Fundraisers are hard work. Finding reasons to get people to help as well as show up can be even harder. Here’s the story of what William Paterson University’s David Philp, a professor of the music biz, did to overcome obstacles and raise over $14,000 for WP Music Department charities.
How To Put On A Music Fundraiser
After seeing a tribute band perform at William Paterson University in 2016, I thought, ‘We can do that.’ So after selling the idea of an ’80s Night fundraiser for music scholarships to students and the WP Music Department faculty (putting on a big Rock ‘N’ Roll show was a new idea for this traditionally Classical & Jazz-leaning department), I reached out to friend Rob Fusari, who has had great success writing and producing for Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Will Smith, and others, to be the Music Director. “Okay,” he said.
Lesson #1: Take these things step by step and leave plenty of time to put everything together.
This was eleven months in advance of the show.
Having Rob and a potential band on board, the Shea Center for Performing Arts, an auditorium that holds just over 900 humans at one time, was booked. We were fortunate that we were able to get the facility, stage crew, box office staff, and ushers at no charge.
Lesson #2: Know all of your assets and use them.
A few months later, knowing we had an ’80s theme (we originally called our show “I Want My MTV: A Tribute To The 1980s” before we changed it out of concern for trademark infringement), I came up with the idea of finding one of the original MTV VJs to host the show. My initial thought was Nina Blackwood because I thought she still lived in New York City (I was wrong, basing my information on my 1987 memories of a voice teacher who had been acquaintances with Ms. Blackwood.).
I went to a colleague who works full-time at SiriusXM, WP music biz adjunct Steve Leeds, and asked if he knew any original MTV VJs. He knew (and still knows) Mark Goodman. Steve introduced me over email. I asked Mark if he would speak to me. He replied affirmatively. I called him in August, seven months before the show, and pitched him on the idea of him being our emcee.
“Okay,” he said.
He liked the idea that this was a fundraiser and that he’d be directly helping college students.
In December, I realized that Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, of Run DMC, lives in the same town as WPU. DMC had spoken and performed at William Paterson in the past. In fact, my colleague, Dr. Steve Marcone, and I had been instructed the year before to reach out to Darryl to see if he could get involved with the school again. I had called a few times that year and gotten nowhere.
This time, I was determined. I called the number I had and left a long, stupid, blathering voicemail explaining everything and confusing even myself with why I was leaving him this message. I left my number and asked him to call me back.
I swore out loud after my error. I had messed up. Here I was, trying to pitch him on lending his time, energy, and name power to our little show AT NO CHARGE and I completely blew it. Of course, he didn’t call back, just like the year before.
I waited about a week, knowing I wouldn’t hear back. I planned out my call this time, practiced my script a few times, and tried again. My next voicemail was crisper, better organized, and a helluva lot shorter. I ended the call and figure I’d done better. Maybe he’d call back now.
Three days. Four days. Nothing. Rather than forget about it, I thought better. I’d send him a short, mature, introductory text. What did I have to lose? It was still too long, but my text made sense. Five days after my second voicemail and within 30 minutes of my text, I received my answer. “Okay.”
Our third music icon was in. And we didn’t have to pay thousands of dollars for their participation. DMC even said he’d perform three songs with the student-focused band. AND he’d practice with the band. AND promote the show.
Lesson #3: If your cause is clear (in our case, scholarships for existing and future music students), it is easier to get people on board to help.
Lesson #4: Never give up. Plan out before blathering. And never give up. Did I mention that you shouldn’t give up?
Fusari. Goodman. DMC. We’d gone 3 for 3. Now came the hard work.
We changed the name of the show to “I Want My ’80s: The Best of MTV’s Early Years” and I got my Modern Entertainment Company class to begin work in the fall. The class, created around the idea of hands-on experience, included students committing themselves to two semesters of working toward making this show, as well as another Music Department fundraiser, Collage! 2017, organized, well-managed, and profitable.
In November, 2015, before Thanksgiving, we held band auditions. (Four months before showtime.) Rob watched, listened, made suggestions, and after two days of tryouts and some thought, a band was born.
The class learned the the proper way to pitch sponsors over email. They practiced having meetings with those sponsors. We put together sponsorship pricing sheets, learned the differences between a sponsorship and a donation, and targeted local businesses.
We sold sponsorships to big companies like Sprint. We incentivized small businesses to donate food for the band or coffee for a post-party soiree (that’s French, that word “soiree”). A local hair salon, Public Image Ltd, agreed to sponsor an onstage ’80s makeover and ’80s costume contest.
Students learned about “low hanging fruit,” the process of reaching out to family, friends, and others they knew who may own businesses or know decision-makers and places that may have some dollars to push our way. These future music business stars also learned about cold calling and how to deal with their fears while not thinking too hard about what their prospect may (or may not) be thinking.
The class learned about how to take all of the assets to our disposal and include them in sponsorship outreach; from two shows (twice the audience!) to two playbills to social media, inclusion in to the show itself, our rear-screen projection, and more.
The class was able to increase event revenues by more than $3,000 through creativity with sponsors (we eventually included a guitar auction for a sponsor who could donate the instrument but not give cash).
One interesting idea: In order to raise more money, we asked the president of the university, Kathleen Waldron, if she would be open to receiving a makeover on stage during the event. She said, “Okay.”
4 for 4.
Lesson #5: Be as creative as possible. Don’t be afraid to take a risk.
The class staged the show, working with the Shea Center staff. We booked rehearsal time at an outside studio (the school’s facilities were not conducive to a 15-piece amplified band). We had a faculty member, Grammy-nominee Pete McGuinness, transcribe horn arrangements for songs like “Sledgehammer.” Two members of the class put together a video reel to play in the background while the band performed during the show. We worked with Blue Raven Entertainment, a company comprised of school alums, to create merch (and the class pitched Blue Raven to donate the merch).
Note: Blue Raven generously donated merch for the Collage! show. The merch for that was a custom mug, with the show logo on one side and school logo on the other. We sold out, bringing in an extra $650 for that event.
Ultimately, we came up with these revenue streams:
1. Ticket sales
2. Merch sales
3. Auction sales
4. ’80s Makeover donations
5. Traditional donations
To market the event, the class spent $125 on Facebook ads. We’d spent $75 on Collage! ads. That was a $200 outlay. Did it work? We found out through the school’s box office that 5 sales for the ’80s show could be attributed to Facebook and 2 sales for Collage!
At $25 per ticket, we broke even for the ’80s show. We lost $25 on Collage! Considering all of our other efforts, plus the alleged reach of our Facebook ads, this was a win for us.
We used emails campaigns that targeted 5 different, unique email lists. For this, the class worked with the school’s Admissions department, Alumni department, and Music Admissions group. In addition, we used the Music Biz 101 email list, a custom Music Department email list curated and highly targeted toward music students (if we want to raise money for them, they damn well better know about it), and an email list I’d been cultivating on my own for the past 6 years in support of my own Rock ‘N’ Roll fundraising ventures. (Look up YouChoose Music HERE.)
Another note: When choosing music for our ’80s show, we consciously included large, talented groups to take the stage with our band. Adding the William Paterson University Pop Vocal Ensemble and Chamber Singers helped increase the number of people participating in the show by more than 40 people. What does this do? That’s 40 more voices that can promote your show. If they invited a parent or friend, and that parent or friend bought a ticket, more fannies would end up in the seats, more energy would be expelled at the show, and more money would end up in our scholarship funds.
Lesson #6: Amplify your message through inclusion.
We were fortunate to receive a full-page article, including front page treatment, about the show and NJ resident Rob Fusari. We marketed to WP students. We reached out multiple times to WP alumni. We emailed and handed flyers to high school students interested in attending William Paterson University. A digital billboard outside the school relayed crucial show date information for a over a month. Professors Philp (me, who is the I, first-person, above and now) and Marcone interviewed both Darryl McDaniels and Mark Goodman on the Music Biz 101 & More radio show.
Both McDaniels and Goodman filmed promo videos for the show, which were shared on Facebook, Twitter, instagram, the Facebook event page, emails, the Music Biz 101 website, and virally by the students of the class.
In addition, the band performed Toto’s hit from the ’80s, “Rosanna,” at the March 3rd Collage! 2017 fundraiser, killing two birds with one stone by providing solid programming for the Collage! event and simultaneously promoting the ’80s show -with the onstage appearance and within the Collage! playbill-style program.
At no charge (again), we asked and were able to secure a 4-camera crew film the event.
The show, in the end, was a big success. The ’80s makeovers brought in $1,078.92. The auction brought in $825 for the guitar (provided by Shamrock School of Music), a DMC comic (provided and autographed by Darryl McDaniels), and an autographed copy of VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV’s First Wave (provided by Mark Goodman). Those two ancillary revenue streams totaled $1,903.92.
We also sold 320 tickets (and gave out 101 tickets, for a total attendance of approximately 421 humans), which brought in $5,779.
We were able to secure $1,850 in sponsorships (which were marketed as opportunities for sponsors aggregated over both Collage! and the ’80s show).
Donations came in as well. The company of a student’s husband (say that three times fast with crackers in your mouth) donated $150. We collected another $60 in donations at the event. That equaled $210.
Our t-shirt sales were abysmal. We moved 14 of the 100 shirts. Had our audience “spent” all their money when we passed the buckets around for the president’s makeover? Did they spend their money in the auction?
We also created posters that were autographed by all three celebs (DMC, Fusari and Goodman). We put a $15 price tag on them and sold one.
Overall, we sold $329 worth of merch (which did not include overalls; I hope you get the joke because it’s hysterical).
Thus, our merch strategy failed or was overtaken by our creativity elsewhere. Regardless, we were fortunate that the merch was donated, otherwise we would have lost approximately $800 on the shirts.
Let’s look at the full recap:
1. Ticket sales: $5,779
2. Merch sales: $329
3. Auction sales: $825
4. ’80s Makeover donations: $1078.92
5. Traditional donations: $227
6. Sponsorships: $1,850
Total ’80s show revenue came out to $10,088.92.
We made $5,027.35 in our Collage! fundraiser.
Over the two shows, total revenues were $15,116.27.**
(**Writer’s Note: A week after writing this, I was informed by the local Wayne Rotary, a charitable organization, that they were donating $350 to our scholarship fund. Why? Because your writer, Fusari, and two other students produced and performed in a Classic Rock show back in January to benefit the Rotary. They were happy, had some charitable funds available, and made this donation.
At this Classic Rock event, we promoted Collage! and the I Want My ’80s show by handing out flyers and playing an ’80s song. If we hadn’t done the event – a “pay it forward” kind of action… If we hadn’t promoted our two March shows at the January show… If we hadn’t done these things, we wouldn’t have made that extra $350.
And if you’re thinking, ‘$350 isn’t much,’ understand that $350 can cover books. It can cover fees that a university charges students. It can cover part of a credit, leaving $350 less that a student has to pay in loans when they graduate. Now multiply that $350 by a yearly interest rate of…
FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN INTEREST RATES
For loans disbursed July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017
So don’t think every dollar doesn’t count. Because a dollar today is $50 in 20 years.)
Over the two shows, REVISED total revenues were $15,466.27.**
Was this worth the months of work? Yes. Were lessons learned by all? Yes. Was this a great experience?
Well, when students start talking about “next year” while the show is still going on, you know you’ve hit on something. Should we pursue a show like this in 2018, will the results be the same? Probably not. We know we need a hook. And energy. And people. And time. And lots and lots of hard work. Who knows? Maybe 2018 will be bigger.
Are there any lessons that you’d like to include?
For full details about the WPU Music Management Program, including courses, the minor, and our MBA, click HERE.
For full details about the WPU Pop Music Studies Program, including courses and audition requirements, click HERE.
Professor David Philp is Assistant Professor Music Management & Popular Music Studies at William Paterson University. He is the co-host of the only FREE advice college radio-based music & entertainment industry talk show in America, Music Biz 101 & More, which airs live most Wednesday nights and is available as a podcast HERE every night (days too). Your favorite professor is also co-author (with Dr. Steve Marcone) of Managing Your Band – 6th Edition. Reach him at PhilpD@wpunj.edu or find him on LinkedIn HERE.