Non-traditional fundraising ideas for audience development

Part of audience development is building relationships to the point that your patrons will support your art and/or organization.  You want to have people in your individual community that will donate and sponsor your art.  In the past few years, I have seen some very good examples of fundraising ideas that not only builds relationships, but are creative options and add visible awareness for the arts.

Audience development benefits may include: audience attendance, relationships building with new and current patrons, audience engagement, audience participation, audience support through donations, visible arts advocacy.

Non-traditional fund raising ideas:

  • Micro-grants dinners.  I was alerted to these events a few years ago, but they are starting to catch on now.  This idea creates an invitation to dinner with a fee of $5 to $10.  The group is served a hearty simple meal and during the dinner, 4-5 pre-selected artists make a presentation about their future arts project.  The attendees get to vote on these projects, and the winning artist receives the collected fee

Here are a few examples:

Dearborn SOUP Brings Micro-Grants to Local Artists

BEAN Dinner & Micro-Grants-The Brattleboro Museum & Art Center

  • Walk-a-thons or bike rides.  This type of fundraiser is traditional for the social cause organizations, but I rarely see this form of fundraiser   for arts organizations, until this year.  With this event, there is the ability to build relationships with people during the event and have your patrons physically show their support for the arts, meaning there is an extra value of visible arts advocacy.  Most of the time there is a fee to register and they then have a set goal of pledges to meet so they can participate in the event.  If a group of arts organizations were to get together, this event could really be very successful!

Here are a few examples:

Art & Sole: Walk a Mile in My Shoes – This was not an actual fundraiser, but could easily be turned into one.

Dart for the Arts 5K Run/Walk& Family Fit Walk

  • Bid on artists.  This is an auction that is strictly for auctioning off commissions from artists. The highest bidder for the artist will get a commissioned work by the artist.  The artist may volunteer their time or part of the bid would go to pay for the artist while the arts organizations keeps the balance.  Artist can be termed loosely.  It could be a commission for a music composition that is auctioned off and the bidder will get their name on the work, or it could be a new play that is auctioned.  The bidder will have some say in the type of work created.

Here are a few examples:

A Custom Commission for the Highest Bidder

Commission your own work by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Steven Stucky!

  • Fundraisers for other organizations.  This is an interesting opportunity for both you and a social cause organization.  Why not have the option of smaller, intimate events be a fundraiser for other organizations.  They purchase a night of your art event for their supporters to purchase tickets at a good rate per ticket.  You keep the purchase money, and they are able to sell tickets to the event at a slight mark-up to raise money for their organization.   Or, you could sell them a group ticket rate to your regularly scheduled events at a lower cost with a minimum purchase amount set and they can resell the tickets at a mark-up to raise funds.  What a win-win collaborative situation!

Here are a few examples:

The Detroit Repertory Theatre fundraising program

Fundraising through the BSO is easy!

  • Sponsor an artist programs.  Yes, some of you may already have this option as a way to raise funds, but do you go the extra mile and allow the donor to actually meet with the artist and form a relationship?  I highly recommend that if your artists are willing that adding a benefit of “meet the artist for lunch/dinner” or at least a social event for all the artists and sponsors to meet with each other will help this program to thrive.

Here are a few examples:

Colorado Music Festival Artist Fund

Opera Company at Middlebury Adopt an Artist Program

  • Audience choice program.  This is an auction item where the audience members bid to create a performance program or art event of their choice (within reason) for your season.  You can supply a list of options for them to choose from.  Many audience members have their own idea of what a perfect program or art event would be.  They will be thrilled to have their program become a reality!

I did not find an example of this one.  If you have heard of an artist or organization that has this fund-raising option, please comment below.

I will continue to be on the look out for interesting and innovative fundraising ideas.  If you know of any, I would love for you to share in the comments section.  Fundraising does not have to be same ol’ same ol’.  We are creative artists after all, and our fundraisers should be creative too.

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,


Shoshana Fanizza
Audience Development Specialists


“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”
~James Stewart

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Filed under arts management, fund raising, Fundraising

5 responses to “Non-traditional fundraising ideas for audience development

  1. Ooh – I like that first idea. Especially if 50% goes to the artist and 50% to the hosting arts organization.

  2. Bev

    An orchestra that I worked with before did an audience choice concert around “March Madness,” our own version of the NCAA basketball tournament, similar to one the Jacksonville Symphony did a while back. Instead of 64 teams, starting with four brackets that included 16 overtures, 16 concertos, 16 symphonies and 16 “short show pieces.” The audience received a ballot of the brackets at the a concert and made their choices narrowing the field to 8 overtures, 8 concertos, 8 symphonies, 8 showpieces. At the next concert, the quarter finals, the field was narrowed to 4 each. The next concert, the semi-finals, the field was narrowed to 2 in each category. At the next concert, the audience choice from the finalists and the winners were announced at the last concert of the season to be performed the next season. The audience loved it. The following year we did a concert called “Back for Seconds” which was the 2nd place finishers from “March Madness.” These concerts made the people who felt like their pieces had lost feel better too. It also helped us with future programming.

    What was also interesting is that we had the orchestra musicians vote too and did tally separately before including them in the pile, just to see the difference between the audience selections and musician selections. There really was a big divide between what the musicians as a whole wanted to play and what the audience wanted to hear.

  3. Pingback: ADS News | Audience Development Specialists Blog!

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