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  • Fundraising for Your Performing Arts Program: 6 Ideas

As a performing arts program administrator, you’re likely familiar with the challenges of securing funding. Selling tickets to performances and soliciting major gifts are just two parts of bringing in enough donations to make your program the best it can be. Determining how to fundraise effectively requires lots of planning, strategy, and relationship-building. Plus, you have to coordinate your program’s fundraising efforts with your college or university as a whole.

Fortunately, there are a number of effective ways for performing arts programs to fundraise. You have a few key assets that can help you in this process, including your university community, alumni, and the arts themselves.

In this guide, we’ll walk through six effective fundraising ideas for your performing arts program to explore, including:

  1. Open Mic Nights
  2. Restaurant Partnerships
  3. Merchandise Sales
  4. Auctions
  5. Crowdfunding
  6. Matching Gifts

Before you implement any of these fundraising ideas, check the rules at your college or university to make sure you’re allowed to run that type of fundraiser. Once you find a fundraiser that works for your program, you’ll be more prepared to cover essential costs of performance equipment, educational resources, useful software tools, and more. Let’s dive in!

1. Open Mic Nights

Some of the best people to involve in fundraising are the artists currently enrolled in your program. They’re passionate about their work and likely want to improve their college experience to prepare them for the future. Plus, they can use their talents to show your university community why supporting the performing arts is important.

An open mic night fundraiser is one way to bring your community together in support of the arts. Many aspiring artists enjoy performing at open mic nights because they can showcase their favorite material or try out new pieces in a low-pressure environment. This casual atmosphere, as well as the variety of performance pieces that students could share (original or cover songs, spoken word poetry, comedy sets, etc.), can draw audience members who might not have interacted with your performing arts program before and allows performers to invite their friends.

Popular locations for open mic nights include outdoor amphitheaters, coffee shops, and bars. Once you find a venue and recruit some performers, you can fundraise by:

  • Charging a small admission fee.
  • Holding a raffle between acts for tickets to your program’s next show.
  • Selling snacks and drinks—if your venue is a bar or coffee shop, they may be willing to share profits from event sales.

Whatever fundraising methods you choose, your open mic night will help students refresh and be inspired to try something new, in addition to showcasing their skills and bringing in revenue.

2. Restaurant Partnerships

Partnering with a restaurant can also help get your university community involved in fundraising for your program. Many locally-owned businesses near college campuses depend on revenue from students and faculty, so they’d be willing to support a university program to drive sales.

There are a few types of restaurant fundraising partnerships, but the one that would likely work best for a performing arts program is a profit share. Once you negotiate a profit-sharing rate with a restaurant and choose a date for the fundraiser, the key to success is advertising early and often. Promote your restaurant partnership using several communication channels, including:

  • Sending email blasts to the students and faculty in your department.
  • Creating shareable social media posts.
  • Printing fundraising flyers to post around campus.

The more you advertise your restaurant fundraiser, the more people will come to the restaurant on the day of the profit share. If your first fundraiser is successful, consider extending your restaurant partnership and holding a profit-sharing event there every semester.

3. Merchandise Sales

The main time that your program brings in revenue is probably right before a show, by selling tickets. You can maximize this fundraising opportunity by also selling branded merchandise related to the show.

When you announce a new show, design a t-shirt, hat, mug, or other product related to the performance. Original productions are easier to do this for than established shows you had to get the rights to in order to perform. You probably already created a logo for the original show that you can transfer from your other promotional materials onto the product, and you won’t have to worry about whether you can legally use someone else’s designs.

On the day of the show, set up a booth outside the performance venue to sell the product. If community members can reserve tickets online, you’ll also want to work with your IT department to add a place to buy merchandise in advance along with their ticket. The profits you bring in from merchandise sales can then be funneled back into your program.

4. Auctions

Auctions are a tried-and-true fundraiser for many organizations, including performing arts programs, because they frequently have high participation rates and ROI. You could hold a live or silent auction and organize the event in-person or virtually. Weigh the benefits of each and consult with other members of your department to choose the best option for your program.

When deciding what items to sell at auction, keep in mind that the most popular auction items are often the ones that can’t be found in stores. Also, the people most likely to participate in your auction are program alumni and parents of current students. These groups will likely be interested in auction items specific to your program, such as:

  • Props from past shows.
  • Signed cast posters.
  • VIP admission packages to upcoming performances (include two to four tickets, a backstage tour or Q&A session with performers, and some show merchandise).

To supplement these auction items, you can ask local businesses to donate prize baskets or gift certificates. Having a wide selection of items to bid on and promoting the event effectively will set your program up for a successful auction.

5. Crowdfunding

Performing arts programs can leverage social media in a number of ways, from promoting upcoming events to recruiting prospective students, according to Acceptd. Social media can also help with fundraising, especially if you start a crowdfunding campaign.

Crowdfunding relies on small and mid-sized donations from a wide range of supporters. It’s a great way to spread awareness about your program because you and your current donors can easily share the campaign on social media. Crowdfunding also tends to draw many first-time donors, allowing people to connect with your program for the first time.

6. Matching Gifts

Many educational institutions benefit from corporate matching gifts, and performing arts programs are no exception. Matching gifts essentially allow your program to double many of the donations you receive.

When a donor who works for a company with a higher education matching gift program contributes and submits a match request, their employer will also donate to your program. Sometimes the company will match the employee’s gift exactly, some will donate a percentage of the original amount, and others will double or even triple the contribution.

The main difficulty with matching gifts is that many donors whose employers have matching gift programs don’t know they’re eligible. Your program can address this problem by promoting matching gifts. Encourage donors to check their eligibility as soon as they give, and create social media posts and email blasts to inform current and potential donors about matching gift opportunities.

The fundraisers in this guide are just six possible options for your performing arts program to bring in much-needed revenue. Consult with your college or university and try out a few fundraisers to make the best decision for your program. Good luck!

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