Do You Kiss Your Donors With That Mouth?


Just days after I won an orchestra position after a grueling audition, a phone call was scheduled for me to speak with the orchestra’s executive director to discuss the new job. Not two minutes into the conversation she told me to hang on and then proceeded to holler the following to someone else in her office:

“Hey! We’re all going over to Hooter’s for some chicken wings…I’ll be there soon, K? And, hey, get me a margarita, but only if the waitress isn’t the bitchy one.”

This was my first impression of the executive director of a symphony whose budget was just short of $20 million.

My initial thought was why didn’t she put me on hold, and then I wondered if she was this casual with donors or patrons. But I didn’t have to think too hard because I already knew the answer. My aunt and uncle lived in this city and had repeatedly told me they would never give money to this organization ever again, saying they never received a thank you, and that the persona the executive carried around town was not businesslike nor respectable.

For people in leadership positions, both administrative and artistic, how they speak over the phone and publicly directly reflects their organization. But times have progressed and now leaders need to also be aware of how their “voice” sounds on social media.

I know what you’re probably thinking: Artists and people in the arts need to be free to express themselves and they are free to act how they feel! After all, everyone expects the arts and artists to be uninhibited and capricious.

But when dealing with big donors, occasional donors, patrons, fans, and students of the organization, everyone in the organization, especially those in the leadership roles directly represent the tone of that organization.

My grandfather used to drill proper phone etiquette with me all the time. He was never fond of uh-ha, or ya, or mmmhmm. He demanded words! Words like yes, please, all right, and thank you. I thought it was old fashioned, but after speaking with influential people over the phone or in person I realized how valuable it was to speak clearly and respectfully. It reflects very kindly back to the speaker and any organization they represent by default.

Social media is quite different from phone or in-person conversations. But the intent must be similar.

Even though one can filter who sees certain posts on social media, it cannot be over emphasized that every post should be treated as if it were public. After all, can anyone recall in a split second everyone who follows them on Facebook? Twitter?

It’s fine to be creative and have fun with the social media sites but remember: the higher up the food chain you are as a leader, the more you are associated with your organization. On stage or off, it matters.

The simple suggestion is: Don’t put anything on social media that compromises your organization or the image of that organization. Whether you are the leadership artist or management, you are representing, by default, as long as you work for the organization.

The suggested guidelines are:

  • Don’t criticize the organization, concerts, or other leaders.
  • Don’t trash talk your employees, colleagues, or employers or even former employees or employers.
  • Don’t use profanity on Twitter or Facebook. Seriously!
  • Try to stay away from topics of religion and politics unless your organization is directly impacted or connected by one.

Your words represent your organization, choose them carefully. In short, you are not being a snob and you are still down to earth. As my grandfather would say: “Have some respect for yourself and others!” He was right.

About Holly Mulcahy

After hearing Scheherazade at an early age, Holly Mulcahy fell in love with the violin and knew it would be her future. She currently serves as concertmaster of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. She spends her summers at the celebrated Grand Teton Music Festival. Believing in music as a healing and coping source, Holly founded Arts Capacity, a charitable 501(c)3 which focuses on bringing live chamber music, art, artists, and composers to prisons. Arts Capacity addresses many emotional and character-building issues people face as they prepare for release into society. Holly performs on a 1917 Giovanni Cavani violin, previously owned by the late renowned soloist Eugene Fodor, and a bespoke bow made by award winning master bow maker, Douglas Raguse.

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5 thoughts on “Do You Kiss Your Donors With That Mouth?”

  1. You are so accurate in your blog. Unless I am talking with one of my “good-ole-boy” neighbors, I always try to show respect. My “good-ole-boy” friends relate better when I speak their lingo. For social media, it bothers me to see those who do not know the difference between “your” and “you’re”…”their” and “there”. Also, lack of punctuation running sentences together. I always look forward to your blogs.

  2. Holly: This is a wonderful lesson for everyone! We seem to have turned into a nation where crassness and crude remarks are commonplace. I’m forwarding this to my 16 year old grandson.
    Bill McDonald

  3. Great advice, especially about political subjects, one must remember 50% of your contributors are from a different political party. I witnessed a local guild president talking about “those people” from the other political party, evidently unaware that the largest contributor was from that party.


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