So you’ve come to the conclusion that you need more funding and you’re ready to do the work to run your very first fundraiser.
Congratulations! This guide is meant to help make things as easy as possible so you can get the most money from your efforts. We know as music educators that this shouldn’t really be part of our job, but sometimes that’s just the way the metaphorical cookie crumbles and we have to do our best with what we have.
If you’re ready for this undertaking, then let’s jump right in.
Step 1: Set a Clear Target
What, exactly, are you fundraising for? This is the first and most important question that you need to be able to answer- and it’s going to be different for everyone. The more specific you can be with your target and goal, the less effort you will have in generating the support you need.
Simply answer these four questions:
○ What is the problem you are solving?
Another way to state this would be: what will the funds be used for? How will this help your students be more successful. For example, if I need a new percussion cabinet and a handful of instruments, I might phrase the problem as, “Our current percussion cabinet is falling apart and can no longer travel between rooms or on tour, and it is no longer offering protection to our percussion hand instruments, thus risking the need for replacing those as well.”
You already know what it is that you need, you just need to state the problem very clearly so others can understand, feel an emotional tug, and want to give you money to solve it.
○ What is it that you need to solve the problem?
For our example above it would be ‘We need a new percussion cabinet- one that will be able to move easily and contain all of the necessary equipment.” This is where you get to say ‘I need ______________________.”
○ How much is it going to cost?
It’s best if you can answer this very specifically. Call around and get prices if you have to. Get multiple bids. Make sure you include any processing fees or shipping as well. This number is your target.
○ Who is most likely to give?
Who are the primary stakeholders in your program that you feel would be most likely to give? Often it is parents, community members, and local businesses. If your project is larger than a few thousand dollars, perhaps your audience is a national nonprofit organization? Or a government entity? By keeping this in mind as you move forward, you’ll have a better understanding of the language you need to use, and where your message will be most well-received.
Step 2: Plan Your Activities
Your campaign activities will completely depend on who you are asking. What is the best way to talk to each of these groups?
If you are going to be asking for donations from the parents/family/etc. connected to your students, having an appeal at your performance might be the best way. If you have an email list for all of your students/parents, then also having an email campaign would be beneficial.
On the other hand, if you’re going to be appealing to local businesses, you’ll want to create a packet of information, or a 3-fold flier to take to the businesses. Another option for reaching these businesses would be via email or a letter campaign.
For each of the audiences you identified in Step 1, come up with at least 2 ways to reach them, and how you will state your message with each placement [ie. will you, the teacher, be asking for donations at the concert, or will you have some students talk about the needs and how people can donate. Will you have students take fliers to businesses, or will you do it?]
Step 3: Build Your Assets and Set Deadlines
The more ways you have available to you for getting your message out, the better. Just as not every student learns visually, not every shareholder will respond to a written letter. Some will be more responsive to a Facebook post. Some to a video. Others to testimonials from students.
Consider your list of potential donors from Step 1 again and think about which types of assets they might be most responsive to. Then create those that will help reach them. Don’t waste time on creating assets that won’t get you closer to your goal.
By creating and collecting all of these assets you’ll be prepared to use them whether you’re creating an online crowdfunding donation page, or applying for a grant, or presenting at a local giving club.
○ A written appeal. This is a letter-format document that you can send via email or direct mail. Once you have this drafted this becomes your base material for all of the other assets you’re going to create. Don’t forget you have to tell them how they can give as well; do they send in a check? Donate online? Give to your PTA? Make sure that this call-to-action is part of this appeal.
○ Photos. Images of faces are the most powerful photos to use in your appeal. Use photos that are both appealing and enhance the story you are telling. If you need new instruments, show photos of your students using the old ones.
○ A short video. You have a cell phone, you can make a video. Just get a few of your students together and have them talk about the need, the solution, and how donors can give and make a difference. Use a free online service like Adobe Spark to add music and shout-outs to the video.
○ A branded donation page. Don’t have a website for your program? Your donation page could exist as part of your school’s website. Make sure you use your program/class logo , all of your written appeal information, photos, videos, and how people can donate.
○ Social media updates. If you decide to use social media, have a series of posts ready to go. Don’t forget to include your donation page link for every post. Photos and videos that you’ve created are perfect for this.
○ A press release. Asking the general public to give is easy if you have the media on your side. Share your story, your need, your solution with the media via a press release.
○ Talking points. Share these talking points with your students so that they can answer questions and help recruit donors as well. Try to keep it to 5 [one per finger], and practice with them.
○ Newsletter blurbs. Your school, your district, and even your professional organizations have newsletters even if you don’t. Have a short paragraph ready to go that you can send out or have sent out on your behalf.
○ Your donor thank you [which is different from the donation receipt]. Have a thank you letter or card ready to send out as donations come in. You want to be prompt and make sure that donors are acknowledged and thanked within 2-5 days of their donation. Engage students in this process as well.
For each of your assets, set a deadline for when they will be ready. If you have parents or students helping, make certain that they are aware of the deadlines, remind of them as they approach, and are thanked for when they are met. Of course, all of the deadlines should coincide with the last date that you will be accepting donations.
Here are some tools you can use:
Step 4: Craft a Strong Appeal
An effective appeal is equal parts urgency and emotion. You want to help people feel the reason they should give as strongly as you do, as well as a specific and urgent call to action. This means not only crafting a compelling story, but also incorporating the following:
• Show how donations will be used. Tell them about all the wonderfully awesome things their donation will be doing for your students.
• Be specific. Don’t make the assumption that your donors know what you want them to do. As for one solid action from them. For example, asking them to click a button instead of something more ambiguous like, ‘support our campaign’.
• Keep it simple. Don’t go into too much depth. Keep it short and interesting and relevant.
• Keep it about your students and donors. Instead of talking about how great you and your program are, talk about how other donors have a made a difference, how your students’ lives have been changed through participation in your program.
• Share a photo. Remember, faces are best. Use some images of your students looking at the camera.
• Make it personal. How can your donor relate to your students, your program? People give more when they can connect with a specific person they are helping.
In addition, make sure you answer these key questions:
Why is your cause relevant and why should they care? Help them feel emotionally connected to your program and your students.
Why is it urgent for them to give right now? What will it look like if they don’t give? Is there a deadline? If so, why?
Tell them exactly what their donation will go toward and what it will do. This may feel redundant, but tell them again anyways. People want to give when they know it will make a difference.
These days donors of all kinds are increasingly skeptical. They want to know who they know that has also given- this is called ‘social proof’. Collect testimonials of your students, and especially of other donors.
Step 5: Make it Easy to Give
The fewer barriers donors have to giving, the better it is for you. There are two great ways to keep it easy, efficient, and still allow donors to have a receipt and for you to get their information:
○ Performance donations. Sure, you can put out an upside down drum for audience members to throw cash in, but why not hand out an envelope they can put cash or check in, fill out their information on, and rip off the receipt. These can also be used at fundraising events, parent nights, or any other time you might ask for donations.
○ Online donations. Make sure your url for your donation page is easy to remember. Print it on all of your fliers, concert and performance programs, and any other written appeal. Your online donation page should:
• Be as short as possible. Ideally your form should be one page and include as few fields for them to fill out as possible. [I like to use the paypal.me page as a good example.]
• Use your logo and other design elements [colors, fonts, etc.]. Make sure it matches your social media pages, letterheads, and even t-shirts or uniforms.
• Have one clear action you want them to take: donate!
• Be concise. Save your long story for another place. Simply tell them what difference their donation will make.
• Be easy to read. Keep your color choices minimal and your text readable. This isn’t the time to try out all of those flashy new design elements.
• Be easy to share. Use a social sharing plugin or link, especially if you can install it on your ‘thank you’ page. It can say, “Thank you for giving, now give the opportunity to someone else.” And the link they share is to your donation page. This is also a great reason to keep your url short and memorable.
Step 6: Follow Up
Too often we get so focused on getting the donations, we forget we have to give back as well. Don’t think of your donors as the dollar amount that they gave, but as a shareholder in your program forever. This is your chance to build a relationship and keep them giving time and time again- regardless of the amount. Someone who gives $5 today may be a $500 donor a year down the road.
Collect your donor’s email addresses and contact them regularly to let them know how things are going and how their donation is making a difference. Let them see their gift in action. Keep in mind:
○ Thank your donors ASAP. Have a heap of thank you cards written up by your students and ready to send out to donors. Video emails are also a great tool for saying ‘thank you’ in a very personal way.
○ One thank you is just not enough. Don’t ever give them a chance to wonder how things are going. Follow-up regularly. Once you have what you needed, tell them. And the next time you need something, engage them again.
○ Make sure your thanks are memorable and sincere. This is why having students write thank you notes and letters is so impactful. And video. And photos. And social media shout-outs. Truly make every donor feel like they are the one who made all the difference.
○ Celebrate your donors. Think of what you can offer them as a perk for their giving. At my school we offer large donors prime seats to our Christmas program. What can you offer yours? Band t-shirts? A shout-out over the microphone at your choir concert? Their name and/or company logo projected on the wall before a performance? What about a link on your website? Really make them feel special in every way that you can think of.
By following these 6 steps your first fundraiser will undoubtedly be a success.
Have you already tried some of these tips? Or have tips you’d like to share with Music Educators? Leave a comment!