Fundraising for Community Choirs

Fund raising is a necessary task that every community organization faces. In order to continue to offer musical experiences for our cities and towns, leaders of choirs must be creative in seeking out money for concerts and events. Some groups have been very successful at this process; one of these organizations is the Dubuque Chorale.

Currently, I am the associate conductor of this community organization, serving with artistic director Bob Demaree. I had conversations with our board president in order to ascertain how this organization became fiscally sound. Over the past few years, Demaree has lead the Dubuque Chorale to financial security. Through careful planning, conservative spending, and a concerted effort in the area of fund raising, the board has succeeded in adding a children’s choir, including a paid artistic director, and an associate conductor of the Chorale. Since coming to Dubuque three years ago, I have been employed by the organization and have been highly impressed with the efficiency of the financial processes.

To gain a greater understanding of the inner workings of the Dubuque Chorale, I reached out to board president Dr. Eckhart, who completed an online Iowa Arts Council Seminar this past March. Through this experience, she learned the following facts and figures concerning sources of income for nonprofits nationwide, as compared with the Dubuque Chorale’s data:

National                Dubuque Chorale

Earned Income from ticket sales, merchandise, fees and dues                   50%                        53%

Gov grants and contracts:                                                                            32.3%                      4%

Other, like interest, investments                                                                4.8%

Philanthropy:                                                                                                 12.9%,                      40%

Individuals                                                                                           72%                          48%

Corporations                                                                                        5%                            52%

Foundations                                                                                         15%

Death bequests                                                                                    8%

Nationally, only 5% of charitable giving in the US goes to arts and culture organizations. This number presents a challenge when seeking out new donors and makes it imperative to foster relationships with repeat givers. The Chorale starts in the summer with an annual appeal in our mailing to over 2000 individuals. This has proven to be successful, with donors having the flexibility to donate online or by mail.

Eckhart and Demaree both acknowledge that our biggest asset is our membership itself. A large portion of our revenue comes from the paying of dues by our members. Singers have bought into this policy and have noticed how it has enabled the organization to achieve stability. In addition, our members are largely engaged in the infrastructure of marketing, assisting the board with dissemination of posters and solicitation of program ads. These committees are filled with volunteers who are passionate about bringing a high level of music making to the Dubuque community. Empowering members to engage community organizations has increased our visibility immensely. In addition, our small ensemble often sings at events hosted by businesses, thereby fostering new relationships and strengthening others. Members sell program ads to many of these businesses as well, providing more income to the chorale. The majority of our revenue comes from ventures such as these.

Demaree and I have programmed many thematic concerts, focusing on a variety of issues. For some of these, we have been able to apply for grants to support these events. When we planned music about rivers and about the British Isles, the chorale was fortunate enough to receive financial assistance from grants. In the past few seasons, other concerts highlighted the Dubuque German community, honored farm workers, humane societies, and family issues. Invited guests from these various groups helped to increase our audience base for these events and beyond, thereby enhancing our fund raising capabilities. Often concerts are underwritten by businesses, which include the financial institutions in our area. Grant writing is time consuming and often frustrating process, as many applications are denied. Eckhart has remained visible in the Dubuque community and dogged about continuing to apply for funding. In addition, Demaree and I often lead performances of our small ensemble, Cadenza, at events and meetings in Dubuque; this has assisted us in building partnerships with individuals and businesses.

Fund raising for community organizations is a time-consuming but imperative venture. The successes of the Dubuque Chorale remind us that focusing on developing the passions of our membership is a wonderful way in which to expedite the process. When singers are proud of the organization to which they belong, they are more apt to volunteer and invest in the cause. Conductors have the responsibility of instilling in these members the calling of sharing music with the world in which we live. Together, we continue to exist largely because we must sing!


About the author

Jeremy Mims

Jeremy Mims

Jeremy Mims is assistant professor and chair of the Music Department at Clarke University. He is also the associate conductor of the Dubuque Chorale and the director of the Chancel Choir at St. Luke’s UMC.