When Opportunity Knocks, Open the Door!

A pessimist is somebody who complains about the noise when opportunity knocks.”

— Oscar Wilde, poet and playwright

“Even when opportunity knocks, a [person] still has to get up off his seat and open the door.”

— Anonymous

“Opportunity knocks at the strangest times. It’s not the time that matters but how you answer the door.”

— Steve Gray, prominent New Zealand television presenter


Most nonprofit organizations attempt to woo donors and prospective supporters in a variety of ways. Wise nonprofit organizations seize the chance to woo donors and prospective supporters in fresh ways when the opportunity presents itself. The challenge is that those opportunities are not always obvious. Sometimes, the wooing of donors and prospects might be an unexpected, happy side-effect of simply seizing the opportunity to do something good.

The latter was the case for the Philadelphia Orchestra during its recent 40th anniversary residency and tour of China.

The Orchestra was the United States’ first cultural ambassador to China in 1973. During the anniversary trip, the Orchestra performed in venues ranging from acclaimed concert halls to elementary schools. In addition to its own performance schedule, the Philadelphia Orchestra performed in joint concerts with local orchestras. Besides performing, the Orchestra also participated in a number of coaching sessions.

The Orchestra’s anniversary trip generated positive publicity in Philadelphia and rave reviews in China. The Orchestra’s journey was a source of pride for Philadelphia’s classical music fans, myself included, who saw the organization emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection less than a year ago.

However, as you might expect, not everything on the trip went according to plan. Toward the end of the tour, a group of musicians and administrators took an early-bird flight from Beijing to Macau. Unfortunately, bad weather trapped the plane on the tarmac for several hours.

Most of us would have seen the delay as an opportunity to complain, read, play on an iPad, or make phone calls. However, the Orchestra folks had another idea. They seized the opportunity to do something good for all of the trapped passengers. Without thought, I suspect, to how it would play to the outside world, the Orchestra folks offered to perform a pop-up concert. Four members of the Orchestra’s string section unpacked their instruments and performed Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 12, subtitled “American.”

Click to watch video of Philadelphia Orchestra pop-up concert on airplane.

Click to watch video of Philadelphia Orchestra pop-up concert on airplane in China.

You can hear Juliette Kang on violin, Daniel Han on violin, Che-Hung Chen on viola, and Yumi Kendall on cello by streaming the video here. As you can hear from the applause and cheers, the passengers on the plane greatly appreciated the surprise mini-concert.

The Orchestra had done a good deed by spreading a bit of joy at an uncomfortable time. If that were all that the musicians achieved, it would have been enough. However, the Orchestra ended up unexpectedly achieving far more.

With so many smart-phones on board, it was inevitable that videos would be posted on the Internet. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the event. But, the publicity reached far further. NPR, The Huffington Post, and other media picked up the story. Moreover, as of this posting, nearly two million people from around the world have watched the videos!

In Philadelphia, the Orchestra’s kindness and talent is a source of pride. Consider just some of the comments from those who watched the YouTube video 

Fine job, the Fabulous Philadelphians!”

— himanv

“Represent Philly, best city on earth.”

— Rummy

“Proud to be Philadelphian!”

— radsqd

“After 3 hours of sitting in a plane, not going anywhere, what a nice thing to experience! Thanks to members of the Philadelphia Orchestra. A chance to have a live rehearsal and bring a little bit of joy to the persons in their immediate surroundings.”

— ZenZenOneTwoThree

“PHILLY represent!!!!  215!!!”

— ownagep90

“Philadelphia Pride”

— VidConMom

Will the excitement and pride the tour and the pop-up concert engendered lead to more donations for the Philadelphia Orchestra? Will it make any easier for the Orchestra to attract sponsors for its next tour of China?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that it won’t hurt. The Orchestra now has a new opportunity: a chance to capitalize on the positive publicity. There is now a fresh, fantastic background buzz for the Orchestra’s future appeals. Instead of thinking about the Orchestra’s 15 months in bankruptcy, donors and potential supporters will likely be thinking with pride about what the Orchestra did half way around the world.

I applaud the Orchestra for seizing the opportunity to do something good. I’m delighted that the Orchestra’s thoughtful gesture was appreciated on the plane and around the world.

Every nonprofit organization should be receptive to unexpected opportunities to do something positive. I understand that we cannot take advantage of every opportunity. However, whenever possible, we should get up off our seats and answer the door when opportunity knocks. The resulting positive impact just might be quite surprising and might lead to other opportunities as the Orchestra has demonstrated.

To read more about how to effectively seize opportunities to delight your donors and prospects, check-out my blog post, “When is it OK to Surprise Your Donors?.”

I’ll leave you with one final thought about opportunities:

A wise [person] will make more opportunities than he finds.”

— Francis Bacon, philosopher and scientist

So, what unexpected opportunities has your organization seized recently?

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

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