Bringing in the big bucks to keep your school’s most cherished programs afloat requires a healthy amount of fundraising. Fundraising plays a crucial role in any school’s efforts, particularly for performing arts programs, which are often the first to face budget cuts. Mater Dei High School, a private institution in Orange County, California, is home to a renowned performing arts program. Mater Dei’s fundraising success can be credited in part to their dedicated advancement team of people who share a passion for securing the future of their vital arts programs.
To better understand how they’ve successfully financed these programs, we turned to Executive Director of Performing Arts Scott Melvin and Allison Spencer, Mater Dei’s Performing Arts Administrative Assistant. They shared some of the most effective fundraising ideas for high schools that they use to engage supporters—and keep the cash flowing.
Mater Dei has recently implemented season ticket and show-specific sponsorships—aka membership drives—where supporters can contribute and receive benefits according to their level of giving. For their all-school production of Into The Woods, they divided sponsorships into four levels:
Benefits awarded include complimentary VIP tickets, exclusive presale windows to select seats of their choosing and intermission snack packs.
Mater Dei’s first membership drive, for their 2016/2017 choral program, wrangled in a whopping $40,000 within two weeks. “Premium seating at general admission and free events were huge selling points for the choir drive,” Spencer notes. The choral events throughout the year include Fall and Spring concerts, a laid-back “Coffeehouse” performance, and a Madrigal Feast—complete with a meet and greet with the Madrigal Queen for VIP sponsors.
Image courtesy of Mater Dei
Sponsorship drives allow for bursts of increased funding. Additionally, the specific benefits tied to each level provide a valuable way to distinguish donors.
Simple But Thoughtful Acknowledgment
Saying thanks to your donors doesn’t need to be a cost burden. Acknowledging donors in a thoughtful, personalized way is what really counts. “For our “Into the Woods” sponsorships, we had a thank you letter from Scott, sent along with coupons I made for them to claim their treats at concessions. We also included buttons we had made for the play with the logo and quotes,” says Spencer, “We aim to infuse our offerings with fun.”
Aside from thoughtful acts of gratitude, the language alone used to address donors can be impactful. “Scott and I managed to craft our language to be inclusive and help people feel that they’re special, so we use words like ‘drink of your choice’—that invites them to participate.”
Image courtesy of Mater Dei
No contribution is too small and acknowledging each and every donor is just plain polite. “Whatever the level of giving, from one dollar to $10,000, we make sure to acknowledge it in print materials, media materials and live streaming materials,” Spencer adds. When it comes to building relationships, it’s the little things that count.
Dividing and conquering your donor base by interest paves the way for a deep-rooted connection. “People give more when they’re giving to something they have an affinity for. Maybe they’d rather give to the choir because it changed their life at some point,” Melvin says. To play on this notion, Mater Dei divides their performing arts into five separate programs: choir, dance, theater, instrumental music, and song and cheer. Each program has their own “affinity group,” with individual teams actively creating fundraising campaigns.
Images courtesy of Mater Dei
Fundraising events are essentially mini-reunions and are highly targeted at alumni—their most fervent supporters. For one choir affinity event, alumni gave testimonials, students performed and the choir director was present for schmoozing with potential donors. All of this was done at a choir parent’s home. This level of connectivity—and dedication to one particular interest—creates a much more meaningful level of engagement.
A Regular Publication
Maintaining a continual correspondence with supporters keeps your organization top-of-mind. Mater Dei stays top-of-mind by publishing a seasonal magazine, the Monarch Spotlight. They tailor the content specifically to each show, with the show program incorporated among articles featuring alums and students. The Monarch Spotlight is distributed via Mater Dei’s email database and is available both online and in print.
Having a physical copy to distribute at performances, as well as being available digitally, lets them reach the broadest audience. It also allows for another space to thank donors by including their names on the inner front cover. Mater Dei was able to pull in $12,000 in ad sponsorships to fully cover the cost of the magazine’s distribution and associated publishing costs.
People are willing to give, you just have to ask.Scott Melvin, Executive Director of Performing Arts, Mater Dei High School
By infusing a touch of creativity into fundraising efforts, supporters will take note and be all the more inclined to give their money to you. As Melvin states, “People are willing to give, you just have to ask. When you deliver on what you promised, that builds confidence and establishes another level of participation and they will come back.” So, stash these tactics in your back pocket to draw inspiration for your next campaign and keep them coming back.