Chautauqua Fund chairs sound call to action

Chautauqua Fund Chairs Yvonne and Jack McCredie speak with Tina Downey, annual fund director, following the Fund’s kickoff breakfast earlier this season in the Athenaeum. Photo by Lauren Rock.

Sydney Maltese | Staff Writer

Chautauqua Fund Chairs Jack and Yvonne McCredie wish that all Chautauquans were aware of the fallacy of three of the Institution’s greatest myths. And no, they are not referring to Thomas Edison, former presidents of the United States or the size of the bat population.

The myths that the McCredies refer to seem far more credible but are equally false: that the sale of gate tickets covers all of Chautauqua’s operational costs, that only the largest gifts impact the Foundation and that only the oldest generation is responsible for the financial future of the Institution.

In fact, the McCredies disagree adamantly with the three statements and are on a mission this summer to correct the misconceptions. As annual fund chairs, they prepare more than 100 volunteers for dispelling the myths as they promote the fund on the grounds.

“Many people have the misunderstanding that gate tickets do it all. They think that by paying their gate ticket, they’re done. And it just isn’t true,” Yvonne said. “To keep this going, we need an increasing amount of that philanthropy.”

Jack and Yvonne work to spread the message of the 20-percent gap between the cost of operating the Institution and the revenue that comes from tickets and sales. This season, the annual fund must reach a goal of $3.65 million to cover the gap.

The McCredies emphasize that every gift, no matter the size or specification, is important in reaching the goal.

“We really, truly feel that it is the responsibility of the people that love Chautauqua to ensure that it will thrive for years to come,” Yvonne said.

The responsibility the McCredies highlight is not exclusive to people who have been coming to the Institution for many years. The children and grandchildren of Chautauquans also need to understand the impact of philanthropy.

The McCredies, who spend the rest of the year in Alameda, Calif., are a part of that multi-generational conversation. Jack spent every summer at Chautauqua growing up, and the couple’s two daughters and five grandchildren now spend their summers on the grounds.

“One of our goals is that every family that comes to Chautauqua, one generation or multi-generation, that they actually sit down and have this conversation — that they talk at their dinner table about the importance of getting in the mindset and the habit of gifting,” Yvonne said. “So it’s our responsibility to work with people now to ensure that the next generation will accept the mantle and promote Chautauqua and to help it to thrive.”

Since the annual fund’s goal is a 5 percent increase from its goal last season, Jack and Yvonne encourage people who donated last year to increase their donation this year by 5 percent.

“It’s not a great increase, but if you really like what’s going on, try to increase by 5 percent. If everybody did that, we’d make the goal,” Jack said.

Gifts to the annual fund may be designated for a specific purpose or area, such as the Chautauqua Opera or the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. Or, the gift may go toward general, undesignated support. Both options are important, the McCredies said.

“We encourage you to support whatever you’re a fanatic about,” Jack said.

“But general fund support, undesignated, is also very important,” he said. “If everything is designated, then there’s no freedom to do things that need to be done, to have the flexibility to respond to the things that are needed.”

Jack and Yvonne wish to leave Chautauquans with no less than a call to action.

“So our broader message is this: Ask yourself, what is it that I want to support? And do it,” Jack said.

Like any other nonprofit, Chautauqua relies on the generosity of those passionate about its mission to continue its legacy.

Charitable giving, the McCredies said, is the force that will maintain the Chautauqua challenge long into the future.

“We certainly believe that Chautauqua as an idea and as a place is a magical thing. We have to be smart enough to adapt to our world, to stay really relevant,” Jack said. “But the core mission and core values of multi-generational lifelong learning has got to stay the same.”

Those interested in volunteering with or learning more about the Chautauqua Fund should contact Jack and Yvonne at mccredie@berkeley.edu and ymccredie@earthlink.net or call 716-357-4604.