Duke - The Fuqua School of Business

Feature Story

Connecting Disciplines: CFO Supports Arts with Financial Expertise

Nancy Carlson (Daytime '85) changes careers to support music education organization.

Nancy Carlson
Nancy Carlson
July 21, 2009

By Elizabeth Michalka — This article was originally published in the alumni magazine Team Fuqua.

Nancy Carlson can't imagine a world without art, music, and theatre, and she hopes she never has to.

"I think having a strong arts community is really critical, especially in these tough times, and I am worried that it will be sacrificed," said Carlson (Daytime '85).

Carlson, 49, is using her business skills to help ensure that the arts stay alive. She is Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer for Music for All, Inc., located in Indianapolis, IN. It is one of the nation's largest not-for-profit music education organizations. Music for All presents more than 25 programs nationally for music students and teachers, and advocates for expanded access to music programs in schools and communities.

"I've seen how powerful education in the arts has been in my family, and I want to do whatever I can to make sure that it is available for generations to come," Carlson said. She participated in plays and choirs while a teenager, and she shared her love for the arts with her family. Both of her children have an affinity for the arts, and her son Kevin, 18, plans to major in music in college.

Carlson spent more than 20 years working in finance for insurance companies before joining Music for All in January 2008.

"I thought it was a good time for a little change," Carlson said of her career move. "I made some sacrifices in terms of compensation, but the opportunity to work with something I have a passion about is more than worth it."

She helps with all the organization's events, including camps, festivals, and marching band competitions. She said she enjoys seeing the students and their accomplishments.

"I feel like we are really making positive, life-changing differences in their lives," Carlson said. "Seeing the passion and joy on the kids' faces is amazing."

She said she relates to the Music for All mission, and fully supports the organization's advocacy efforts, even though that is not her primary responsibility. By keeping the finances in order, she helps make all the organization's efforts possible.

"Every arts organization has budget challenges, and we are no different," Carlson said. "We have to be very careful in our budgeting and monitoring of expenses, especially in this economy."

Music for All has already had some reduction in staff, and currently has less than 20 employees. Carlson said revenue is approximately $7 million a year, but expenses are also close to that amount. She said that during the past year, she has increased the organization's financial discipline, and her major goal is to build a stronger, more diversified financial base.

"I want to make sure that we have a sustainable financial model so the organization can be around for many more years," Carlson said.