The Paul Taylor Dance Company will open its 2011 New York City Center season with the annual Gala on February 22, when it will present the New York premiere of a new, untitled work as well as Black Tuesday and Esplanade. That untitled work—Taylor’s 133rd—will receive its world premiere October 30 in Richardson, Texas.
The company will present 15 works from its repertoire in a New York season that runs through March 6. Highlights include the New York premiere of Phantasmagoria, a revival of Orbs, and the return of Dust, Speaking in Tongues, and The Word. Also included in the repertoire are Arden Court, Cloven Kingdom, and Promethean Fire.
The company is battling the recession by offering $10 tickets to all shows. In addition, “The Black Tuesday Great Depression Special” on Tuesday, March 1, will have all seats normally $25 to $150 reduced to $19.29, and tickets that normally sell for $10 offered for $5. Black Tuesday is a bittersweet tribute to valiant souls who survived the Great Depression.
The pros and cons of fund-raising
By Hedy Perna and Brian Renfrow
Car washes. Bake sales. Bottle drives. If that’s what comes to mind when you consider fund-raising projects, you need to start thinking outside the box! While those traditional revenue-generating sources deserve consideration, at Amber Perkins School of the Arts in Norwich, NY, we’ve looked beyond those standbys to develop some innovative and successful projects.
Fund-raising at our studio is headed by our Booster Club, which is composed of interested volunteers, mostly parents of current or past students. It was conceived about eight years ago to assist competition students with travel and related expenses. Some of our successful fund-raising projects have included the following.
Although it is not our most profitable activity, the gala is our most popular. Now in its fourth year, this event generated a profit (about $700) for the first time this year. Held each spring in a local hotel ballroom (decorated by the studio owner and volunteers), the gala is an elegant event that our students and parents look forward to. We keep expenses minimal by hiring a popular local DJ at a discounted rate and serving hors d’oeuvres rather than full meals. Admission this year was $25 for adults and $15 for ages 16 and under. The attendees are primarily students and their friends and families. We have tried, with mixed success, inviting prominent local citizens. However, given the event’s focus as an awards presentation for the students, outside interest has been limited.
Held as part of this year’s gala, this “pick a prize” raffle of donated goods and services was the event’s largest revenue producer, netting about $500. Tickets were sold during the gala for $1 each or “arm’s length”—about 15 tickets—for $10. Donations included restaurant and salon gift certificates, gift baskets, newspaper subscriptions, and tuition for studio classes.
One of our studio parents is an accomplished amateur photographer, with high-end equipment. He volunteered to take photos during all three dress rehearsals for the school’s recital. Then, during performances, we set up a continuous loop display of the photographs on a monitor in the lobby and had proof sheets available for customers to peruse. We offered prints, high-resolution DVDs, or low-resolution CDs for purchase. This event proved very popular. Overhead costs were minimal; the only expenses were blank media. The photographer donated printing costs. Some DVDs and CDs were produced in advance for immediate sale, and more were made on demand. This year’s recital brought in approximately $600 in CD/DVD sales and $175 in print sales.
Held each spring in a local hotel ballroom, the gala is an elegant event that our students and parents look forward to. [Renfrow]
This event generated about $1,100, the highest net profit of any fund-raising activity the school has ever done. A local catering business offers an on-site whole-chicken barbeque at a fixed per-person cost. Their staff comes to the site, provides all the equipment, and does the cooking. The cost is low enough that we can add a reasonable markup and still offer the chickens at an attractive price. Student and parent volunteers sell the chickens, both in advance and on site. For maximum sales volume, try to find space on or near a busy highway or street.
We normally do candy sales for two four-week periods, one in the fall and one in the spring. Order forms and booklets are distributed to each student, and extra order forms are kept at the studio desk. This fund-raising staple has proved very popular with our students and families, typically landing in the top two or three revenue generators. It’s vital to have high-quality, name-brand candy. In addition, we recommend using a vendor that allows payment after the candy is sold, to avoid purchasing candy which ultimately does not sell. Contact the vendors and determine which one offers the best terms and returns the highest percentage of gross sales to your organization.
One of our oldest fund-raising events, selling refreshments at recitals typically generates modest profits, usually $400 to $500. To keep expenses low, we offer only water and candy—no soda, hot drinks, or baked goods. We buy candy by the box at a discount club store. A student’s parents obtain bottled water for us at low cost, but you can purchase it by the case at discount stores. We sell the items during the recital for 50 cents or $1.
This year we attempted to boost water sales by having custom labels for the bottles made at low cost. The labels, which include the studio logo and recital artwork, make the bottles into attractive collector’s items. Water sales were up about $75 from the last few years, but it’s hard to say how much of that increase is attributable to the labels and how much to the fact that it was a hot weekend.
Although we have done this only once and income was modest, it has potential. To make it viable, you need to negotiate a discount fee from the golf club and attract plenty of participants. Weather variables can make this hit-or-miss. Combining a golf tournament with a value-added event such as a bake sale, lunch or dinner, or raffle makes even more sense.
A few other fund-raising events that have proved successful for us include clothing sales, a “dunk-a-dancer” event at a local festival, and the traditional car washes, bake sales, and bottle drives.
Car washes are proving difficult, due both to lack of volunteers and liability concerns that preclude the use of our preferred location. For us, these one-day car washes are not high-profit events, typically yielding less than $200. However, since they involve low or no overhead, they may merit consideration.
Our organization is not immune to the concerns that all fund-raising groups face. The most significant issue is apathy on the part of both students and parents. In past years it was not uncommon to see 10 to 20 attendees at monthly Booster Club meetings. More recently, at least one meeting took place with only the officers present. We try to minimize inconvenience by scheduling meetings on the same day every month, holding them at the studio (where many parents are present already, to pick up or drop off students), and limiting meetings to an hour or less.
Student participation has historically been limited to a core group with an active interest in fund-raising. We have watched the number decline over the years. In the past we did not tie the distribution of profits to competition students to their participation in fund-raising activities, which led to frustration from those who did participate and apathy from those who didn’t. We changed that policy last year, so it remains to be seen how tying rewards to participation affects the students’ willingness to take part.
Fund-raising at our studio has traditionally benefited competition students in the form of cash distribution, which the students’ families could apply to travel, hotel, competition fees, or other expenses. We have had many spirited discussions regarding this policy, but we always come to the same conclusion: This is where our resources are most effectively utilized. Despite early fears that younger students who don’t yet enter competitions would have no incentive to participate in fund-raising, we did not find that to be an issue; they understand that they will benefit in the future.
The keys to successful fund-raising are to do everything you can to encourage students, their parents, and the community to participate, and to be willing to try new or unconventional ideas. Parents and students who are new to a school may have innovative, exciting ideas that could lead to a big jump forward in the success of your fund-raising program. —BR
Fund-raising is a fact of life at many studios, which use the proceeds they raise to pay for competition fees and travel expenses, among other things. At my studio, Perna Dance Center in Hazlet, NJ, we invite our students to perform in dance events and participate in studio trips throughout the year, and we usually have a large response. But we haven’t done any significant fund-raising in years. I’ve had some bad experiences with the process in the past and since then it’s been strictly “pay as you go.”
The one fund-raiser I still do at my studio is candy sales. We sell candy at the front desk for most of the year and the profits go into a general fund for whatever is needed for upcoming events: tips for bus drivers, goody bags for long trips, and so on. These sales are easy to manage, require little record keeping, and involve no disputes about who gets what. And every little bit helps with those unexpected extras associated with trips and events.
What turned me off from fund-raising? When my studio used to go to competitions, I scheduled my fair share of fund-raising activities: car washes, spaghetti dinners, raffles, candy sales, shaking a can—you name it, we did it. But in the long run, I found that fund-raising was exhausting, sometimes not profitable enough, and brought more problems to the studio than it was worth.
One of the biggest problems was that a small group of people ended up doing all the work. We relied on parent volunteers to donate their time to the fund-raising activities, and it seemed like the same ones showed up at event after event. We started a parent association, but in a short time it was evident that some parents were workers and others were not. Eventually the workers got tired of doing all the work, and you know where the buck stops—right here! So I ended up doing the work.
Problems arose among the dancers as well. They started out enthusiastically, then fund-raising fatigue would set in. Some students started to slack off and soon fingers were pointed. And since we split the profits among those who participated, when a large group turned out the net per person was minimal. Making a $1,000 profit on a fund-raiser sounds great until you divide it by 50 dancers. Their yield for lots of work and time would be only $20 each.
I always found that simply asking for donations by shaking a can was the most profitable and fastest way to raise money. But securing time slots at local shopping malls became a full-time job. It seems that every Little League team, cheer squad, and Girl Scout group wants to do fund-raising at the same time! When we did get time slots, parents needed to put in shifts to supervise the kids, and the kids needed to commit to their time slots. But there was always a complication or complaint: “Mary Jane is sick and Brittany is covering her shift, but she’ll be late,” or “I did a double shift so I should get a double share of the profits.” The profits were good, but keeping accurate track of who did what, when, and for how long was very time-consuming.
Headaches and nightmares
A few years ago a studio owner friend of mine told me about a fund-raising nightmare he was having at his studio. A trip was planned, and everyone had agreed to help raise money for it. Then one student dropped out or was removed from the group, but she wanted all the money she had raised to be given to her for her personal use, even though the people who had given money did so with the expectation that they were helping her to go on this trip. Now she wasn’t going, and the student and her mother insisted that because she had raised the money, it was hers. What a headache.
Another studio owner I know planned a trip and volunteer parents organized a fund-raiser for it. Since she left the responsibility to the parents and didn’t directly oversee it, the school owner wasn’t aware that they had raised more money than was needed for the trip. With the extra funds, the parents decided to purchase warm-up suits for the students—without the input, knowledge, or participation of the studio owner. It was bad enough that the owner didn’t have any say in the look of her own studio’s warm-up suit; but since not all the students signed up to raise the money, only those who did got the warm-up suits. What a nightmare.
Now, due to the high cost of gas and the possibility of fuel surcharges on group trips, I’m reconsidering my ban on fund-raisers. But I plan to watch out for the pitfalls (and there are plenty). Since I don’t have the time or energy to commit to another task at the studio, I’m planning to give the record-keeping responsibility to my studio office manager. If needed, a portion of the fund-raising profits will be earmarked to pay her for this task. Also, the fund-raising policies will be clearly stated and all participants must sign off that they agree to all fund-raising guidelines, and everything will be put in writing. The following guidelines will be included in my fund-raising plan.
- Fundraising is optional and strictly voluntary.
- If a student wants to participate in fund-raising activities, one parent must volunteer.
- Only those who participate in the fund-raising event will share in the profits.
- The studio director will choose the fund-raising events.
- The studio director will determine how and where the profits will be used.
- The studio director will set a firm monetary goal and specify whether it is for the entire event or a portion of it.
- The studio director will set dates and deadlines for the fund-raiser.
- Students who volunteer to raise funds will be accountable for their time, and their share of the profits will be directly related to the time and effort they put into each event. No show, no dough!
- The office manager will issue a monthly update of every student’s account.
- Five percent of all monies raised will be used for administrative fees for the office manager (if needed) or go into the general fund account.
- If a student is removed or chooses not to participate in the trip or event after the fact, all monies collected will be equally divided among the remaining participants or be added to the general fund.
- General fund monies will be used, at the director’s discretion, for unexpected or extra expenses associated with any other event or trip planned by the studio in the same school year.
- The studio owner and the students will advertise and promote the fund-raising events and work in an enthusiastic and harmonious way to make them successful. Hallelujah!