Short on Cash? Try a Few of These Fund-Raising Tips

By Lee, Louise | Strings, July 2010 | Go to article overview

Short on Cash? Try a Few of These Fund-Raising Tips


Lee, Louise, Strings


Orchestra directors share advice about what netted them sorely needed funds

STATES AND LOCAL MUNICIPALITIES are wielding the budget axe, and public-school music programs are feeling the cuts. With the increased competition, fundraising these days isn't getting any easier, but if you're a youth-orchestra director, you still have an edge with potential donors: a solid, youth-centered mission.

Your first tip comes from Frances Richman, executive director of the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra. "Youth orchestras have a favorable niche in the fund-raising landscape because they're dealing with kids, and kids are enough of a buzzword," Richman says.

As you keep searching for funds, consider these well-tested fund-raising methods - and their pros and cons.

THROW A GALA

A big formal or semi-formal event, such as a sit-down dinner with presentations and entertainment, is a splashy attention getter. Richman's advice: make it fun.

In 2008, Richman's organization, which oversees 11 ensembles, held such a gala that attracted 300 people and raised a hefty $300,000. Since the organization was also marking Richman's 20th anniversary as director during the gala, it turned the event into a "roast and toast" complete with an entertaining video presentation about Richman. "It was very different from the kind of event with lots of very serious speakers," she says. "It was structured to be fun."

If you go with a gala, be clear about who's benefiting. The Milwaukee gala, for instance, succeeded because it specifically supported one of the organization's most compelling programs: initiatives providing financial help for young musicians in need.

Jim Hogan, executive director of the California Youth Symphony in Palo Alto, California, says there is a downside to galas: the preparation is extremely labor intensive. Someone has to organize the publicity, set up the venue, plan the menu, and so on. "They can end up being more trouble then they're worth," Hogan says.

HOSTA BINGO NIGHT

In a good year, a parent-run bingo night has brought two high schools in Petaluma, California, nearly $20,000 to split between their music programs. "There are always little old ladies and little old men in town who play bingo, and they feel good that their money goes to students," says Arlene Burney, co-director of the Casa Grande High School bands and color guard.

The Saturday-night ritual has been self-sustained by volunteers culled from parents of student musicians and the students themselves since its inception in the late '70s. And its contribution has relieved Burney of the headaches of managing several smaller fund-raisers to cover the soaring costs of sheet music.

But Burney adds that bingo night wasn't easy for her predecessors to start. First, they had to get a permit to run bingo games from the city council. Then they created a nonprofit to channel the money to keep it separate from other forms of revenue for the music programs. They persuaded school administrators to let them use the cafeteria after-hours as a venue. After this, they had to find a bingo vendor for the proper materials - including an electronic game board and bingo cards - that Burney says are not cheap.

To learn the ropes, the organizers visited other bingo games around and outside of town, and then taught a willing team of volunteer parents.

Since students come and go, new parents must be recruited and trained continually, but the effort is well worth the revenue.

"Once it's going," Burney says, "it's great. …

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