Community Music Center (SF) – Strategy and Financial Review

Community Music Center (CMC) is a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization with the mission of making music accessible to all people, regardless of their financial status. Since its founding in 1921, CMC has stayed true to that mission, expanding outreach and creating pathways to an array of musical opportunities as diverse as San Francisco’s multicultural communities. Based in the Mission District of San Francisco, CMC also has a branch in the Richmond District, as well as afterschool and other outreach programs for disadvantaged youth throughout San Francisco.

Community Music Center is one of the few music schools in the country with an open-ended financial aid policy. There is no cap on the number of students who can receive financial aid or on the amount of that assistance. Currently, 69% of our students receive full scholarships, participate in tuition-free ensembles, pay reduced fees based on a sliding scale, or engage in CMC’s work-study program. We keep regular fees modest, and offer all private students a 50% discount on group classes.

Community Music Center continues to accommodate growth in enrollment, concerts, and attendance even as the amount of financial aid it offers has also grown — all the while maintaining a high standard of quality. Last year (FY2012), nearly 2,400 students, about half of them youth, took individual lessons or participated in an ensemble at CMC and beyond. They benefited from the expertise of 125 teachers skilled in diverse styles and approaches. Over 18,000 music lovers attended more than three hundred concerts, held at our Capp Street Concert Hall and at outreach sites throughout the Bay Area.

CMC touches the lives of many, many people, and its work is felt across generations of music lovers. Our free and low-cost music instruction for children and teens directly addresses the lack of equitable opportunities for disadvantaged youth, especially in our local community. One example is the award-winning Mission District Young Musicians Program, focusing on Latino music and culture. For the very young, CMC offers music classes for toddlers and their families as well as the tuition-free CMC Children’s Chorus. On the other end of the age spectrum, CMC’s Solera Singers and 30th Street Chorus benefit the health and well being of older adults through the joys of choral singing. This free program is about to be dramatically expanded through a long-term health study undertaken in collaboration with UCSF and funded by the National Institute of Health.

In all these partnerships, Community Music Center’s mission — to bring high-quality music to all, regardless of financial means — resonates and informs its work, as it uses the many benefits of music to strengthen and enliven diverse communities of San Francisco.


Project Description:

SF Community Music Center has asked an HBS Community Partners team to help them address one or two challenges:


  1. How should SF CMC think about revenue growth while staying true to their mission of providing high-quality music education to all?
  • Are current tuition levels in line with other alternatives?
  • What is the right level of tuition for different populations?
  • What level of financial aid is appropriate? Is it too generous or not enough?
  • Should we look to individual giving as a bigger source of revenue?
  • Are there other opportunities to optimize revenue?
  1. SFMC has identified areas needed to achieve long-term sustainability (improvements in faculty pay, staff salaries, resourcing, building improvements etc.). What is the right roadmap to tackle these changes?
  • What level of revenue is required to implement these changes?
  • How should we prioritize and sequence these changes? What are the right triggers (e.g. what level of revenue triggers ability to raise salaries?)

How should these priorities influence or inform future decision-making?