Notes from the Alumni Association Chair

I just returned from the Cornell-Columbia game in New York and (most importantly!) the Sy Katz ’31 parade down Fifth Avenue.  This is a great place to start my fall update, as this year was a transition year of sorts for this event.  Those of you who have seen it before may know that it started as a small event with the Band, Sy Katz, and his family and friends.  Over the years, it has grown a few blocks bigger, added a kickoff gathering at Rockefeller Center, and has morphed from a niche happening to a true University-wide event.  Although the Katz family has coordinated this event for many years now, we were at a crossroads: would it continue?  I’m happy that the most recent parade was a great success.  In fact, it was so successful that it started 3 blocks west of the kickoff spot, because when your buses are stuck in traffic, you might as well just unload in the middle of West 50th Street and march there.  Even without a permit, it’s faster than driving across town.

This year’s parade was a collaborative effort between the Katz family, the Cornell Northeast Corridor office, and the Big Red Bands Alumni Association.  Aside from traveling from West 497th Street (I think that’s where Columbia’s stadium is) and the longest second quarter ever (or so my four-year-old son declared), the event went smoothly, and I’m happy to report that the tradition will continue. When I started as the BRBAA chair, I wanted to raise the profile of our group on campus and beyond, and although we have a long way to go, this was a great example of a small success.

The collaboration between the Alumni Association and the leadership of the bands has seen other successes this past year as well.  One major joint project was the outfitting of the Fischell Band Center.  Sarah Fischell ’78 commissioned Professor Rhonda Gilmore’s exhibit design class in the College of Human Ecology to make the space more functional and feel more like home.  You can read more about the project here.  There’s still more to be done, but it’s been a great addition so far.  Sidenote: Ezra Magazine was all about the Band this month – I think the print edition featured them in three places!

Turning to matters less stylish and more financial, the 2016 budget year showed an income of $166K vs. expenses of $144K (including our annual contribution to equipment reserves).  This resulted in the BRBAA re-investing $26K into our endowment, which includes a portion of the reserve expenses.  Expenses were up compared to 2015, which was mostly attributable to planned travel cost differences.  On the income side, gifts set a record for the second consecutive year at $103K; as you probably know, this new level of income is driven largely by Giving Day.  LTIP (“endowment”) payout was also a record high at $43K.  This is probably what I am most proud of and excited about, as our prudent budgeting and re-investment in LTIP funds has grown this payout above and beyond fluctuations in the economy and is largely what allowed us to weather the recession.  As the payout is set by the Board of Trustees based on a three-year rolling average of the financial markets, the payout per share can be expected to rise further beyond it’s FY17 value of $2.75.  This, combined with our organization-record share total of over 18,000 shares, has allowed us to maintain and improve on the student experience despite rising costs.

While the budget news has been good, the BRBAA has identified a number of additional expenses in the coming years.  These include those related to student safety, increased security for student and Band Center property, further increases to travel costs, student food budget increases aimed to address student food insecurity, increased music advisor support, and other opportunities to better safeguard and showcase Band history and memorabilia.  We obviously won’t be able to address these all at once, but the Advisory Council (including the student leadership) created a short and long-term wish list that we’d like to incorporate into future budget planning.

You may recall that one of the major expenses we have had to navigate was the increased utility and stewardship costs that started coincidentally with the opening of the Fischell Band Center.  Obviously a large new space contributes to this, but an equally important factor was a shift in overall Cornell budget models that allocated operating expenses to individual units.  In other words, had the Bands remained in Barton Hall, there would have been a new cost as well.  Thankfully, through the generosity of David and Sarah Fischell, a new endowment for Band Center operations will be fully funded over five years.  Combined with earlier negotiations with the University about a gradual phase-in of the increased costs, we should be able to adapt to our new home with only a few lean years.

Gifts from generous alumni and friends continue to provide the largest portion of the Bands’ income.  I hope that the momentum and energy from Giving Day continues to follow the strong support during our annual Phonathon to allow the band to not only meet ongoing operational expenses, projected at $150k for FY17, but also continue to enhance the student experience and meet the safety and security needs of current Band members.  Thank you for sharing your ongoing enthusiasm, time and financial support with the Only Real Marching Band in the Ivy League!

Lastly, as 2016 draws to a close, our Advisory Council terms come to an end.  Approved in September to begin terms on January 1, the new Big Red Bands Alumni Association Advisory Council will be:

Chair: Lowell Frank ’99, ’03 (Washington, DC)

Vice Chair: Brian Adelman ’09 (Chicago, IL)

Treasurer: Adam Drenkard ’11 (New York, NY)

Secretary: Michelle Yanda ’15 (Washington, DC)

Resource Chair: Nick Janiga ’00 (New Haven, CT)

Events Coordinators: Steven Albanese ’14 and Emily Isenstein ’16 (New York, NY)

There are also four at-large positions; if you are interested in committing to a two-year term (mostly meetings twice a year in Ithaca and some calls in between), please let me know in the next week or so and we can discuss.  These will be appointed by January and announced in the next Band Notes.  Special thanks to Rose Potocky ’06, our outgoing Vice Chair, who has served in many capacities over the last few years.

I can’t recap all of what was discussed in September in the little space I have, but you can get a taste of the annual meeting content by reviewing the slides. The Advisory Council will meet again in February, and if you have important issues you’d like us to address, please let me know.  Until then, let’s go red!, and I’ll see you at at a game soon!

Lowell Frank, ’99, MD ‘03