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concert ticketing sales by members

I direct a modest size community choir of thirty-five in Ontario and as you can imagine, ticket sales for any of our three season concerts is a challenge. We are discussing the option of requiring the membership to take a block of tickets for sale and returning only cash but not unsold tickets for each concert. What has been the collective wisdom on this approach? I know many go this route, but we have never chosen to require sale of a specific number of concert tickets by members. Do you find that this discourages membership or boosts participation and concert attendance? Many thanks for any and all feedback that can be provided.
Gary Fisher
Burlington Civic Chorale
Burlington, Ontario
on October 22, 2013 6:33pm
Hi Gary,
My community choir has struggled with just this same thing.  We have tried the "hard press" of trying to insist that everyone sell 5 tickets to each concert (without making it a membership requirement), and it has not really netted any greater ticket sales.  Our experience is that people will sell tickets if they want to, and won't if they don't.  On occasion, we have tried some "incentive" (i.e., sell X # of tickets, and get Y), but we have not been consistent enough with that to know if it really makes a difference.  "Returning Only Cash" essentially means to the members that you are requiring them to make a donation (unless they actually sell the tickets). Some will quit over that (again, our experience when we have tried that).  The problem comes about when it is an unexpected "levy" after they have been singing with you.  Choirs that have had this for a long standing requirement have less of a problem because folks enter knowing it is expected.
Lots of kids sports leagues have a similar requirement, though not for tickets but fundraising (for example, "each family is responsible for $300 per child, either by a cash donation or participation in our fundraisers").  Perhaps it is how you sell it to the choir, or the way you present the need.  Are you looking for the ticket revenue, or do you really just want filled seats?  What is the singers' perception?
Places like schools, churches and even community children's choirs have ready-made audiences who will come to the concerts regardless of what is performed - they attend for reasons outside of the music.  Adult community choirs do not come with a ready-made audience.  When the general public hears the term "choir concert", what comes to mind?  The school concert that is too long and you have to sit on bleachers in a hot gym while you endure multiple groups to hear your child's 5 minutes?  Or the church choir concert with lots of cute kids and costumes? (OK - I KNOW that sounds REALLY cynical - I have put together MANY programs for the schools and churches where I have worked; many of those have been just that way.  There are lots of beautiful, inspiring school and church concerts.)  I'm guessing that doesn't describe your choir concerts.  The point is, we adult community choirs have to CREATE our audience.  I try to "arm" my singers with information to help sell their excitement about the program.  If they are excited about it, they will more likely sell tickets.  Repertoire and composers are not enough - the general public is not familiar enough with choral repertoire.  Getting our singers to want to sell tickets, rather than having to sell tickets is key.  Make a list of "selling points" for your concert (or have the singers share what they like or love about the program).  Create a letter of invitation that the singers can personalize and distriblute.
I know that I have gone beyond the original question here - but, the bottom line is that I don't believe a "return only cash" stipulation helps much (unless it has been long established) and, in fact, could cause problems with some singers.
A good question - and one that all community choirs deal with.  I hope you get more responses.
Best of luck!
Steven Szalaj
Voices In Harmony
Crystal Lake, IL
on October 23, 2013 4:39am
I'm chairman of a community choir in London, England, where we have had a requirement for many years that members must take and pay for (four) tickets for each concert they participate in. We have a ticket sales desk at rehearsals, and members pay for the tickets when they are issued (there are no refunds). We believe that this approach has been very successful for us.
It's worth saying that our 'four ticket rule' is combined with a policy that our annual membership subscription is kept as low as possible - probably around 50% of the typical subscription for a comparable choir in this part of London. In other words, we 'subsidise' the annual membership with a requirement to take and pay for tickets for each concert, and we try to make this clear when new members join us.
In our view this provides an incentive to members to actually convert those tickets into audience; having paid for the tickets, they might as well try to sell them on to friends, colleagues and even family. Even when they can't sell them, having paid for the tickets they tend to be more inclined to invite acquaintances to occupy the seats! By the way our ticket prices are also probably slightly on the low side, for amateur performances in London - £12 and £8. 
Inevitably, from time to time we have had some fierce debates on our committee about the policy, but have always concluded that the system is preferable to any alternatives; our membership (by and large) accepts and endorses the principle, and our concerts are almost always played to a full house (from 300 up to about 700 depending on venue). We've even had to turn away audience hoping to buy tickets on the door on a couple of occasions. 
It hasn't been our experience that the policy discourages membership. We are now quite a large choir with about 165 signed up members - which obviously makes us different from a chamber sized choir like your own; however we have had the ticket policy for more than 20 years, and it applied when we were much smaller (50 to 60 members) and has applied throughout more recent, rather rapid growth.
As an experiment, with our current larger membership, we have just agreed to reduce the requirement to two tickets per person, on the basis that we are filling and more than filling our venues and the ratio of choir members to audience seats is now significantly lower - 1:2 to 1:3. We have no intention whatever of moving away from the principle, however, as it seems to have funded our growth and simulated our audiences for many years. Most of our concerts are still budgeted to make a small loss (which on a year by year basis is covered by surplus on our membership subscriptions) although in the last two years we have, amazingly, made a small surplus on a couple of large orchestral concerts.
I hope this information is of some help; good luck with your deliberations!
John Leslie
Islington Choral Society
on October 23, 2013 7:39pm
I belonged to a 60 voice community choir and we had a similar concern.  We decided to do a joint concert with a very fine children's choir for our largest concert.  That brought with it a built in audience.  It took some major logistics to practise with the young people but it was lots of fun.  They sang alone.  We sang alone.  And we sang together.  There was a great respect which grew between us.  So not only did it help with the ticket sales, it helped with the musical understanding.  We would always be looking for singers and those young people were now aware of the choirs just waiting to have them join.
After that, we found smaller venues.  We did dinner theatres for which we could charge more per ticket so our margin was bigger.  We had lots of help from community members, spouses etc. Donations of food were not hard to find.
We have also done dessert and coffee and cabaret afternoons or evenings.  
You can only put the ideas out there and see what your choir and your support people are willing to do.  Good luck and have fun.
Kitty Babcock
Embro, ON
on February 16, 2014 12:25pm
Our 6 year old community choir has alternately "required" & "strongly enouraged" its members to sell at least 4 tickets for each concert. This has worked well for us the past 5 years and is accepted by the membership. New members grumble more with having to purchase the required attire, than selling 4 tickets!  This ticket "requirement" is also a part of our New Member Packet and our Member's Handbook.
Our general audience is composed of family & friends who have been attending since our inception; although our Christmas and Patriotic concerts are usually larger and additional tickets are also sold on-line and at local businesses.
However, there have been 2 issues crop up:
1.  If there is more than one venue for a particular concert, are 8 tickets required to be sold?  [Our BoD decided , No--4 per concert, period; more is better, but not required.]
2.  Prior to the instigation of the policy of unsold tickets being required to be returned by the night of the concert, several members gave them to family/friends and did NOT turn in any money for them. [prompting the BoD to change the ticketing policy--and those members are no longer with us (for other, additional reasons)....]
Another consequence of #2 is that our tickets are now numbered, so they can be tracked--this also gives us data on who our audience is and where they are getting their tickets.
In the past, we also have rewarded the most tickets sold with discounts on membership fees, as well as publicly thanking them.
Informing your choir of the whys & wherefores will probably engender support, so talk with them!
I, too, wish you good fortune!
Lark Underwood
Plant City FL
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