FAST FUNDRAISING FACTS FOR FAME & FORTUNE ©
We've all heard the familiar cry: "Money! Money! We need more money!" But where do we get it, who should get it, and how much should we get? If you have all the money you need for your drama program, then don't read any further. But if not, then a few moments spent with Jean Block will solve many of your problems.
for the School Drama Director
Jean organized her first fundraising event in 1955 when she was thirteen years old. The event was a backyard carnival for C.A.R.E. and raised more than $500. And she hasn't stopped raising money ever since. Dramatic Publishing asked Jean to share a few ideas that might help middle and high school drama teachers raise money for their drama programs.*
We all know, Jean, everyone in the theatre is busy. And the middle and high school drama teacher may be the busiest. Classes, rehearsals, set building…all seem to eat up the clock. The thought of raising money for a special production or perhaps an extended theatre field trip can be daunting. What can be done?
Sometimes the solution is to get everyone creatively busy, not just busy-busy. So it's important to get all participants involved in a project. And that means the students. They'll learn something about their community and develop important research and communication skills in the process. And it's fun besides.
You have a few Fast Facts, as you call them. What's the first one?
#1: The leaders of the theatre, the instructor and the key drama students, must become marketing experts. Marketing is not publicity. Often, if the money doesn't materialize, there is little reason for publicity. Try this idea. Tape flip-chart paper all over the walls. At the top of each sheet, write the name of every show or special event that will be produced during the year.
Make a sheet for the demographics of your students. Everyone should start brainstorming, finding the "logical connections" to potential donors/sponsors/businesses that might want to be connected with the show. Or who would want to promote themselves or their business. For example, for a western-themed show---maybe Annie Get Your Gun---you might make connections with western clothing stores, feed stores and country music radio stations. Think about the topic of the show or the event. Make connections to the businesses where your student's parents work. And where the students eat and shop as well.
Once a series of donors/businesses is identified, what then?
The next step is research the prospective donor and/or organization. Look them up on the Internet. Scour past issues of the local papers to see who has supported community events in the past. Call to see who makes the decisions about marketing. A well phrased question is always respected even if it comes from a younger person. Be polite, be prepared. Ask if they are interested in taking advantage of the opportunity to partner with you on this project. Tell what a sponsorship will cost.
And be clear about what the drama group will do for the sponsor.
Absolutely. It is important to explain what exposure the donor/company might expect. Perhaps it is a full page ad or a placard on a tripod in the theatre lobby saying "Tonight's production of Annie Get Your Gun is sponsored by FM108" Remember, however, that the benefits you offer should match the benefits that particular sponsor wants! Think outside the box on this issue. Consider giving sponsors the opportunity to present coupons for their product or services. Remember, businesses sponsor events to gain exposure to new markets and to make money. Marketing is an exchange transaction. Don't be afraid to explore creative ideas with sponsors about ways to help them promote themselves.
And Fast Fact #2?
It is crucial to speak to the person who can say YES! All too often, we are stymied by the gate keeper who tries to protect the donor/business from non-business requests. The tendency is to pour out the request. But beware of saying too much to anyone who can say NO. Your goal is to speak only with the decision-maker!
Do you recommend showing up in person? Indicating a willingness to meet at that very moment? Or at least to let the donor/business know you are not just "cold calling" through the telephone book?
While I believe that you build relationships face-to-face, it is often an imposition to show up at a business. Rather, I'd suggest that you call first to get the information needed to make a presentation specific to that potential sponsor. For example, what their marketing priorities are, what they would require in return for a sponsorship, and so on. Then, make an appointment to visit with a proposal that details the benefits and costs of sponsorship.
But I've asked the donor/business and the decision maker said NO. What then?
That's where Fast Fact # 3 comes in: NO won't make you shrivel up and die! Let a NO be the beginning of a long and fruitful conversation. Seize the opportunity to learn how to ask better the next time. First, thank the potential sponsor for their time and interest. Then ask marketing questions such as "Is there a better time to ask? Is there a better way to ask? Do we need to offer different benefits? Is there anyone else you know who would want to take advantage of this opportunity?" Be courteous but remain focused on the goal-raising money for your special event.
Fast Fact #4. Money Isn't The Only Thing You Need.
Right. The drama group may need technical skills for welding or rigging of some type. There are loads of craftsmen in any community. Someone in that classroom knows someone's mother or father who has a special talent to contribute. Sometimes it's sheer time and labor. Sometimes it's highly specialized. Ask an orthodontist, perhaps, to help create the fangs for your production of Dracula. Ask a dental clinic/complex to help underwrite the costs of producing The Little Shop of Horrors. Or perhaps there is a special antique sofa needed for a show---Arsenic and Old Lace. Contact the antique stores in the area. Offer to share the lobby space with a few vintage items they would like displayed. Hold a raffle at intermission time, the winner taking away a special antique item. Ask for in-kind donations--- program printing, dry cleaning for costumes, food for cast and crew … the list is endless!
And Fast Fact #5. Become Savvy Marketers.
This is a repeat of #1 but it is the most important thing you can learn to improve your success in finding the resources you need for your program. Remember, it is not about you--- it is about the sponsor, the donor, the individual or business you wish to help you. Learn all you can about their needs before you give them the opportunity to become a part of your program. Be creative as your consider the benefits you have to offer. But, most important of all…be inventive in solving your fundraising problems.
What are some of the more inventive solutions you've come across in your career?
The Celebrity Waiter Dinner is great fun. And of course there is always the trusty "A-thon."
How does the Celebrity Waiter Dinner work?
Recruit waiters from your community who are local celebrities such as prominent business leaders, the television channel's weather girl, the football coach. Or the mayor and the mayor's staff. The waiters buy their tables and give away the tickets to co-workers or friends. Print large tickets so that attendees understand the event is a fundraiser.
What about a theme?
Sure. Cowboy Night or Caribbean Cruise. Again, be creative. You can decorate accordingly. Have the guests help promote the event. Add other activities to the dinner, giving participants the opportunity to get involved--and spend more money. Consider a car raffle, a putting contest for a lawn mower or a weekend at a spa, "outdoor" picnic games for a picnic, even a fashion show. Consider a live and silent auction. Remember that dinner guests haven't bought their tickets, so they'll be ready to spend some money. Communicate often with your waiters to prepare them to have fun. Encourage costumes and give-aways for guests at their table. The nice thing about this event is that food should be served family style. Usually, this type of menu is less expensive. And it frees up your celebrity waiters to "work the room" for more donations in support of the event.
And the ever-popular "A-thon?"
People will walk, climb, dance, eat, ride horses, cut hair, read books, do almost anything for pledges. The key, again, is promotion. It must be clear what the "thon" is for ---supporting a guest playwright for a week, or collecting money to send the drama club to New York City for five days of play-going. Lots of reasons. You can't have "a-thon" without "thon-ers" so get the students involved in contacting community personalities to enter. Then they, with the help of the students, can contact prospective donors who will pay "x" dollars if the participants… read out loud to the children at the library, or ride a horse so many miles, or sweep the town's sidewalks for so many hours…all kinds of possibilities. Encourage participants to collect pledges/payments in advance and turn the money in when they register. Too many pledges are never collected or turned in after the event.
We're talking effort here!
And don't forget to get lots and lots of volunteers for crowd control, sign in, and the like. Consider collaborating with local service clubs, campus sororities or fraternities, the military. And always reward your participants. Maybe a service club can hold a Pot Luck supper. Contact local businesses to donate prizes to be passed out to participants who have turned in money at certain levels. Announce the prizes in advance. Give the participants something to shoot for.
These have been excellent ideas, Jean. Our thanks to you for taking time out of your busy schedule to pass them along.
My pleasure. And good luck to everyone.
*Jean Block of Jean Block Consulting, Inc. has nearly 50 years experience as staff member and volunteer for numerous local, regional and national nonprofit organizations, including the Albuquerque Little Theatre. Jean is now a national nonprofit consultant and trainer on fundraising and Board development. She is on the faculty for the US Chamber of Commerce Institute for Organization Management, and is the author of Fast Fundraising facts for Fame & Fortune and The ABCs of Building Better Boards. Jean resides in Albuquerque, NM.