Our arts departments are often less funded than some of the other departments in our schools. It is hard to think that many athletic programs spend tons of money while we have to hold a bake sale to buy books and scripts, but it often happens. I have been fortunate in the last few years to have an administration that has worked with me on our budget so that it is more comfortable for us, but we have gone through years where we did lots and lots of fundraising.
We have done everything from concession stands to baking cupcakes on Valentine’s Day to raise money. Today, I would like to talk through several of the fundraisers we have done and what worked well for us as well as things that were a bust.
Probably our biggest and most consistent fundraiser that we do every year is a fall show. At our school we always do a fall musical. We try to do at least three nights of the show so that it is profitable. If we can fit four or five shows into the school’s busy schedule, we will do that. As you know, five nights of a musical will just about kill you, but wow it can be a great fundraiser.
If you are really in serious need of funds for your department, think seriously about a real crowd-pleaser as a fall show. For example, when we produce a show like Grease, we make lots and lots of money. Everyone knows that show and people will show up in large crowds…..some will come more than one night because they love it so much! If you want to make big money on your musical you should also choose shows that use as many kids as possible. Grease is a great example of that as well. Last year, we had 43 kids on stage for Grease, not to mention crew and tech kids. You can guarantee that every kid's parents and probably grandparents will come to the show every night you perform. They will tell their friends, coworkers, etc.
Although we LOVE the musical, if you choose to do a show like The Fantasticks with only three or four characters, you will automatically ensure that your crowds are smaller. On top of The Fantasticks being a small cast, it is also lesser known to the general masses.
You can add to the profit of the fall show by asking Drama Mommas to sell show t-shirts, snacks, etc. during intermission. Even just bottles of water and cups of coffee can be easy crowd-pleasers at intermission.
About twenty years ago when our budget was very small and we needed money to just survive, we created a Friends of the Theatre group. We asked individuals and businesses around town to become Friends of the Theatre and make a donation each year to support the arts at our school. Most gave $25-$100 donations and before you knew it we were bringing in two to three thousand dollars in the first couple of weeks of school. I have kids do the leg work because the local businesses love to see the kids. In return for their financial support, our promise to our friends is that they will be listed as a friend in every playbill and program that we produce. They will also be given advance notice of showtimes and activities. I always thank them out loud before every show we do. We also give them free tickets to our fall musical and dinner theatre tickets depending on the amount of their donation. Most businesses love the almost free advertising and they love being known as a business or individual that supports the arts. We are not a big enough school to have professional programs done, but many of you are. In that case, you could sell ads for your program as a fundraiser. I have seen some beautiful programs at larger high schools with tons of advertising.
Now, let’s talk about the fundraisers that we all think of as fundraisers. One thing that we have started doing every Valentine’s Day is cupcakes. Our student council sells “crushes”….they sell orange, strawberry, and grape Crushes that kids send to each other on Valentine’s Day. So, we decided to do something that would not step on their fundraiser; we chose cupcakes!!! This is total profit for us.
We start about a week before Valentine’s Day and take orders. Each kid walks around with a sheet, and they sell, sell, sell and collect one dollar for each cupcake. Then the night before delivery day while we are having rehearsal, the moms come up to the school and bake the cupcakes in the FCCLA classroom. We thankfully have a great relationship with our FCCLA teacher and have been able to use her cooking classroom over the years. A couple of years, she was able to make the cupcakes in her cooking classes, which really helped us out. Some years we sell over a thousand cupcakes, so for them to make them during the school day was HUGE.
Then on the delivery day, I have all the kids that sold cupcakes deliver. Sometimes we choose one class period to deliver them. We go to the office and get a class list for each teacher for let’s say fourth period. Then we pull the cupcakes for that class, write the message on a pink heart and pass them out. We have also delivered them during break and lunch, but the class thing seems to work the best. Again, this is total profit for us. We require each kid to bring a cake mix and a tub of icing. Then we have girls bring a dozen eggs and boys bring a bottle of vegetable oil. By having the kids bring the ingredients, the department can make all of the money. So, if we sell 1,000 cupcakes, we make $1,000.
As the Fine Arts Department Head, I have also hosted a Winter Arts Festival. We charge $5 or so and invite everyone to come and walk through our foyer where we display tons of artwork, including photographs, drawings, paintings, sculptures, etc from the art department. While our guests walk through and view the art, I will have the jazz band playing music….Christmas music if we do it before Christmas and just some jazz tunes if we do it any other time of year. Then I will have my theatre kids sing with the jazz band or sometimes perform small scenes, etc. Most of the time, my theatre kids sing as an accompaniment and let people enjoy the artwork. My theatre kids also walk around the crowd and serve beverages and snacks. More than anything, this is a public service to our community and also a show of the work our fine arts department is doing. It doesn’t make a ton of money, but every little bit helps, right?
We have sold cases of Coca-Cola products. If you don’t know about this fundraiser, call your local distributor. You might need to get the number from the guy that delivers drinks to your Coke machines at school. Your kids will sell cases of any Coca-Cola product including Powerade and water. It really is a great profit fundraiser, but you have to be prepared for a huge delivery and prepared for kids to deliver the heavy cases.
Another great fundraiser that is almost 100% profit for us is our homemade cookbooks. I have every theatre kid go to their moms, aunts, grandmothers, etc. and get all of their very best family recipes. Then we compile them all just like a professional cookbook and give credit to the theatre kid, who wrote the recipe, and their relationship to the theatre kid. It has become a favorite of our community, and every year when you get new theatre kids, you get new recipes. We put them together at school and charge 10.00 each for them. MAJOR profit. These do really well in November and December when people are on the hunt for meaningful gifts. They do very well with parents and grandparents.
The Good, Bad and Ugly One
I will warn you about this next fundraiser. I have actually had parents that would not allow their kid to participate. It has done really well for us in a pinch, however. You know how every once in a while you will see police officers or firemen standing at an intersection asking for change, etc. for a cause?? Well, we have a three way stop in our community, and we have stood there before and asked for money. You can make about a thousand dollars an hour doing this. On a really slow day, 700.00. Stand there on a Friday from 4:00 to 6:00 and you will for sure bring in over 2,000.00 easily. If you put theatre kids in costume, people LOVE it. In our small community I have only had a couple of people criticize us for this fundraiser and say that we are not teaching kids how to work for what they get. I totally disagree. My kids work really hard all year. Most people that come through the intersection will either talk to me then or tell me later that they LOVED this. They say they would much rather drop a handful of change or a couple of dollars in the bucket rather than buy a tub of cookie dough that they really didn’t want in the first place. Think of all of the horrible things that your kids have had to sell before for different organizations. People just buy that stuff to support your kid. Believe me, they do not want the product and would much rather throw in a couple of dollars and be done, meanwhile they feel like they have helped out. A few tips: we don’t do this on a regular basis—only when we need money fast. For example, we have advanced to state and need extra money in a week to fund the trip. Also, safety needs to come first. Make sure that kids are in pairs and that they do not lean into cars, etc. Creative, colorful signs that let you know who you are help too!!
Did you get any ideas for your department? We hope so! Let us know how they go and if you have any better ideas for us. Tell us in the comments below!