Geof Follansbee, Vice President of Advancement at Chautauqua Institution, speaks to Jamestown Rotary via Zoom.
Rotarian Jim Smith introduced Geof Follansbee. Geof has worked at Chautauqua Institution since 2004, leading the fund-raising program. He has also served as CEO of its Foundation.  However, now he is leading an expanded advancement team for the next comprehensive campaign coinciding with the 150th anniversary of Chautauqua. It will be the 2023-24 fund-raising campaign. In his career before 2004, Geof led development and alumni relations and communications teams at William & Mary College, as well as other institutions of learning. Geof was raised in Pittsburgh, but has spent all his summers at Chautauqua. He worked for Chautauqua Executive Joe Gerace after graduating from Princeton and practiced law in Chautauqua County in the early 1980’s.
Geof has spoken to Rotary before, probably 15 years ago when he had just moved back to Chautauqua County.  He recognized Pat Kinney in the audience and also counted Sam Alessi as a friend. He recounted a humorous (in retrospect) story about a plane trip that he and Stan Lundine took with Sam when Stan was running for Congress.
Today’s talk is about this summer at Chautauqua, putting it in the context of Chautauqua’s strategic plan. When it became apparent that it would not be “business as usual” at Chautauqua, the group went back to the roots of the Strategic Plan to review what it is calling upon the organization to do. It has 4 key elements.
  1. Continue to provide a 1st class experience on the grounds during traditional season
  2. Find ways to expand beyond 9 weeks, taking better advantage of the facilities, with programming both at Chautauqua and in other locations
  3. Enter into a local coalition for Chautauqua Lake, ensuring that the Lake becomes a vital, environmentally safe, living lake
  4. Diversify revenue sources. Traditionally CI is heavily reliant on gate tickets and parking fees, so work to expand the philanthropic element and other lines of business, such as off season.   
The pandemic caused the organization to focus on how can it reach out to traditional and non-traditional audiences. Literally in 90 days the staff put together “CHQ Assembly”. It is the on-line expression of what Chautauqua Institution does. It was “in the pipeline”, but now it came front and center. Otherwise, Chautauqua would have been “dark”. Financially it couldn’t survive the severe financial losses. Philanthropy would help fill the void, but there needed to be something to donate to.
For further information see the video at: .
CHQ went back to all its speakers and some performers and asked them to do their presentations on-line. It is original content. It is live and also “on demand”. Chaplains, devotionals, 10:45 lecture and 2:00 Hall of Philosophy lectures are all being provided. This summer is a test, so it hasn’t been widely marketed, but in the future it will be. This summer it is free, after the summer it will be $3.99 a month. Subscribers will be able to watch on smart TVs, not just on computer.
In addition to the lectures, there are other activities. The “Virtual Porch” is a live conversation so there can even be a discussion. Instead of the large array of special courses, there are 45 “Master Classes”.
Hopefully it will attract people beyond the present audience, and they will be curious after watching and become more involved.
Please go to the site, browse, see the lectures, and also check out the 5 pm artistic programs.
The Assembly recognizes that what occurs during the season here in Chautauqua County is the highest and best expression of the Institution. To compete, though, in the long term CHQ works to attract more people to the county and the grounds.
Q: Are there any programs or discussions at the Institution? No. The Board decided in May that it will not host any programming in person. Behind closed doors, the morning worship services are being done at Hall of Christ. Most all facilities closed. Those that are open are following cleaning protocols. It is definitely a minimalist mode. Probably 1000 people are on the grounds although there were more over 4th of July. It’s a very different feel. Currently Bestor Plaza is empty.
Q: How is the programming being perceived? There are glitches since it is a start-up. Also, Google was down for 4 hours. People are appreciating the effort. 4 to 6 hours of new program every day. This week’s minister is Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries, taking gang members off the streets.
Best Small Town Cultural Theme.  USA Today voted Chautauqua County as the “Best Small Town Cultural Scene.”
Q: In terms of finances-did speakers take a lower fee? Is the cost down? Obviously travel costs are down, but all speakers are doing the same amount of work. They also join in for live Q&A. Additionally they are doing virtual “Meet and Greets” with the donors.
The initial investment was made by the board members. They underwrote equipment, the platform and production crews for the launch. Costs are obviously down because Friday night entertainment was cancelled. It is the largest cost and largest revenue.
Rotarians chimed in to thank Geof and through him, the staff, for the work that has been done. Thanks to the Chautauqua staff for making it a summer for families. The execution has been marvelous. Some Rotarians have been participating. Many are accessing more programming. The “on demand” is wonderful.