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How Much Do You Charge Your Singers?

Hi All,
   I am finally getting my community organization up and running.  I am to the point of filing out my Application for Exemption and need some perspective.  The questions on the form got me to seriously consider many topics especially the $$ and cents.  I have been running free adult choirs for years with the membership expecting to have to pay a fee eventually.  The children's portion is about to kick off with 21 eager children ready for an amazing experience.  There are other fine choral organizations in my community and I will check on what they are charging but I want to hear from you.  I am in a midwestern city of around 90,000 with Milwaukee 40 minutes away and a similar sized city to mine to the south.  Please include such info in your responses.  References to what you charged early in your organization's life could also be helpful.  I am in an unoccupied niche for my adult choir and have a focus that may draw children from many miles away (We are recording for a rock band and making a YouTube video that should go viral).  So what do you charge and how did you determine that?
 
Thanks
 
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Replies (10): Threaded | Chronological
on June 29, 2012 8:32am
The Central Virginia Masterworks Chorale just completed its 5th season. I have been Artistic Director for the past 2. The founding director and his wife are outstanding vocalists and often featured on fund-raising events, which allowed dues for singers to be kept low, $50 per fall or spring, $75 for the year, plus music packet. Last season dues were increased to $150 for the year, though a 2nd family member sings without paying dues. Students have always been discounted and, often, just given a scholarship of dues payment as we are committed to the nurture of young singers. The membership typically runs 30-45, though we aspire to 60-100 eventually. The Executive Board has wrestled with the following in their determination of dues:
1- the artistic goals of CVMC and funding implications, which for us includes some level of professional instrumental players
2- grant money is increasingly difficult to 'win', though we continue to receive some
3- fund-raising events are labor intensive and unless you have the right people to organize will not generate significant funds beyond the membership
4- sponsorships/advertisers are an intentional target base
5- $150 seems well within the 'norm' for similar organizations in this area
6- the Board is committed to paying a professional accompanist and artistic director
Our perspective is that we share in creating events of artistic excellence through both our preparation and 'pooling' our financial resources to make that possible. Ticket sales, dues, sponsorships, grants, etc. just need to add up to the bottom line of what it costs to produce a series of concerts. Hopefully, the 'pay-back' is always worth the invest of dues and rehearsal for every singer.
Larry Heath
Applauded by an audience of 1
on July 1, 2012 2:44pm
Larry,
  Thanks for responding.  When you raised dues to $150 how did that go over with the members.  Did you loose any?  
 
Also I would be interested to knpw how populous is your community?
 
I appreciate your valuable information.
 
 
 
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on July 2, 2012 4:17am
Ashland is a small town about 10 miles north of Richmond, home of Randolph Macon College. The increase in dues did meet with some resistance but the board did an excellent job of describing the realities and options, including scholarship funds for anyone who found the new dues to be a hardship. In the end I know of only one person who left because of the dues.

For another integrated children/adult program of excellence, also in their early years, check out Www.dacapovirginia.org. I know Tracee Prillaman will be glad to share their journey with you if you contact her. They are doing great things...enrollment is a challenge.

Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 29, 2012 10:11am
Jack,
 
Nashville Singers just completed its third season. Membership is open to all men who demonstrate the ability, desire and a commitment to excellence in vocal and choral performance. Auditions are required and evaluate each singer’s range, vocal quality, intervals, ability to harmonize, rhythm, and visual presentation.

The membership has grown from four to 15 singers. Our youngest singer is 20 and our oldest is 80 years of age. Attendance at rehearsals, performances, and recording sessions runs 85%.

We rehearse three time per month, learn 10-12 new songs per year, and maintain an active repertoire of 28 songs. All songs are expected to be memorized within three weeks of introduction. To expedite the learning process, part predominant learning media is provided for all songs.

We average one performance in the community per month and earn a fee for 50% of these performances. Over the past two years, our annual fall concert has attracted a combined attendees from 36 cities in eight states across the USA.  The use of social media is a mission-critical element of our marketing plan.

I have been the Director of Music since the beginning, however for performances we rarely have a director out front and you can usually find me on the risers singing bass.

We were a board managed organization for the first two years. Our board has expanded from three to seven members. In January of 2011, the board appointed me to serve as Executive Director as well. I have since recruited an advisory board of eight C-Suite and director level community and organizational leaders. The advisory board meets three times per year, mentors my governing board, and opens doors to funding and performances.

Standard dues are $240 per year. Student dues are just $120.

Member dues covered 70% of our $2400 annual operating budget in 2009. Due to expansion of funding sources (dues, donations, merchandising, advertising, performance fees, events, in-kind donations), our budget last year increased to almost $18,000. These days, member dues represent just 15% of the budget.

The philanthropic mission of Nashville Singers is to enrich lives through the support and funding of music education in our schools and the community. To fulfill this mission, Nashville Singers provides service to the community through performances and music education programs. To date, our grant and scholarship programs have awarded $2500 to Middle Tennessee schools and students.

I began receiving a $200 per month stipend for my directing duties in January of this year but still donate my time as Executive Director.

The Nashville Singers, Inc. is a tax-exempt 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Mission-critical needs include expansion of funding sources, volunteers, in-kind donations of products or services, and new singers.

Our success can be attributed to good planning and adherence to best practices in nonprofit management.

I hope this helps.

TODD WILSON
Executive Director
Director of Music
Nashville Singers, Inc.
615-852-SING (7464) office
615-669-TODD (8633) cell
615-523-TODD (8633) fax
Website: www.nashvillesingers.org
Twitter: www.twitter.com/nashsingers
LinkedIn: www.tinyurl.com/NashvilleSingers
Facebook: www.facebook.com/NashvilleSingers
Online Store: www.cafepress.com/nashvillesinger
YouTube: www.youtube.com/TheNashvilleSingers
ReverbNation: www.reverbnation.com/nashvillesingers

Please support our philanthropic mission
to support music education in our schools and the community.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on July 1, 2012 2:57pm
Thanks for the additional information.  It sounds like you are having great success and in a short time.  
 
I am very interested in the changes you made from a board of directors, to an Executive Director with an advisory board.  Do you still have a regular board of directors?  I hope to function as both executive director and artistic director until my organization grows.  My goals include starting related programs in other cities in the Midwest.   I will start directing all ensembles but hope to expand offerings to include 18 month - 3year old choir, 4 year old thru 2nd grade choir, a multigenerational choir and a Joyful Noise choir for physically and mentally disabled.  Initially we will be starting with a 3rd-6th grade auditioned treble choir and a 2nd -6th grade non-auditioned treble choir with an adult choir (7th grade and up) starting in September.  This whole thing will be too much for me so long as I hang on to a full time music teaching position but that isn't a sure thing in WI anymore.  School districts are dumping the arts like the plague.  Any other advice you or others can share would be greatly appreciated.  
 
"Our success can be attributed to good planning and adherence to best practices in nonprofit management."  Any sources you could share to help me learn about best practices?  Although I have served in many different leadership roles including being a board member of a choir for a couple years, I have never run a business before.
 
 
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on July 2, 2012 1:33pm
Jack,
 
Yes. The governing board has expanded from the original three to now seven members, and is extremely productive. The advisory board is the "icing on the cake" and has expanded our sphere of influence.
 
As for where to glean best practices...
 
I've got 10 years of (board and staff) non-profit (hands on) leadership experience. I've also taken 150 hours of classroom (organizational management, marketing, executive leadership, and fundraising) training from organizations like the Center for Nonprofit Management, American Society of Association Executives, and the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.
 
We're also members of Chorus America and they have some great online resources for members. It's been a blast to study some of the most successful community choirs in North America. There are at least 10 (Chorus America-affiliated) community choirs with annual budgets in excess of $1MM.
 
Another valuable online resource is BoardSource.
 
I hope this helps.

TODD WILSON
Executive Director
Director of Music
Nashville Singers, Inc.
615-852-SING (7464) office
615-669-TODD (8633) cell
615-523-TODD (8633) fax
Website: www.nashvillesingers.org
Twitter: www.twitter.com/nashsingers
LinkedIn: www.tinyurl.com/NashvilleSingers
Facebook: www.facebook.com/NashvilleSingers
Online Store: www.cafepress.com/nashvillesinger
YouTube: www.youtube.com/TheNashvilleSingers
ReverbNation: www.reverbnation.com/nashvillesingers

Please support our philanthropic mission
to support music education in our schools and the community.
on July 1, 2012 6:13pm
Hi Jack,
 
Congratulations for taking your first steps on what will be an exciting and rewarding journey! I founded a K-12/adult community choir organization in Omaha, NE, in 2007, and have actually wrestled with tuition as recently as the first quarter of this year. I'll do my best to keep this reply concise, but as you requested, I will walk you through our 5-year evolution.
 
Our two-county base of operation has a combined popluation of about 600,000.
 
July 2006 - I took over direction of an 1-year-old adult choir from Z. Randall Stroope, which only returned 6 members in my first season (I recruited another 20 before starting rehearsals in August). Stroope did not charge for participation as the primary purpose for the choir was to learn and record his new compositions over that period. We gave two concerts that year, to take advantage of having rehearsed weekly for 12-14 weeks. Additionally, non-Stroope repertoire was borrowed from local public school and university libraries, and he paid for the programs (black and white) and for the piansit (performances only) out of the ticket revenue generated. I share this because inheriting this policy made it difficult to implement a tuition for the adults early on in my tenure, and subsequently, difficult to raise tuition to help meet expenses. We started with $15/concert this first year, and gave two concerts.
 
January 2007, I filed for 501c3 status, with plans to implement two children's choirs in August, 2007. We launched Sing Omaha Inc. that fall with one K-6 choir and a senior high (9-12th) mixed choir. As you might imagine, we had many more girls than boys audition, so we added a senior high women's choir. The mixed group failed and was collapsed after the Christmas concert that December. (looking back, I think the SATB model failed because we couldn't compete with the quality of the mixed-choir experience they received in their high school programs). We combined the women from the mixed group with the high school trebles, which is still functioning today. The K-6 choir was Orff-based, and included singing as well utilization of pitched and non-pitched percussion, body movement, and improvisation. The tuition for the K-12 students was $300/year. The adults' tuitiion doubled to $60/year, as we added a performance and paid a regular rehearsal pianist. Concert tickets were $10 for every show.
 
In 2009, in an effort to better meet the curricular needs of our student singers, we split the K-6 choir into two ensembles, K-3 and 4-6th, and added a second identical pair of K-3 and 4-6 choirs in a second city. We also opened our high school trebles up to younger students, making it a 7-12th grade ensemble. After two seasons at $300/year for K-12 students, we found that we were unable to meet our expenses, so we increased to $375. The adults were raised from $60 to $125 (some balked, but most got it - we'd grown from two concerts to four, and we pay for large works and for professional musicians to accompany the choir at each concert, including a brass octet/organ/percussion ensemlbe for our "Christmas Fanfare" production each year). We also lowered K-6-only concert tickets to $5, (keeping the 7-12/adult tickets at $10).
 
As we enter the 2012-13 season, our tuition structure has seen a massive overhaul. Our K-6 directors expressed concern that their recruitment was suffering due to the cost - particularly with families of kindergarten and first grade students, who are not yet accustomed to paying for extra-curricular activities. We have come up with what we think is a model that will be successful for us for years to come. 
 
This tiered approach is easy to sell to parents and local music teachers (who allow us to recruit their students). We have also implemented a documented curriculum K-12, which is a modification of Ruth Dwyer's published children's choir curriculum which she uses with the Indianapolis Children's Choir (available for purchase on their website). Note: their organization has been around for many years, and enjoys a great deal of success each year. They are the shining example of children's choirs in the US today. The implementation of a defined curriculum qualifies us for grants that were not possible for us before, and allows parents and educators to see a clear path through our organization for their students.
 
2012-13 tuition structure:
 
K-3 - $250  - 60 minute weekly rehearsal, two performances annually
4-6 - $325 - 90-minute weekly rehearsal, three performances annually
7-12 - $400 - 120-minute weekly rehearsal, five performances annually
 
Each tuition jump is accompanied by additional rehearsal time and additional performance opportunities. We are hopeful that this structure will increase recruitment, and meet or exceed our average annual tuition revenue. 
 
We have been discussing the adults' tuition this month, after I did some research into the per-member cost based on our 2011-12 expenses. As I stated earlier, our adults currenlty pay $125/year for four main-stage concerts. The 2011-12 per-member cost research included billing the choir for:
 
Conductor stipend (which I haven't been taking)
Pianist stipend
sheet music cost
50% of brass
50% of fall-concert instrumentalists (we do a pop concert each fall with a full, professional rock band)
50% of printing costs (tickets and color programs)
 
The calcuation did NOT include costs for organization-wide expenses like: insurance, advertising costs, web maintenance, etc., which we pay for out of non-salary-generating tuition from our K-12 students.
 
The final number (based on 40 adult singers) is $286/year. We figure an average of two tickets per member per concert, which takes $80 off that number, making the target number $206. While we are not prepared to increase tuition by  75%, we are inclined to share this data with them and ask for suggestions as to how we can make up the difference. One thought from a board members was to implement a give/get minimum for the singers (which we have for our board). This would leave tuition at $125 and require that each member generates another $125 in revenue over the course of the year. This could be accomplished in a number of ways:
 
1. Sell an ad in our Christmas program - $150-$300 each
2. Secure grant funding from their employer (usually $100-200/year)
3. Secure in-kind giving for the organization, i.e. discounted or free: printing
4. Secure private donations from friends and family (fully-tax-deductible)
 
etc.
 
We're not certain how the adult budget deficienct will be mitigated, but we are confident that our members will help us to creatively meet our organization's financial needs. 
 
I hope this has been somewhat helpful. I would be happy to answer and specific questions you have about our experience or if you'd like an outside perspective on your situation as you move forward.
 
Please feel free to email me any time - matt at singomaha dot com.
 
Best of luck!
 
Matt Hill
Founder, Sing Omaha Inc.
 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on July 3, 2012 8:00am
Matt,
    Great info! Thanks for the in depth look at your successes.  I found every word you wrote of value.  Thanks for offering further help.  BoardSource.org does look like an excelllent resource. I may take you up on it.  Anyone else feel like chiming in, please do.  It would be great to have a vairiety of examples to follow.
 
Todd,
   Thanks for the follow up.  If I could impose to ask one more question of you,  what is the role of the advisory board that is not doubling the board of directors?  Do they make repertoire choices or other artistic decisions?  
 
Larry,
    Thank-you too for the follow up.  When I have more specific questions I may seek out the contact person you gave. 
 
Everybody,
   I would like to tie a conductor's stipend to tuition.  If I or other directors we hire bring in a ton of new members, I (they) will share in an uptick in the stipend.   I will probably turn around and donate the stipend back and then some to get this organization up and running.   The application for exemptiomn asks specifically how we will determine pay for leaders of the organization.  I'm thinking 33-50% of tuition would go to the artistic director (me) stipend.  Instrumentalists, film crew, props, sound equipment, print music, insurance etc. will come from the remaining tuition, program ads ticket sales donations and fundraiers.  I believe that this would still allow me to make all expenses, and when we expand to include other ensembles it would be a way to easily determine a new conduictor's stipend.   If you think this sounds reasonable you can just hit the applaud button, otherwise please share your thoughts. 
 
 
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on July 4, 2012 1:53pm
Jack,
 
I make the music decisions, but a few months ago (with my blessing) we formed a music evaluation committee to serve as a sounding board for my song/arrangement ideas. The insight from this group gas been very helpful. We've already solidified our repertoire plans through December of 2013.
 
The board stays focused on mission, vision, and policy governance.
 
The advisory board is a collection of individuals who bring unique knowledge and skills which complement the knowledge and skills of the "voting" board members in order to more effectively govern the organization.
 
All candidates complete two documents, including an application and a questionnaire.

A detailed job description and advisory board member manual is provided. The primary functions of the Advisory Board includes offering advice and making non-binding recommendations to the governing Board of Directors or Executive Director on the following topics:

• Providing advice on developing an audience
• Providing advice on how to move to the “next level”
• Providing advice on management
• Providing advice on marketing
• Providing advice on potential collaborations
• Providing advice on fund raising
• Providing names of advisory board candidates
• Serving as goodwill ambassadors of our chorus
• Evaluating the work of the board of directors
• Evaluating what the chorus has accomplished
• Recruiting members who will make a support commitment with respect to matters within the areas of their experience and expertise.
 
Hope this helps. You're welcome to visit our website to download the forms.
 
TODD WILSON
Executive Director
Director of Music
Nashville Singers, Inc.
615-852-SING (7464) office
615-669-TODD (8633) cell
615-523-TODD (8633) fax
Website: www.nashvillesingers.org
Twitter: www.twitter.com/nashsingers
LinkedIn: www.tinyurl.com/NashvilleSingers
Facebook: www.facebook.com/NashvilleSingers
Online Store: www.cafepress.com/nashvillesinger
YouTube: www.youtube.com/TheNashvilleSingers
ReverbNation: www.reverbnation.com/nashvillesingers

Please support our philanthropic mission
to support music education in our schools and the community.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on July 15, 2012 8:54am
Todd,
   Thanks for sharing this with me. I will be back to re-read what you have shared over the next couple years.   I think the advisory board will be a very useful and even ideal strategy for involving  the music leaders in my community and others who have something to share with my organization. I have worked with a similar creative team in the past.  I have not convinced or informed my community of the value in what I am starting yet.  Once we get some media coverage and performance events I think I wil begin to have a broader pool to draw from.  
 
Anyone reading this discussion long after it was posted, still feel free to chime in.  I could use some support in what I see as a three year building process. 
 
Articles of incorporation, EIN and bank account established.
 
To Do:
Insurance
Non-profit status
Build a broader board of directors
Rehearsals start July 23!
 
We Need Allen Simon! Join the Community: http://www.choralnet.org/list/grouppost/354270
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