Let’s Put On A Show

A Fundraiser’s Journey

Kelly Updike for PCNRCKelly Updike

When I was casting about for upcoming blog topics, a staffer suggested I write about what a bad idea it is to have a stage show for a fundraiser. Oh, yeah, everyone around the table agreed, please tell people it’s a bad idea.

OMG, you say, how can people who work at the Embassy say that?

Because it’s true. Many people approach us with their great idea for putting something on stage because they think it’s an easy path to making a lot of money. However, it’s not the backyard simplicity expressed in Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland movies.

This is true for any fundraising event. There are risks, even after careful planning.

Remember the reality of fundraising and your donor pyramid: You have a finite number of people who support you and at certain levels. This does not change even when you offer a, shall we say, sexy project such as a stage show.

So, if you really really really really really want to create a big show (or a gala), we suggest:

  • Review your donor base and determine the total number of people who LOVE you and will buy a ticket in support of any fundraiser you will do. Use that as your audience goal and ticket revenue target. As an example, if you have 300 members who give regularly to you, don’t assume 1,000 people will come to your show; assume 200 or 300 (I’m including a spouse or friend of the donor). Seriously. Budget conservatively, particularly for the grand premiere.
  • Select a venue that fits that number of core donors. Our region has many venues of all sizes and all prices and some are even free to nonprofits. And if a venue, such as a nonprofit colleague, charges rent to pay its own bills, please be respectful and don’t ask for it for free. Just saying.
  • Do the math for your event. Tally expenses first. Then start plugging in various revenue ideas, such as ticket prices and sponsor levels. The ticket price must first be acceptable to your donor base. Then determine a realistic price for the general public.
  • Select an act that will be special to your donor base. Cross Connections, a local nonprofit that provides biblically based professional counseling, holds a Spring Thing that features a Christian comedian. And the ticket price includes dinner, also a nice touch.
    • Genre alert: Despite what everyone says, jazz, blues and some country music are not wildly supported by ticket buyers.
  • Work with someone who can help you find a good act at a reasonable price. There are some great local and regional performers out there, in all genres.
  • Ask someone to also review the talent’s contract with you. It is a contract, so many items are negotiable or can be cut. And some items, such as travel/lodging/food, can be a flat-fee buyout, which will save you time and money.
  • Plan ahead: Check community calendars to see what else is going on in the world. Consider timing of sporting events, community trends (many nonprofits host their well-established fundraisers in the spring), marching band season, graduations, holidays and weather conditions, to name only a few reasons why someone can’t or won’t attend your event.
  • As with all fundraisers, hitting your sponsorship goal is key. Get the sponsorship dollars to pay your bills so that the ticket revenue is gravy.
  • If it’s a new event, a Save the Date card/email strategy is key. Send information out waaay early. Folks gotta know to save this date for you, even core donors.
  • Table or group sponsorships still seem to work in this community, so use this to get key donors, sponsors and volunteers to bring others with them to the event.
  • Involve your board members and use this as an opportunity to hone board development skills. More board members in our community need to actively participate in fundraising. A show or gala is an easy-to-understand and -implement fundraising project. Board involvement should include being a table sponsor and making a donation, even if they can’t attend the event.
  • Think of ways to make your event special from everyone else’s show. This does not mean expensive, it means different. Is it the location, the time of year or day, the dress code (wouldn’t it be nice to be invited to a jeans-attire-only event), the food, the drink, the talent?
  • How are you marketing this event? If you are very focused on your core donor base, you can keep marketing costs down. And social media strategies also should be considered.

Have we scared you away yet? No? Good, because you are a successful fundraiser! The point is that a stage show is just like any other fundraiser: Put in the thought, effort and time to make it work. Want to run an idea past me or someone else who regularly presents a show? You know where to reach me.

The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Embassy or the PCNRC.

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