Making Fundraising Fair
Karen White is a freelance journalist and longtime dance instructor in Taunton, MA.
When it comes to funny stories about fundraising, Glenna Wilson, the director of Dance Dreams Studio in Kannapolis, North Carolina, wins the gold. Things took a strange turn one year when a parent running a calendar drive at the studio was arrested on drug possession charges. “We have a big joke now about the mom who used the fundraising money for her bail bond,” she says.
Many studios engage in fundraising activities, usually with the happy outcome that they are able to support competition teams or senior students’ performance trips. Yet fundraising can also be the cause of frustration and ill feelings when parents or dancers start to think the system is unfair—either in the amount of work being done, or the way the funds are distributed.
While there are many different methods that can help prevent conflict, common keys to success include setting up an organized, well-thought-out system before getting others involved, being completely honest and transparent about how much can be earned by participating, and making participation optional.
“The hardest part [about fundraising] is dealing with the conflict that can sometimes come out,” says Mary L. Myers, director of The Dance Connection in Woodward, Oklahoma. “Be sure to do preplanning and have it all lined up as to how it’s going to work, and how the money will be divided, before you approach the parents.”
Myers’ studio is located in a rural area, so her dance and cheer teams often travel two and a half to six hours to reach a competition. Some of her non-team dancers also take to the road for performances at football bowl games and other events, which require overnight stays. Raising a little extra to help with all those expenses is imperative, so Myers and her staff put their creative brainpower to work every year thinking up new and innovative fundraisers “that make the community go, ‘Wow!’” Past successes include washing windows and tidying up the sidewalks of downtown merchants for donations, and raffling off a candlelight dinner at a local teahouse. Their goal, Myers says, is to “find events or situations that will raise the most amount of money in the least amount of time.”
These fundraisers won’t work unless there are many hands available. But participation is always optional, Myers stresses. The amount of time each student or family spends on fundraising is carefully time-tracked by the studio staff. Myers also lets students know beforehand how much money they will raise depending on how many hours they work. That way, she says, each student or the student’s family can make an informed decision about whether they want to participate.
“The main reason for raising funds is to help the girls who don’t have the money to compete,” she says. “Once you set the standard, there aren’t any problems. The girls who need the funds are those who are there 100 percent of the time.” Myers consulted an accountant to set up a separate, designated account for all fundraised monies, which is at a different bank from the one used by the studio. All the funds are used for specified purposes, such as to help pay individual balances due on flight or hotel costs.
At On Stage Academy of Performing Arts in Fall River, Massachusetts, Director Linda Mercer-Botelho heads off fundraising issues by handling all the details herself. Every few years her singers and dancers go on an extensive performance tour, including a recent jaunt to Tennessee, where students went sightseeing at Graceland and performed at Dollywood. She arranges several fundraisers—candle sales, Avon drives or a meat pie dinner—that coincide with the dates when trip deposits are due.
Before each event, students are told how much their participation will earn—for example, $4 for each $8 candle sold. “I come from a generation where if you wanted something, you went out and worked for it,” Mercer-Botelho says. “It’s a learning experience: ‘We’re on this trip, and we did this together.’ It teaches them so much more than just dance.”
Each student’s total is then tallied on a spreadsheet so she is aware of how much money she has earned toward individual trip expenses. Mercer-Botelho also conducts group activities, such as a raffle at the meat pie dinner, where every student is required to bring in one prize. The money from that raffle goes toward group expenses, such as tipping the bus driver or tour director. She handles all the details of planning and running each fundraiser herself, preferring to focus on her students rather than the parents. “We have a giant initial parents’ meeting so they know everything ahead of time, but from then on, it’s the kids I really work with,” she says, adding that the girls generally cover about 75 percent of their trip expenses with fundraising.
In contrast, Wilson relies on parents to shoulder the fundraising at Dance Dreams Studio, despite her one disastrous experience. Yet participation is completely optional, and she encourages not only her competition dancers but anyone at her studio to participate. “I’m of a mind that if you need help with your costumes, this is an option,” she explains. “Moms with two kids are highly motivated. It’s easy to find those kinds of volunteers.”
Wilson invites anyone with a fundraising idea to step forward and head up a fundraising drive. Often, it’s mothers involved in other activities, such as one who sells Avon products and another who has her own line of jewelry. Wilson sends information out via e-mail and makes announcements about fundraisers in the lobby. The mother in charge keeps track of participants and the amount of “credit” each raises, information that is logged in the studio’s computer database under each child’s name. Each student can then specify how he or she would like that credit to be used.
Wilson has found that this system works well for everything—even group fundraisers, such as the popular children’s clothing consignment sale that she runs twice a year. Each student who brings in an item of old dance or school clothing is assigned a number, which is tagged on the article along with the price. When a piece is purchased, that information is logged in the studio computer. “When people ask, ‘Did I ever get that credit?’ I show it to them in the ledger,” she explains.
Despite your best efforts, of course, be aware that “there will always be those people who think they are being treated unfairly,” says Myers. “Make sure they understand the level of commitment required to participate. It can’t just be about the money.”