Rising to the Occasion

Posted on June 16, 2009 by

It’s common for K–12 dance teachers to supplement school-allotted budgets with fundraisers. Dwindling state and district funds mean that selling cupcakes isn’t going to cut it anymore. As a result, dance teachers and public schools are taking a page from private institutions by forging partnerships with businesses, running pledge drives, tapping corporations and foundations and establishing their own 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. Here are some ideas for taking your fundraising to the next level.

Offer options.
It seems like a bad time to ask for money, but times of crisis force people to consider what is truly important to them, and to support it even more. “There are good people out there who really want to make a difference for the children,” says Joan Finkelstein, director of dance programs in the New York City Department of Education Office of Arts and Special Projects.

You can make your fundraisers even more attractive by offering a range of options for different budgets. The Woodland Star Educational Foundation, which supports the Woodland Star Charter School in Sonoma, CA, used to raise the bulk of its annual funds at one gala. Now it holds several smaller events throughout the year. “As the economy changed, we looked at what it might mean to have all our eggs in one basket,” says the foundation’s vice president, Steve Bossio. “We felt nervous that if that didn’t turn out well, it could be a problem.”

Another factor is that the annual gala, which required the work of 40 to 50 people, some of whom would put in 20 hours a week for months at a time, was simply no longer viable. “The more the economy suffers and the more people are suffering, the less time they have to put into things,” Bossio says. “We felt it was time to revamp it. Now, people are able to plug into one event, put in 20 or 30 hours and then go away.”

Identify your potential donors.
It’s a given that parents, grandparents and those directly involved with your students are good candidates for donations. But if you’re looking for large sums of money, you’d be well-advised to look further into the community.

In terms of fundraising, it’s imperative that you identify the people who support the arts in your area. “The pool of arts philanthropists tends to be small,” says Ralph Opacic, founder and executive director of Orange County High School of the Arts in Santa Ana, California, “and they tend to support all the arts.” Opacic says he reaches out to dance companies, symphonies and museums to build relationships that could aid his fundraising efforts.

Buddy up with businesses.
Businesses can donate space, food, services and merchandise for events like dinners, auctions and raffles. Some restaurant chains have special fundraising programs that require little effort and no money up front. Pizza Hut, for instance, helps groups host a pizza night, from which 25 percent of the event’s proceeds go to your school.

In addition, national companies offer fundraising options that are as easy as clipping cereal box tops or shopping online. Target credit card users can opt for registered schools to receive one percent of the value of all purchases made with their card. And Schoolpop.com, an online portal to many popular retailers, allows shoppers to choose a school to receive a portion of the amount they spend.

Recruit help.
Anne Richardson, dance program director at Palmetto Center for the Arts, a fine arts magnet school in Columbia, South Carolina, created a Parent Dance Board. The group meets once a month to create and plan fundraising ideas.

The fundraising chair is a demanding position and can be difficult to fill. Make the job easier by keeping a workbook of all events to pass along to the chairs of the next year’s events, so he or she doesn’t have to start from scratch, suggests Jean Joachim, author of Beyond the Bake Sale: The Ultimate School Fund-Raising Book. These workbooks can include contact information, detailed instructions, financial records and hints.

Go nonprofit.
There are several benefits to establishing 501(c)(3) status. For starters, many grants that are not available directly to schools are available to nonprofits. Similarly, only schools with a 501(c)(3) are eligible for programs like those through Schoolpop.com and Target.

Richardson registered her Parent Dance Board as a nonprofit organization, so the group could maintain its own bank account and exercise control over how the money is spent.

A 501(c)(3) is also attractive to donors—it signals that your group is an official organization, and it means that all donations will be tax-deductible.

Use the Web.
One of the easiest ways to let potential donors know about your program and its needs is through the web. Create a website where people can buy raffle tickets, learn about upcoming events, make direct donations and even bid on donated items à la eBay.

If creating and maintaining your own site isn’t an option, take advantage of sites like DonorsChoose.org. All full-time, public school teachers can register for the program, which allows them to directly appeal to donors by describing what they need, why they need it and how it will benefit students’ lives.

Christina Sussman, a drama teacher at I.S. 10 in Astoria, New York, has been using DonorsChoose for four years and has had 16 projects funded, including donations of props, costumes, a laptop and funding for Lincoln Center Institute teaching artists.

Follow the rules.
Fundraising regulations vary by state and district. California, for instance, forbids the sale of candy and other junk food. In New York, selling raffle tickets to students is not allowed.

It’s important to get your principal  involved. At the very least, you’ll need his or her permission. Principals can also offer guidance regarding rules and regulations, and, as in Richardson’s case, they may even be persuaded to make a cameo in a performance. “That helps sell tickets!” she says. DT

Michelle Vellucci is a freelance writer in New York City.

Photo courtesy of Elsinore High School

Fundraisers That Work

• This year, Natalie Bout of Elsinore High School in Wildomar, California, and her colleagues in the arts department came up with a new event called “Dancing with the Staff.” Students paired up with teachers and school staff members for a dance competition. It featured three “celebrity” judges, and audience members voted for their favorite couples. “Dancing with the Staff” raised about $2,300 for the dance program’s spring production, and it was a hit with students and teachers alike. Bout is planning to make it an annual event. “We think it will gain more speed next year,” she says. “The teachers are really gung-ho about it now.”

• Anne Richardson of Palmetto Center for the Arts painted a “Wall of Stars” in her dance room. Parents can honor their child by purchasing a star—for $5, $10 or $20 depending on the size—with the student’s name and graduation year.

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