How To Fundraise for Your Show

Do you need to raise money for your world premiere, or a performance at a festival or conference, or a tour, etc.?

I successfully raised funds four times for my first solo show, so here are some tips:

1. It always feels scary and weird to ask for money for your own project. At least, it does for me. We do it because we have to, so:

  • Reward yourself for your courage every step of the way.
  • Remember that you’re asking people to fund something about which you care deeply—something that will challenge you as an artist and will entertain and possibly educate your audience.

2. Choose an online crowdfunding platform that states its policies clearly on the website. For one of my campaigns, I chose a platform because their representative gave a great pitch for it at an event. It sounded fantastic and the rep claimed that the platform operated like Kickstarter: if a goal wasn’t reached, the donors’ credit cards weren’t charged. However, that wording was nowhere on the website and the platform changed their practice to simply taking the money, goal be damned, while my campaign was still active!

I cannot describe the stress this caused when it looked like that campaign might fail and all of my donors would never be reimbursed. Fortunately, the campaign reached its goal, but it almost didn’t.

3. Be honest with yourself about your budget and what you can afford to chip in, if anything. If you need $8,000, and don’t have a penny to contribute yourself, ask for $8,000 in your campaign. Don’t add thousands of dollars of debt to the strain of producing and rehearsing and performing.

4. A lot of people wait until the last week—often the last 3 days—to donate. Try to do a lot of yoga breathing during this time.

5. If you’re fundraising toward the end of the year, a lot of people’s budgets are committed to gifts and travel, so they might only donate if they can get a tax deduction at that time of year.

6. Send the campaign via email to every single person you know. Email is still more direct than social media, which can feel impersonal.

  • Send your campaign link with a very cordial, warm message. Be sure to greet them with “I hope you’re well” or “I hope your holiday season has been good thus far” or something else that’s considerate of them. Be very grateful to them for reading the message, possibly passing it on to their theatre-loving friends, and for even considering donating. In other words: show a combination of enthusiasm and humility.
  • Add a post-script that says something like, “P.S. If you would like me to take you off of this list, please let me know. No questions asked.” When some people DO say “take me off!” or “unsubscribe” (and believe me, some will), don’t take it personally. Just respect their wishes. Don’t reply to them unless they ask you to.
  • The fewer people we irritate, the better. The people who support us are gold.

7. Re-send the email with an update (“50% funded!” or whatever) halfway through the campaign.

  • Do this again 10 days before it ends (and mention how much time is left).
  • Do it again 3 days before it ends (and mention how little time is left).
  • Be sure not to include people who’ve already donated. They’ve been generous already, so all they should get is a whole lot of thanks and “perks.”

8. Post the link to your social media pages once per week until the last week—at that point, post it every day.

9. People give to people, not to the thing being funded, a lot of the time. They’re donating because they want to support you, and frequently, that’s it.

  • A number of donors will opt out of receiving the perks your campaign offers. Ergo, don’t sweat the perks that much in terms of what they are. Think of something you yourself might like to receive that isn’t expensive or difficult to manifest. The perk is your way of saying Thank You—it must not be of equal worth to the donation, not even close. If it were, you’d spend all of the donations on the perks and have nothing left for the show.
  • Some people will kindly donate without ever coming to the show. Do not take it personally. Sometimes people’s priorities are elsewhere, and that’s valid.
  • No matter why they donate, no matter if they come to the show, your donors are the wind beneath your wings.
  • Thank them.

10. Although the perks you offer will usually not be why people give, there’s one exception: producer’s credits are very enticing for bigger donors. People like having that credit on their CV/résumé or as bragging rights if the show does well, and they may be more likely to donate because of the credit.

  • I suggest you give them “Executive Producer” credit, because that title is often given to people who donate moolah rather than help with the hands-on labor. It’s actually a film/TV/web series credit, but frankly, I think that’s okay if it helps you to raise the funds you need.
  • A more appropriate credit would be “Sponsor,” so you could offer that as well or instead.
  • I gave my biggest donors the title “Associate Producer” and wish I had gone with “Executive Producer” instead…maybe because I live in L.A., the heart of the film industry in the USA.

11. Most of your donors will likely be your family and friends, but you won’t be able to predict who gives or how much. Years before I created Alien Citizen and before online crowdfunding existed (!), I raised money for a production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters. The campaign began quite suddenly when my mom stunned me by writing and handing me a check after listening to me fret about how I didn’t know how to fundraise. That gave me the courage to start a formal campaign. The first person to respond to my letter (via snail-mail, mind you) was a dear friend who donated more generously than I had expected from anyone in my social circle. I thought $50 was the most I could expect from individual friends. I was wrong, and it was both humbling and encouraging.

12. Total strangers will also give to your campaign because the subject matter interests them or their friend is your friend, etc. They will be in the minority but they do exist.

Back when I produced Three Sisters, I promoted the campaign to a Yahoogroup (remember those?) and was astonished to receive a check from a man I had never met who lived across the continent from me. He had been intrigued by my description of the show and decided to donate out of sheer goodwill. Since he was unable to see the production, he sent friends in L.A. in his stead. He then sent another check because his friends praised the show so highly! This could happen to you.

Years later, this person became a kind of guardian angel to Alien Citizen. He saved my campaign for the world premiere when I thought it would fail…and we still hadn’t met in person!

  • There are kind and generous people in the world.

13. Your campaign video does not have to be great, but it won’t hurt if it is. Here are four examples of differing quality from my own crowdfunding experiences:

  • The very first one I did for Alien Citizen (then called Unpacked). It’s pretty dull…but it was my most successful campaign, because all of the funds were raised in the first two-and-a-half days!
  • The one I did for the world premiere. This is the best video, and yet the campaign was struggling until just a fews days before it ended, when the wildly generous donor whom I had never met gave enough to bring the goal within reach, and then some smaller donations made up the difference.
  • This one is kinda wacky. It’s the video I created to take the show to a theatre in Iceland. When I posted the link to social media, I was convinced everyone would be offended by yet another ask from Lisa…but they donated! Like I said, people donate to people, and if they want to support you, they will.
  • The one I made to take the show to two conferences on different continents. I asked for more money than ever before and was truly afraid that people would cuss me out for it. No one did. Instead, people gave enough for me to take the show with my “techie” husband to Spain and South Africa. I didn’t reach my goal but got close enough to make it work.

14. People you didn’t even know had that kind of money may be among your most generous donors. The reason my very first Alien Citizen campaign succeeded in the first two-and-a-half days was because someone donated almost half of what I was requesting. I had no idea she could donate that much, and I had no idea she would even want to.

  • Again: there are kind and generous people in the world.

15. Make good on your perks. This will come back to you in good ways.

  • Many people told me over the years that I was the only person whose campaign they had supported who actually sent them their perks as promised. Because of this, many of them donated again when I fundraised again.
  • I also kept all donors informed of the show’s progress every month so they would know where their money was going. When I took the show abroad, I emailed picture travelogues so donors could experience Reykjavík, Valencia, and Cape Town with me.
  • I had multiple donors who donated multiple times. I’m not sure they would have done so if I hadn’t kept my word re: my perks, nor kept donors informed of what was happening along the way.

I hope this helps you to successfully fundraise for your show. Please add any of your own tips in the Comments. We all need as much good advice as we can get on this topic.

And: Happy Holidays! May the year come to a satisfying close for you and may 2020 bring you much fulfillment and abundance.

[Title edited, 12/19/19 at 1:04pm. -LL]

Announcement: The Holiday Sale for the Alien Citizen DVD ends TODAY, December 19th. It’s 40% off! If you’re curious about the show I’ve been blogging about, today’s your last chance to buy it at a huge discount.

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