by Steven Weisz for The Dance Journal
Each dance season, I open my inbox for the usual onslaught of solicitous emails announcing forthcoming shows and asking me to purchase tickets. This is all very well as I like to keep up with the latest happenings and performances, but it is magnanimously followed in rapid succession by another email campaign asking me to donate to the very same dance company in support of their upcoming performance. After being asked to purchase a ticket to a performance, I am now being asked to donate money to insure that the dance company can “pay their dancers” or pay the required “rent on their venue”. There are also a host of other miscellaneous “asks” from paying for costumes to helping pay for promotion and marketing, and even covering the cost of “living expenses” while a company works on their production.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a value to online crowdfunding, especially when correctly implemented, as a way for small to mid-size companies to raise funds for their creative works. It’s no surprise that crowdfunding through sites like Kickstarter and Indigogo have changed the way dance companies fund raise. The idea of raising money online through small contributions from a large number of people came onto the dance scene at the height of the great recession, right when big, reliable donors and corporate philanthropy programs had less money to allocate. With less grants available and more companies competing for the same pool of funds, crowd sourcing remains a significant tool.
What concerns me is the delivery, timing and message that is imparted to those outside of the dance community. By fundraising specifically for a performance, as opposed to running a yearly development campaign, are we implying to potential patrons that they should be concerned that the ticket they just purchased is in jeopardy if the crowdfunding campaign does not reach its goal? Should the ticket holder also be cautious that the venue or the dancers may not be paid? This may seem to be a trivial concern, but in fact a survey of non-dance patrons, who were solicited to purchase tickets to a crowdfunded performance, showed that 53% were somewhat hesitant about their recent purchase and 11% stated they were extremely hesitant or did not go through with their purchase as a result.
By crowd funding on a per performance basis, does this become a “one shot deal” for donations? How many times a year can you repeatedly ask the same pool of people to keep funding your upcoming performance? In essence, you are limiting your scope for development and fundraising as the people who see your campaign are only those in your social media network, which can put you at risk of exhausting their funds and patience.
They key here is to develop a fundraising plan whose approach encompasses a variety of tools to achieve sustainability during the life of a company as opposed to living from performance to performance. Towards this end, it is critical to create a set measurable goals at the outset that will help you to manage your own and others’ expectations. You need to identify your target market and the relevant channels to reach them – whether these are predominantly through traditional means, networking or on-line and digital methods. Create a yearly campaign drive with specific goals, a clear strategy, a value proposition that differentiates you from the competition, and a well crafted plan. Be sure that everyone in your company is on board with the plan and committed to its execution.
Once your campaign plan is completed, the hard work begins. You need to find the time and motivation to drive its implementation. The best campaigns are those that have sustained activity over a lengthy period of time. That is why having a campaign plan is critical, so you know in advance what needs to be done. For smaller dance companies with limited resources, this may seem to be an insurmountable task, but if carefully and properly executed, the rewards will be significantly greater and help you achieve sustainability.
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