Hosting a Fine Arts Gala: How to Plan an Effective Arts Fundraiser for High Schools

August 4, 2017 at 10:00 am. 

fine arts gala

Many high schools seize the opportunity to host a fine arts gala, or a similar event that showcases a school’s artistic talents and serves as a fundraiser for arts programs. Planning an event like this takes a lot of preparation, but with the right goals and strategic marketing, your arts programs can really benefit from the funding boost.

Set a fundraising goal

What are you trying to accomplish? It needs to be a tangible objective. Something like:

  • Buying new instruments, art supplies, set design tools
  • Increasing the size of the budget by 10% (to allow for more flexible spending)
  • Hosting guest artist events or masterclasses

Once you have defined goals, you can more easily find a target amount to raise. Your number should be ambitious, but realistic.

Don’t be afraid to spend

One of my favorite TED Talks is called “The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong.” Short version, it explains how the idea of higher spending on overhead (things like staff, marketing) means more overall money raised for charities and the causes they support. You can watch the whole video here.

In terms of a fine arts gala, you’re going to get the results that you pay for. You’ll need to consider factors like:

  • Venue (school auditorium vs a ballroom)
  • Food (available concessions)
  • Marketing (social media posts, radio advertisements, print materials)
  • Performers (just students vs featured guest artists)

Selecting a Venue

Hosting an event at a third party location quickly raises the price tag for your gala. However, it’s important to consider the potential trade-offs of having an event at a location that might simply be cooler than the school auditorium.

Let’s take a real-life example: dance studios who teach a variety of styles to kids of all ages. When it’s time for the year-end recital, those studios actively rent out performing venues where the dancers will be on a real stage. Family and friends purchase tickets to the event (to help offset the cost of the venue rental), but the experience of seeing their children perform on stage is worth that cost.

In the same way, hosting a fine arts gala at a ballroom in an artsy space will add value to the event, and there are ways to trim down the potential costs of renting out a space.

For a visual arts-heavy program, consider renting a local art gallery like you would for an exhibition. While you’re displaying student art, you can maybe negotiate with the gallery to also display some professional pieces for sale, or agree to actively advertise upcoming gallery events in exchange for lower rental fees.

For a music-heavy or drama-heavy program, do you have a relationship with a local performing arts center? Can you start one? While fees for a PAC may be more firm because of staffing needs or other event requirements, you can also leverage the PAC’s social media and radio relationships to promote your event. Plus, local professionals might be more interested in participating in the event (more on this later).

Find Sponsors and Plan Marketing Efforts

Finding sponsors to help pay for your event will define your budget, and can significantly increase the scale of your event (and fundraising). Depending on the venue, you can offer a variety of features in exchange for sponsorship dollars.

  • A “title” sponsor may be featured on the main artwork for your event posters and internet advertising.
  • If you perform at a PAC, maybe particular rows are designated as “sponsor” rows.
  • If you are able to offer catering in or near your space, maybe that food is for sale and a percentage of proceeds goes to your program (while the majority is kept by the vendor in order to compensate them for their services). Food trucks do this kind of thing all the time.

Depending on the funds you’re able to raise from sponsors, you can better plan to market the event.

Around school, flyers and posters can inform the student body (and maybe you can team up with faculty to offer extra credit to students for attending the gala). Those same flyers and posters should be put up in local coffeeshops, music stores (where lessons are taught), and shared with other local schools.

Social media should be a central part of your marketing plan. Three invaluable assets to have:

  • A Facebook event
  • Instagram posts (of performance shots, instruments, librettos, artwork) through the performance venue, school account, or larger school district Instagram accounts
  • If your school has a Twitter account, some tweets with similar content as Instagram

From there, things like short “preview” videos of students performing or working in the studio help to generate interest and build excitement.

Sell Tickets Online

When a touring Broadway show comes to town, they don’t only limit admission to the event at the door, or only accept visits to the box office. They sell tickets online, ahead of the event. And when patrons go to buy their tickets and make their seat selections, it looks something like this:

performing arts event

Selling tickets online allows a much wider audience to buy tickets, and they can do so at their convenience, with a credit card. Instead of only receiving ticket buyers at your school’s office, you can now post a link to buy event tickets on your school website, performance venue website, through emails, and in all of your social media posts.

The image above is a screenshot from the StateChamps ticketing platform, which doesn’t cost schools anything to use. Patrons can buy their tickets ahead of time, with a credit card, and a small processing fee is added to the ticket purchase. The school receives the full face value of the ticket.

If you’d like to learn more about StateChamps’ Performing Arts capabilities, try out our demo here.

Invite local professionals, college groups

To market to an audience wider than your school community (parents, students, some alumni), you’ll want to consider adding extra value to the evening. That added value can come through hiring local professionals to join your students in performing (which can even encourage other schools to bring their students).

A music ensemble playing along with guest instrumentalists serves as both a great and fun experience for the kids, but it also can bring some interest from fans of those instrumentalists.

An art exhibition featuring a master class from a local professional artist will attract more art-minded people in the community, and you can even invite other art students from nearby schools to attend.

A short drama or musical theatre piece with a guest performer can bring friends of the performer and patrons of that performer’s theatre to come out and support the arts.

That goes for local college performing artists as well: having a troupe of college performers do an improv skit, or the college jazz band perform attracts more people and builds relationships with art-minded groups in the community.

Volunteers

Regardless of what your event ends up looking like, you’ll need to help to make sure the schedule for the night runs smoothly. Volunteers (parents, alumni, college students) who are invested in the performing arts and committed to this project will be invaluable assets.

Before you get started finding volunteers, come up with specific staffing needs or logistical needs that will require manpower to accomplish. Is it admission at the event? Ushers? Venue liaison? Catering liaison?

Clearly define what you need first, and then when you get recruiting you’ll have specific descriptions of the volunteer jobs you need to be filled. That way, potential volunteers will have a clear idea of their responsibilities for the event, and can more easily say “yes” or “no.” It’s always better to have a potential volunteer say “I’m sorry, I can’t commit to that” instead of finding out about conflicts the day before the event.

The Finale

If you made it this far, congratulations! And good luck with your event. The performing arts are a central and critical part of education, and they need all the help they can get.

StateChamps specializes in consulting with organizations and promoting their events online, and we’d love to be involved with your next gala or fundraiser. If you’d like more information about using StateChamps to host your next event, feel free to fill out the form below and we’ll be in touch to answer any questions you might have.

Andres Berrios

Andres is the Content Strategist for StateChamps. He enjoys fitness, good music, and taking sports to the next level through technology.

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