During a year when it didn't sell tickets, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra still balanced its budget.

The nonprofit reported Wednesday a surplus of about $38,000 on operating expenses of $8 million for fiscal year 2021, which ended June 30, a time shaped by COVID-19.

The chamber orchestra livestreamed nine concerts from an empty Ordway Concert Hall and presented another nine online broadcasts of past performances. The orchestra played three free concerts outdoors, too.

But audiences never gathered in the Ordway.

As a result, earned income dropped from $1.4 million in 2020 to $315,000 in 2021, making up just 2.8% of revenue. But donations stayed strong: The nonprofit received $6.6 million in contributions from people, companies and foundations — 3% less than the previous year but more than the average annual amount in the five years before the pandemic.

"Many of the folks who contribute come to concerts," said Jon Limbacher, managing director and president. So when they're not coming to concerts, one could worry that they wouldn't contribute, either.

"But that was not the case," he said. "Our community really stood with us and rallied around us. They're the hero in that story."

The SPCO's financial results track with national trends. Ticket sales for U.S. orchestras "are still lagging significantly behind pre-pandemic levels," according to a November report from the analytics group TRG Arts. From November 2020 to October 2021, orchestra ticket revenue fell 67%.

But the report also found that donations over that time were up 23% from the same period before the pandemic.

The Minnesota Orchestra plans to release its year-end results in January.

Federal funds played a key role in balancing the SPCO's budget. The nonprofit received $2.3 million in government relief, including via the Paycheck Protection Program, meant to preserve jobs during the pandemic.

It shaved expenses, too. Operating costs dropped 17% from the previous year, thanks partly to savings related to presenting fewer concerts, as well as a hiring freeze.

The nonprofit focused on boosting its "rainy day" fund, which swelled from $762,000 to $4.1 million.

That number is "appropriate to the challenges ahead," chief financial officer Beth Toso said at Wednesday's annual meeting. Leaders expect that fund to help preserve jobs and salaries after federal relief wanes.

While orchestras across the country have slashed salaries amid the pandemic, the SPCO and its musicians agreed in March to a two-year contract extension that doesn't include a pay cut.

"Amid historic adversity, we feel like we had a pretty good and pretty solid year," Limbacher said.

More people watched the chamber orchestra online. The SPCO's Concert Library nabbed 350,000 visits during the fiscal year, a big jump from last year's record of 218,000.

The chamber orchestra is hosting concerts in the Ordway again. But it is limiting capacity, and ticket sales for some concerts have been soft, Limbacher said. "Audiences are still a little tentative," he said.