnel, choreography and orchestra costs, facilities, marketing, and more. But when the recession hit in the 2000s, it was imperative that the team consistently maintain revenue-expense balance. They implemented Adaptive Insights corporate performance management (CPM) software in 2009 and haven’t looked back.

“San Francisco Ballet is an 83-year-old institution,” said Kim Ondreck Carim, CFO of the San Francisco Ballet. “The fundamental business model of that institution has not changed dramatically, but economic conditions required us to change the way we do what we do. Adaptive Insights software has been able to give us the data-driven insights that we need to do that.”

The ballet company now has a holistic view of its finances, and has also been able to reduce planning cycle times and better understand the financial implications of programming decisions. With access to a cloud-based solution, budget managers outside of finance can also easily access the most recent financial data relative to their roles, and see the implications of programming changes themselves—a huge benefit not previously possible. As important, they are able to conduct profitability analysis by show and have reduced planning cycles from over a month to just under a week.

The result? They are more financially agile.

And on a day when nutcrackers and sugarplum fairies will dance, leap, and pirouette, it’s clear that the San Francisco Ballet is agile both on and off the stage.

Congratulations on this year’s performance of Nutcracker, San Francisco Ballet, and happy holidays to all!

To learn more about how SF Ballet leveraged financial insights to balance the books following an economic recession, read the full case study.

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