Money and the School Choir: Fundraising for a Successful Choral Program
Sorry to Say, but It's Not Just About Making Beautiful Music
Unfortunately, when you become the choir director at a school, you're taking on responsibility beyond that of teaching students. You are most likely the only choir director in the building, and are therefore running your own mini-department of the school. The choir director usually has to keep track of their own activity account, take care of building scheduling, and more. Unfortunately, a lot of this is, at best, mentioned in passing in your college courses. Most teachers learn to handle these things on the job.
Whether you're a new or veteran teacher, this article will present some ideas on how to create a program that runs smoothly and gives you and your students a professional appearance.
YouTube as a fundraiser? Why not?
Know the Money Rules!
This is first up because it is the most important. Here's why:
It takes money to run a choir. Can you do it on a shoestring? Absolutely, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't make an effort to raise some money to benefit the students. Whether it's paying an accompanist, ordering octavos, or buying uniforms (more on that in another article), he reality is that making choir a quality experience takes some cash. Make sure that handling that money doesn't get you in trouble:
- Make friends with your Bookkeeper
This is absolutely essential. Your Bookkeeper is the one that processes deposits, writes checks, and reports on all of that to your principal. They can help you immensely or be a thorn in your side. Whatever it takes, make this person your friend. Find out what they like and get them a christmas present. Bring in an extra donut one morning. Do something! Your entire tenure at the school will be made more pleasant if you do.
- Know your state's money regulations
In Kentucky, the rules for how schools handle money is contained in something called the "Red Book". Find out what your state's laws are and get trained. I attended a summer session once years ago in which the entire book was covered. This included regulations for fund raising, collecting money, spending money, accepting donations, and more. If you're a member of your state's union, it might be difficult for you to lose your job. The number one reason tenured teachers get fired? Mishandling of money. Even if you are not required to be trained on your financial regulations, make sure you do!
- Seek help if you need it
While I have been known to take the "act now, seek forgiveness later" approach to things (maybe I really needed real candles on stage for something), this is never the right route with money. Before you make any decision regarding fund raising or spending money, make sure you know that it is approved and legal. If there is any doubt in your mind, ask. Coaches are usually well informed of financial regulations as are club sponsors. Remember to ask your friend, the Bookkeeper. Ask your principal.
Once you know the rules, it's time to make a plan.
Make a Choir Budget
Before you start a fund raiser, know what you're going to spend that money on. People don't like to participate in a and raiser that doesn't have a specific goal. All of the money raised needs to benefit the students directly. It's also important to communicate that information to your audience. It's time to make some lists.
First, think about what you're going to need for the day-to-day running of the program:
- Professional Organization Fees: you should already be a member of your state's MEA, but you also need to register the school for your students to eligible to participate in all-district, all-state, and performance assessment events. This is a must.
- Accompanist Fees: How many concerts are you going to have in the course of a year? How many rehearsals will you have with the accompanist? Add all of that up and put it on the list.
- Travel Fees: Will you need busses to get to Festival/Performance Assessment? How much will that cost? Will you need a sub that day? Add it up and on the list it goes.
- Misc.: Perhaps you want to bring in a guest clinician for a day and need to give them a stipend. Think of anything else that is not a tangible object, but an operating cost.
The total reach from the lists above is your operating cost. Your first fund raiser's goal should be to raise that amount of money. Most people won't understand what you're talking about. At the first concert of the year, I put together a slide show with numbers and graphs showing all of the parents how much it costs just to do the bare minimum. Our choir's yearly operating costs is now up to about $7,000. This motivates fund raiser participation and donations.
Next, take inventory of what you have, and start making three lists:
- Must Haves: these are things that you cannot go on without. If your music library is populated entirely with disney medleys and bad arrangements of pop tunes from the 70s and 80s (as mine was when I started), new repertoire should be at the top of your list.
- Needs: these are things that you need, but can make do without for the time being. Choir uniforms might fall into this category. Or perhaps you need to add a few more sections to your choir risers.
- Nice to Haves: this is your dream list. You may never make it there, but boy wouldn't that be nice! Folio cabinets, matching music folders, an over-sized conductor's music stand, a document camera (these things are magical, by the way). Let your imagination be your guide.
These lists give you an idea of goals to set for subsequent fund raisers or sponsorships. Again, share these goals with your students and parents and explain how it will benefit the students.
Planning a Fund Raiser
The dreaded Fund Raiser.
Most of us dislike them, but it's a reality of our position. Unless you have a million dollar endowment from so doting community member, or your school unbelievably decides to give you a $10,000 budget, we need to raise money for our programs. There are all sorts of types of fund raisers, from car washes to chili suppers to brochure-style sales. In my experience, the greatest amount of money is raised from brochure-style sales, but you have to pick carefully. Here are some thoughts on picking your fund raiser:
- Talk to other choir directors: ask around to see what companies work or don't work. Knowing the kinds of experiences others have had is a great first level screening process.
- Ask to try the product: if you're going to sell something, make sure it's something you would buy. If it's no good, pass on it.
- Make sure the product is guaranteed: the company should stand by it's product. You shouldn't have to deal with returns and refunds. I won't use a company if they're not willing to do that without taking it out of our profits.
- You aren't marrying a company: Once you do one fund raiser, the representative will push you to repeat it, and often. You can say no. If you had an unpleasant experience, you don't have to use them again.
Once you've selected your fund raiser, make sure it is approved. Each school district has a different policy regarding this. As mentioned before, ask around and make sure you follow policy. Set your dates and make sure you communicate with your students and families about all due dates, delivery dates, and policies. Make your goal public. The choir is raising money for _____! The more specific your goal is, the more likely people are to participate. Make it enticing and make sure that people know how this goal will benefit students directly.
Should I Have Choir Dues?
My simple answer:
It's ultimately up to you and your administration. Some classes do have lab fees or dues, but I am philosophically opposed to that. Our students are charged enough as it is. If a student wants to be in choir, money should not hold them back from that. Even if you do have a fee and waive the fee for some students, you are now creating a divide in your group between those that have "paid their dues" and those that are on a "free ride". If you are teaching in a more affluent area or a private school, you may be able to go this route. If you are teaching at a public school, I encourage you not to.
Spending that Money
Now that you've made a budget, set a goal, and completed your fund raiser it's time to spend that money. Again, it is important to make sure you follow all regulations. Know the policy for filling out purchase orders. You may also have to do determination forms to demonstrate that you have compared many companies and sought out the best price or to justify using a higher priced company. I can't speak to your situation here, so there isn't specific advice, just remember:
Know the policies and regulations of your:
- School District
Do that, and you're on your way to a financially successful choir program. Good Luck!