Fundraising: Should we hire a Professional fundraiser?
Many thanks to the eight Listers who responded to my query concerning
hiring a professional fund raiser for our 65-member, volunteer, community
chorus. Since some requested anonymity I have omitted all names except for
one who is a retired professional fund raiser. Perhaps I should have
explained a bit more in my initial posting, e.g., we began our fund-raising
attempts in 2002 for our May 2005 anniversary concert and dinner. We
obtained only a grant from our local arts council towards the commissioning
of a new work James Bassi, "Laudate nomen DominiFour Latin Psalms" for
mixed chorus and piano, and a small grant towards rehearsal and publicity
costs from a local foundation, total $1,700. Of course we will seek ads in
an expanded house programbut that's our normal source of operating funds.
Our annual budget is about $25,000. In May 2006 we hope to perform the
premiere of an oratorio by Judith Lane, "Dreaming Salem," about the Salem
witch trials. With a 13-piece orchestra and 6 soloists for 2 performances
we'll need major fundinghence my question. The answers:
Have you ever had any milestone celebration before? Does it coincide with
any milestones in town or state history, or is a church or civic venue
celebrating something that you can be part of? (are you in Riverside NY or
CA?) A natural alliance might suggest itself if you were part of a civic
celebration as well. How did the chorus come to be? (Our chorus was formed
at the end of WW II, singing the Brahms Requiem in memory of those lost in
(2) We applied for local and national grants for this anniversary season,
and might perform pieces commissioned both recently and many years ago,
featuring local composers. Part of this program hopefully will include
local high school musicians. We just made the deadline for the grants we
applied for, but there might be others you can find. Local and state arts
funds are not in abundance but give it a shot.
(3) Is the program for next year decided, so you know exactly what kind of
$$ you are seeking? We found that grant applications want to see (a) a
well-planned season and (b) a targeted request. They usually don't make
awards for general operating funds, but for a specific, special expense
something that you want to pursue in a special (e.g. anniversary) season.
(4) Is the area saturated with arts organizations, all scrambling for a
piece of the funding pie, or do you have most of the bandwidth?
(5) Can you collaborate with another chorus, an orchestra, a school, to
A lot of what you attempt will be constrained or defined by the demographics
of the group, community, and area in which you perform, and only you can
quantify this. But the most important thing to do is make sure the board is
committed to this, the chorus understands that each member must be part of
it, the goals are reasonable, and you have a unified vision for how to
proceed. Nothing kills fund-raising like a half-hearted presentation and
vagueness in details, or unreasonable goals.
The National Association of Fundraisers doesn't permit professional
fundraisers to work on a percentage basis. The are expected to work for a
In my experience and with a recent very successful campaign just
completed the best way to go about it is to hire a consultant to TRAIN
your own people to do the fundraising and GUIDE your first attempt. You
really must look on this as an ongoing project that will grow over the
years. Your people need to be trained to do all of the various steps so
that they can continue in later years.
A one-shot effort is probably not worth what it will cost you that is
you should look at it as an ongoing project and set up a regular routine and
Get recommendations from small organizations similar to yours for
fundraising consultants interview at least 3 and plunge in. You may
be able to get someone or some organization or foundation to fund the hiring
of the consultant so that everything raised can go to the organization.
That worked for us.
Best of luck.
We didn't use fundraisers, but one of our sponsors did. It was a
good news, bad news situation.
The good news was that they actually oversold the house. The bad
news was that a great many people bought tickets as a donation, but
didn't actually attend the concertbad psychology for the ensemble.
If you use a fundraiser, make sure there's an understanding that the
object is not JUST money in the bank, but tushes in the seats!
1 - Yes, qualified professional fund raisers do not work on contingency
2 - Depending on geographic area, whether the individual works alone or for
a consulting firm, how many years of experience the consultant has, and your
specific needs, you can count on paying a fund raising consultant anywhere
from $30 to $100 per hour + costs (e.g. printing). However, you may be
quoted a project fee, rather than a daily or hourly fee. This is highly
variable, and you need to find out what's appropriate in your areasee
point # 4.
3 - A fund raising consultant will do research for you, on individuals,
corporations, and foundations. This research will help determine capacity
to give, special interests, and relationships to your organization.
The consultant will also do training and coachinggenerally the actual
asking for money from individuals is done by your members, especially board
members, while proposals to corporations and foundations would be written by
A major task for the consultant is writingpreparing a document known as
"case statement," which is your proposal for support. It details, briefly,
who you are, what you've accomplished, and what you hope to accomplish with
4 - It's a good idea to ask around and find out what your colleagues and
cohorts have been doing, who they have employed, etc. Your community may
have a chapter of the Association of Fund Raising Professionals. If so,
that's a good source of fund raisers, and they may also have some guidelines
Arlene Gilbert, retired CFRE
I am the Devlopment Coordinator (Board member, pro bono) for our chorus
and am a professional fundraiser by profession. I give my time and
expertise, as I am able, but it is difficult to find the time to do as much
as I would like to.
I do believe in having a *good* professional fundraiser, if you can
afford it. I believe there is a direct correlation between having such a
person and what can be raised. There are various possibilities in the
1) Find someone within the choir, on the Board who has fundraising
background who will give you some time on a pro bono basis.
2) Hire someone to write grants for you on a per grant basis.
3) Hire a PT fundraiser, concentrating on those things that you need first,
i.e., a grant for seed money for a fundraiser; areas where you need funding
4) Either expand your Board or figure out ways to get well-connected people
in the community active on your Bd. who will do volunteer fundraising.
5) Hire an FR consultant who will also do the ground work to get you more
funding for such a position.
6) Commit the funding for a PT, beginning Exec. Dir. or Admin. Manager
whose responsibility would also be to spearhead fundraising activities and
create an FR plan
In our case so far, it has been an issue of wanting to compensate our AD
adequately, while juggling the need for more staff which we can't yet
afford. Meanwhile, we have a trustee who is making some good FR connections
for us. What is your total annual budget? Ours is now close to $50K total.
When my civic chorus hired a manager, whose primary jobs were
fund-raising, writing grants, submitting tax forms, getting program copy
together, etc., her grant-getting skills paid for her salary, whatever it
was. As she asked for more, she raised more. Well worth the effort.
So far I can only offer that I've contacted free lance fundraising
consultants who can work with a specific task (create a strategy, write
grant applications, etc) for a period of time. From as low as $25 an hour to
$100 an hour. We are also considering using Nancy Quinn and Associates who
has many package alternatives on their website regarding fundraising for
small arts non-profits (www.nequinnassociates.com) Haven't tried any of
these yet, so curious about the experience other people are having. [Bay
I don't have the details at hand, but several years ago
we hired a fund raiser. I don't remember whether
that happened the year I was elected to our Board of Directors, or the
year before. I do remember that so far as we could tell afterwards, the
additional funds raised by the professional's efforts about covered the
cost of her fee.
Or perhaps didn't quite. At any event, we were not persuaded that it
had been a Good Thing to have hired the fund-raiser, and we have not
done so since.
How much the disappointing outcome was due to more or less local
conditions in southern NH that would (or might) not apply to the NY
metropolitan area, I cannot say.
If you do decide to engage a professional fund-raiser, I would strongly
recommend that you ask for names of previous clients who are similar to
your group, and seek those clients' opinions. (It is easy to promise
the moon; delivery is somewhat more difficult.)
We are about the same size as your group: generally, between 60 and 85
members (currently about 62), and a little older (founded, IIRC, in the
late '50s or early '60s). Staff include Music Director, accompanist,
business manager, and stage manager (the last is the singer who hauls
risers around to concerts, etc., and who is paid what amounts to an
honorarium for his efforts). Annual budget is about $80,000. Concert
instrumentalists and vocal soloists are engaged as needed.
I hope some of these answers are helpful to others Listers.
Mimi S. Daitz Music Director, Riverdale Choral Society (Bronx, New
Yorkwhere the competition for funding is fierce) msdaitz(a)rcn.com FYI
Our Board consists entirely of members of RCS.