And Now a Word From Our Fund-Raiser

How Kimmel Center CEO Anne Ewers separates the rich from their money

If there’s one place where a newcomer to Philadelphia can get a frightening dose of reality, it’s the airport. Last winter, when Kimmel Center CEO Anne Ewers was flying in from Salt Lake City for a final job interview with Kimmel trustees, her plane was — here’s a shocker — late. “She ran out of the airport, and there was a giant cab line,” recounts Kimmel board president and Liberty Property Trust CEO Bill Hankowsky. “So she systematically taps each person on the shoulder and explains, ‘I have a really important interview.’” So, um, she asked to jump the cab line of bitter, cold, been-circling-the-airport-for-hours Philadelphians? “They all agreed,” says Hankowsky triumphantly.

Clearly, the brave and poised Ewers, who is 55, is going to have no problem hitting up, say, Brian Roberts for a few million dollars. And asking people for money — whether it’s wealthy individuals, or organizations such as the William Penn Foundation and the McNeil family’s Barra Foundation — is what Ewers has been doing all day, and pretty much every night, since she arrived in Philadelphia in July, because the Kimmel Center is in acute need of $60 million to plump up its endowment and eliminate construction debt by December 31st of this year.

“A deadline is a good thing,” says Ewers, who was the director of the Utah Symphony & Opera for the past 16 years. “A deadline motivates givers.” It’s true: Call it The Lesson of The Gross Clinic, but it turns out that Philadelphians like a sense of urgency and importance in their ­philanthropy. Even the people who hired Ewers — Kimmel trustees — are responding to the cash crunch. “We’re asking the board to do $12 million to $15 million this year,” Ewers explains rather breezily.

It’s that matter-of-fact directness that’s the key to Ewers’s fund-raising ability. Of course, you have to be really, really good at schmoozing to get people to hand over their millions. But you also have to be real, and have a cause people can get behind, which is why Philly’s museums were able to raise $68 million for The Gross Clinic, but no one had a landmark fund-raising campaign for the Rocky statue. Ewers is exceptional at selling the Kimmel even to the Kimmel. “I think the board is prepared to pony up, quite candidly,” says Kimmel trustee and insurance executive Samuel Savitz. “She handles herself in an exceptional manner. … She has charmed the board.”

Ewers’s savviest move during her series of Kimmel interviews wasn’t talking her way through a cab line, though. It came when a New York-based friend attended last year’s Academy Ball in Philly and spirited away the venerable Academy Ball book, which lists every major Orchestra donor and supporter. In detail, with photos. Said friend shipped the book overnight to Ewers, who studied it en route to her meeting with Kimmel trustee Paul Tufano.

“So I had the famous book,” says Ewers, with a laugh, “and Paul Tufano came out and saw me with it. He said, ‘Oh my God, where did you get that book?’”