“We’re always retooling and reworking to come up with different ways to support the theatre,” says Janine Paver. “These economic times just make it tougher.”
For five years Paver has been with the 44-year-old musical theatre
company Broadway by the Bay (the “Bay” being San Francisco’s).
Currently she is development director for the theatre that does four
shows a year, three musicals and a fourth show that features a
composer/lyrist in a concert series setting joined by a Broadway
performer. She reports that while individual and corporate donations
are down across the board. “There are so many variables involved with
musical theatre, and sometimes it just requires you to be more
She’s found that it’s easier to ask more people for $50 or even $20 than that $100 subscriber package. For this they look beyond the subscribers to those who only come occasionally, who—despite being pinched by the times—have that “urgency to protect the arts.” Your job as a fundraiser is to get them to realize the value of the theatre, and that they need to give even the smallest amount to sustain the organization. This is easier than trying to turn them into a major donor.
However, the major donor group still expects the proper reception, and while they may have trimmed the number of these events in a season they have not cut back on the quality of them. She says that they have tried something different this year and invited donors to a dress rehearsal where they got a “backstage pass,” and that was relatively less expensive. Yet while many enjoyed that, others missed the socializing that comes with the traditional reception.
“Sometimes it’s more challenging pleasing a large group of people who have different taste and preferences, and that’s why I do a little bit of a lot of things,” she says, adding a word of caution: “But I don’t believe in changing too dramatically from season to season—if you try too many different things, you’re in danger of losing site of your mission. Your audience is your community and it’s the whole culture of theatre going that’s a draw, so high donors and subscribers want the perks that come with their support.”
What if you’re raising big money— to redo your theatre or even give your theatre company a new home?
Jay Kalagayan founded Know Theatre 12 years ago and today the Cincinnati-based organization has built a strong reputation for being a place that “creates alternative theatre that is uniquely relevant.” His first rule of surviving during these economic times is one that has served him well always. “We’ve always been fiscally responsible,” he says. “We’ve always gone ‘slow and steady’ with growth, building a foundation as opposed to rocketing into the big stuff.”
The theatre started out with the word “nomadic” in its name as it moved from space to space. But in 2006 it landed in permanent space. “When we opened this space, we made new friends and for us that was important,” he says. “It brought us into public view, and we did a Phase II capital campaign where 75% of the donations came from people who had never given before.” They dubbed the campaign the “Next Decade” and got donors large and small excited by not so much talking about their past accomplishments, but by telling them where they will be 10 years from now.
“It’s all about building relationships,” he says of fundraising efforts. “It’s talking to people, meeting them one-on-one.” For those fund-raising for a capital campaign, he has some solid advice that to the uninitiated seems counterintuitive: Be quiet about it.
“You want a silent launch, and you don’t want a big announcement about a capital campaign until you’re about 70% to your goal—otherwise you’ll scare people off. You want momentum.”
Another word of advice on a big fundraising party: think midweek. Kalagayan points out that there is too much competition on weekend nights, so they held theirs on a Tuesday. And for their 10th anniversary, the team at Know figured out how to include several tiers of donors with a clever “simulcast” event. They held three parties at the same time for different groups of donors. “The least expensive was $30, the most $120,” he explains. “We had performers at each location, and the main one featured Tony Award-nominee Pamela Meyers.” Gala attendees of all levels could stroll over to the TVs where they could view what was going on at the other events.
Smaller parties are also working for them in more ways than one: “Instead of one big party, we’ve lately been dividing them up into smaller gatherings and getting supporters to host them at their homes.” So instead of the expense of hosting 200 and putting on a big song and dance routine (literally), these 75-person events allows them to just come Smaller parties are also working for them in more ways than one: “Instead of one big party, we’ve lately been dividing them up into smaller gatherings and getting supporters to host them at their homes.” So instead of the expense of hosting 200 and putting on a big song and dance routine (literally), these 75-person events allows them to just come in and do some songs, keep it nice and short, and let the theatre company members mingle with the guest, which he says is sometimes more important than the performance. Also the draw of going to a fellow theatre-lover’s home is more of a draw then just going to the theatre or some banquet hall.
Sometimes theatres (or school theatre programs) just need fast cash.
Jeff Sirlin, president of School Fundraisers.com, has been increasingly getting calls to apply what they do for schools to theatre and dance organizations, including high school and college groups. “Theatres sometimes have big plans but need money to make it a reality,” he says. “Our programs work well for them because there’s no financial risk—no money up front required. You can find a program on our Web site that is that is right for you, implement it, and two weeks later have the money for that additional piece of gear or to even help the production travel.”
They’ve been called upon in particular to help community theatres. “Just last week a musical theatre group from Fall River, Mass., did a cookie dough and cheese cake fundraiser and put it directly toward an especially expensive production that required a special set. It was a one off and worked very well for them.” While a lot of their offerings are food-centric, groups that don’t want to go that route have had success with their flower bulb or book programs.
“First thing about our programs is always safety: we absolutely do not ask groups to do door-to-door selling. It’s outdated and we tell them not to do it. On our Web site is a resource section with selling tips, and ways for them to raise the most money quickly and easily.”
For more constant sellers, their “school spirit” division does a lot of work with school drama clubs providing names and logos on promotional items.
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