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The mission of the ACDA is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy.

This Non-Profit Organization is a Chorus, Not the American Cancer Society!

I have a fantastic volunteer board, but they know very little about the professional side of the choral music field.  
I'm looking for advice and input from you, my choral colleagues, about how I might share with my board that raising funds for a large community chorus is quite different than say, raising funds for a large non-profit like the local branch of the American Cancer Society.  
Choruses have to rely on individual donors much more than support from corporations, for example.  We also have different "cost of operation" expeditures and "cost of doing business" losses (e.g. "My dog ate my score," or "I really like this song, I think I'll keep the score on my home piano... no one will miss it," etc.).
Any words of wisdom?   I'd certainly appreciate it.  My board has hit a bump in the road and I'd love professional advice from those in the field.
Replies (13): Threaded | Chronological
on June 26, 2014 4:33am
If you're not already a member, I suggest you join Chorus America. Their work nicely complements the work of ACDA and focuses more on the business side of running a chorus. In addition to a wealth of materials on their website, they publish a few short books that include valuable information on chorus operations, fundraising, board development, etc. that you might want to purchase for your board. Good luck!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 27, 2014 9:21am
Yes, I've been a member for 10+ years and gone to many of their conferences. GREAT stuff. I guess I am looking for more individual stories from the trenches. 
Much thanks!
on June 26, 2014 5:33am
Susan, this isn't 'professional' advice, just advice with some experience behind it: the corporation support you seem to downplay is actually very important, more, I believe, than the dollars themselves reflect.   Along with the $250 (say) you get from your local medium-to-big corporation, you get to plaster their name on your promotional efforts, and especially on your applications to local and state Arts Councils, and 'community foundations' and the like.   It's true that corporation approaching is boring and time consuming, but it's a very good thing to do to support your chorus. 
As to the expenses, sure, but just add them into your budget: no one but you will care that much about the details, unless your expenditures are badly out of line with your revenues.
on June 26, 2014 6:56am
Hi Susan,
Chorus America has published a great book called "The Chorus Leadership Guide" by Matthew Sigman. When you buy the book, you get access to some online tools as well. These are word documents that you can download and print to write on. In the book, there is an entire chapter dedicated to Board Leadership which includes:
Strategic Planning, Who should serve, types of committees, and more. THEN, online, there are tools like a Board-Chorus agreement (contract) and a board self-evaluation. 
I used this book when starting a community choir about 6 years ago. It was crucial to our success. I now use it with the professional group I direct. I cannot speak highly enough about it! Here is the link:
In Music,
Joseph Mendolia, M.M.
Soaring Sounds Vocal Ensemble
on June 27, 2014 9:24am
Yes.  Thank you. I have that book and the two previous editions (later combined into the one you mention). Great stuff in there for sure!  Thank you. 
on June 26, 2014 7:10am
Join Chorus America yourself, today.  You can then access all their materials as .pdf files, and feed your board members that way.  It's an excellent way to start.
on June 27, 2014 9:25am
Yes, I am a member and have been since 2003. Great organization. I'm looking for specific individual stories, I suppose (or just feeling the need to vent a tad). Thank you. 
on June 26, 2014 1:04pm
Susan Howlett, one of the best grant writers/slash fundraising experts in the Pacific Northwest, possibly in the country, has written a slim, easy-to-read book called Boards On Fire: Inspiring Leaders to Raise Money Joyfully.  It's available on her web site.  Search under her name, you will find the site.  She presented two workshops at last year's Seattle Chorus America conference, and they were tremendous.  She addresses all sorts of issues in the book, all having to do with board function and buidling relationships--that's where money raising springs from!  It has sparked all kinds of good things on our board.  I can't recommend it highly enough.
Linda Gingrich
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 27, 2014 9:26am
Thank you for this!  I was at that conference, but missed her session. I shall investigate. Thank you. 
on June 28, 2014 8:53am
Linda, do you happened to be married to Shawn Gingrich who went to Westminster Choir College with me?
on June 28, 2014 10:21am
No, he's not my husband.  But it's an unusual name, not many out there.
on June 28, 2014 10:26am
Much like the American Cancer Society, building, running, and GROWING a successful performing arts organization takes STRATEGIC thinking, planning, organization, and hard work well beyond what is done at your rehearsals, focus on improving your BRAND (how others view your group), and RESOURCES (volunteers to do the work, and money).
There are 31 choral organizations (choirs & choruses) within the Chorus America roster with annual budgets ranging anywhere from $1,000,000 to $5,500,000. Those figures are not typos.
My day job is raising money for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee through events and corporate partnerships. Our board donated or raised $500,000 for us last year. We have a staff of 30, an annual budget of $2,000,000 and are part of a global non-profit network of agencies that has been in existence for 110 years. There are seven choirs on this list that raise as much or more money than Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee.

There are many potential income sources for your group, including member dues, concert events, performance fees, donations, program advertising, merchandising, silent auctions, sponsorships, and grants.

Many groups can enjoy short-term success in fundraising through “one off” events, but long-term success through more traditional fundraising methods (grants, annual campaigns, major gifts, donations, legacy gifts, capital campaigns) is going to require that your organization follows best practices to compete effectively with the other nonprofits in your community seeking funding. It’s important that you become as attractive to outside funders as you possibly can. What precisely am I referring to?


Mission and vision clearly defined
Operating from a strategic plan
Operating from a fundraising plan
Succession planning evident
Contingency planning evident

Complete financials, current on your 990 filings
Operating with a budget that shows progressive growth over a 2-3 year period

Ways that people can donate to your organization clearly defined
Needs clearly defined

Well-managed programs that support your mission, with metrics for monitoring/tracking success, focus on outcomes, and short and long-term examples of program success. There’s truth to the adage that money follows programs.

Proven history of being able to recruit, orient, retain, and recognize volunteers to (assist staff if you have any) help you implement you programs

Diversity in your staff, board and the people you serve
Diversity in your funding sources

Experienced operational leadership, with bios available for key staff and board available for review.
A board of directors that meets regularly, has a high attendance record at meetings, and with 100% of your board giving financially to your organization, above and beyond dues. Why? If your board members aren’t giving, why should/would a donor?

Appropriate general policies and procedures in place as well as risk management policies, such as accident and injury coverage, commercial general liability, directors and officers (D&O) policy, nondiscrimination policy, whistle blower policy, document destruction policy?


FUN - We must create more opportunities for our members to have fun!

EXPECT MORE - We must expect more from our members and leaders
MODELING - Study, emulate and implement the best practices of some of the top performing arts organizations you admire most
IMAGE - We must present a quality image and product to the communities we serve.

CUSTOMER SERVICE - We must create and nurture a customer service culture that permeates all levels of the organization

MARKETING RESEARCH - We must make a commitment to analysis and feedback - ongoing surveys of the members and audiences to make data-driven decisions and better meet their needs

ADAPTABILITY - We must preserve the core/stimulate progress – keep clear the difference between our core values, which never change and the operating strategies and cultural practices which endlessly adapt to a changing world. We must learn from and respond to change. We must be willing to explore and implement modifications to our governance and management structure to improve organizational capacity and efficiency.

PRIORITIZATION - We must focus limited resources where they are needed most

LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT & RECOGNITION - We must educate, inspire, recognize, and monitor the effectiveness of our leaders

ALLIANCES/COLLABORATION/PARTNERSHIPS - We must build alliances - seek partners that complement our mission, and leverage the talent within those alliances

COMMUNITY SERVICE - We must serve our community, and not just through singing and performances

TECHNOLOGY - We must embrace technology and the internet and get get support, professional development aandd other resources to our members and leaders

INNOVATE - We must plant seeds in new, more fertile ground and not just rely on traditional membership recruitment sources

BE BOLD - We must resist the fear of failure
A vast majority of the strategies outlined above are used by the most successful (non-musical) nonrofit organzations in the world. Trust me, I've been studying the best of the best for many years.

Does FUND DEVELOPMENT take work? You bet it does. But I'll take hard work over watching something I love languish, not live up to its potential, or slowly die.
I hope others find this insight helpful.
Todd Wilson
Executive Director
The Nashville Singers, Inc.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 29, 2014 10:05am
Todd, I really appreciate your time and thank you for sharing this.  As mentioned, my wonderful board has hit a little bump in the road and your advice is helpful.  
With appreciation,
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