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With autumn well underway, you may be searching for some fundraising ideas that will raise a little (or a lot of) money for your theatre. Whether you’re a school program, community theatre, professional non-equity organization, or something in between, all theatre pros have one thing in common: they’ll never say no to additional capital.
That’s where fundraising comes in. And if we’re being honest, it’s sometimes best not to attempt to reinvent the wheel. If there are proven fundraising strategies and tactics that work, why ignore them? We’ll explore a few tried and true ideas that you can utilize to drum up financial support for your program. But first – why is fundraising important?
I mean, this one’s pretty self-explanatory. Fundraising efforts…well…raise funds! Whether you’re gunning to implement some technology upgrades, or infrastructure remodels, or want to ramp up your production value, fundraising gives you the means to do so.
Fundraising events bring the community together for a common goal. In this case, the goal is to support your theatre! As arts enthusiasts, we should continually look for ways to get the community excited about performances and arts of any kind. Fundraising is a great way to do just that.
Hosting events – whether fundraisers or not – elevates your status in the community and helps to keep your theatre top of mind for existing and potentially new patrons. You don’t want declines in engagement or times when those in your community forget how hard you’re working. Since you can’t create new performances every single week, these events remind those in your circle about the great work you’re doing.
Fundraisers are an excellent chance to connect with high-value partners in your area. Whether those are local businesses, other theatres or creatives, large corporations, or something in between, fundraisers create opportunities to generate sponsorships and partnerships that will help you down the road.
So – now we know why fundraising is important. But you may be at a loss on where, exactly, to start. We offer a few tried-and-true fundraising ideas that you can tie into the theatre world.
As one of the easiest and most popular fundraisers to pull off, bake sales require very little pre-planning or overhead. Have all of your cast, crew, front-of-house staff, and leadership create goodies to sell at community gatherings, before performances, or during school events.
Make sure to highly publicize the event and tease a few of the most tempting dishes on your social media. And remember – you want to raise money, but also want to remind people what they’re raising money for: your theatre! Host a challenge with your team to see if people can create baked goods that are ‘on-theme’ with your current showcase. Make sure your promotional materials are out during the sale, whether those are posters, T-shirts, mugs, or the like.
A lofty goal, to be sure, but festivals are a great way to raise money and offer a variety of dynamic ways to do so. Host your festival alongside a sponsor or community partner, and ensure you’re tapping into your network of contacts to get free materials or trades. Charge an admission fee, as well as fees for food, drinks, and bonus activities.
To add a theatrical twist, consider a themed festival in which your actors and crew members are in character throughout the festival grounds. Your festival could even be themed after your upcoming production, with all the actors in costume. Not only will this be a fun addition to the day, but it also allows your actors to get in additional practice!
With the weather cooling off, now’s an excellent time to host an outdoor activity fundraiser, whether that’s biking, walking, running, or swimming for a cause.
Remember to offer different routes to entice multiple skill levels – you want as many people as possible to be interested in your offerings. Encourage all your participants to fundraise before the event, as well, and incentivize fundraising by offering freebies if certain numbers are hit. (T-shirts and other theatre merchandise, for example.)
To remind people what they’re running/walking/biking for, tell participants to dress up in themed clothing – perhaps as their favorite musical character of all time. Then, more people will likely share their costumes and experiences online, creating further engagement for you!
Whether you want to have participants eat hot dogs, pie, cookies, or something more on-theme to your current production, eating contests are a silly and whimsical way to raise some money.
Local bakeries can donate pies in exchange for publicity in marketing efforts, print promotions, online fundraising pages, and merchandise. You can recruit people in your cast and crew to act as emcees/referees and ask participants to start a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign or donate a minimum gift amount for entry.
After the contest, make sure to thank the participants and expound on your theatre’s offerings. What will this money be going towards? People love to know how their money will be spent. Additionally, consider creating T-shirts or other merchandise commemorating the day. Not only will this drum up additional income, but will also give your patrons a tangible way to remember the event.
Harness your community’s competitive energy through a cook-off of some kind. Tap your community partners to help with equipment and food, then host your event near your theatre. You can sell tickets for meals and charge a fee to register for the competition. You should also consider challenging several area chefs or restaurants to compete against each other – their loyal diners could become your loyal patrons!
Make sure to take time during this community event to speak about your theatre and its programming. By hosting the cook-off near your theatre, you can also sell tickets to tour the inside of your theatre, the backstage, or other areas of interest.
Everyone loves to let their hair down and gamble a bit if the timing’s right. Consider hosting a ‘casino night’ at your theatre, complete with table games, slot machines, food, and drink.
You can utilize set pieces from recent or upcoming shows to pack a visual punch, and make sure to dress up on the theme – perhaps your actors can even be in costume! Casino nights have a variety of ways to raise income, from entry fees to drink and food tickets, poker buy-ins, and more.
Perhaps the most tried-and-true fundraising idea to exist, a car wash requires very little overhead and comes with a great payoff. You’ll just need access to water, soap, signage, and a few supplies – your clients will bring the rest!
Make sure to advertise your event ahead of time on social media and pair up with business partners to spread the word about your event far and wide. Make your hours, location, and rates crystal clear. If you’re uncomfortable asking for money, present donation suggestions at different tiers depending on the level of service.
Remember to market your theatre and its offerings during the washes. Blast music from your upcoming production during your event, and consider performing quick numbers from your show in front of waiting patrons for additional tips.
What better way to flex your theatre’s talents than hosting a talent show? Whether it’s a benefit concert, performance, or variety show, these displays of talent keep morale high and allow your cast, crew, and leadership to flex their performance skills.
Talent shows can also utilize community partners to save money on permits, food, drink, and location. At the same time, all of these avenues allow you to take in multiple forms of revenue – alongside ticket sales, merch sales, and more.
End your talent show with a sneak peek from an upcoming production… making sure to leave patrons wanting more!
While it may seem like a large undertaking, a community scavenger hunt is one of the tried-and-true fundraising ideas that will reap major rewards related to engagement.
Work with local businesses and community partners to set up a hunt across your neighborhood, leaving clues and challenges for contestants to hunt down. Ask registrants to sign up in teams and raise a minimum entry amount. This will also be an excellent opportunity for social media and news coverage.
Make sure you’re promoting your work and adding theatrical twists to your hunt. Some of the clues should be related to your upcoming production. Consider having actors from your show around town to provide “hints” … in character, of course.
Performance grams are an excellent way to remain whimsical, raise money, and allow your actors and crew members to have fun.
Sell ‘performance grams’ within your school network or community. Essentially, a patron will purchase a mini performance to dedicate to a person of their choosing. The performer assigned to the gram will then track down the recipient and perform a song for them – likely making everyone in the situation laugh, feel special, and want to buy one for themselves. Consider utilizing performance gram content related to your current showcase to keep things relevant to your work.
We know that fundraising is no joke – and can be the crux of success for your theatre. Luckily, On The Stage (OTS) offers a variety of resources and tools to help you on your fundraising journey.
The OTS Fundraising Suite empowers you to take control of your theatre’s financial destiny with comprehensive offerings, where you can launch campaigns, track one-time and ongoing donations, manage and grow donors, access reports, and more. Additional offerings include tips, tricks, and to-dos shared in helpful resources, such as A Guide to Last Minute Fundraising and 5 Funding Strategies for Your Theatre. In short, OTS has you covered for all things fundraising. Book a personalized demo today to get started.