7 Benefit Concert Tips for a Successful Event
The charity walk or run is a go-to event for nonprofits of nearly all sizes to raise funds. But with so many organizations choosing this route, you may want to go in a different direction for your next fundraising event. If you want to try something new while still following a long-standing fundraising model, a benefit concert might be just what you need.
You may have seen some of the big benefit concerts on TV over the past several years. Famous musicians like Mary J. Blige, John Legend, Bruce Springsteen, and Rihanna performed for the 2010 Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief. And more recently, the One World: Together at Home benefit concert raised $127 million for COVID-19 relief and featured artists like The Rolling Stones, Billie Eilish, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and Alicia Keys. Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Ariana Grande, Elton John, and Metallica have also participated in charitable events. However, benefit concerts aren’t solely for the big names.
Below, we’ll offer seven tips on how smaller nonprofits can organize successful benefit concert initiatives. We’ll talk about leveraging local and regional artists, promoting your event, and organizing opportunities to fundraise through multiple sources.
1. Outline the Vision of Your Benefit Concert
Before you start calling every musician you know and selling tickets, you need to have a plan. Start with how big you want your event to be. Do you plan to have multiple performers and stages or one main act? How many people do you want to come? Does your vision align with your community’s expectations?
As you consider these questions, review your:
- Staff and volunteer capacity
- Current budget and resources
- Potential sponsorship opportunities
- Venue options and sizes
- Community appetite for this type of event
Big cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Nashville, or large stages like Manchester Arena and Madison Square Garden, are easy homes for benefit concerts, but you can get creative about your venue. If you’re in a less-populated area or have limited resources, you can simply host a few performers in a local community space. Or, if you operate near a thriving music community or cultural center, you might go a bit bigger.
The great thing is that you can make your benefit concert as small or as big as you want. Then, once you know the setting of your event, it’s easier to recruit performers and promote the concert. Also, if your venue already hosts musical acts, that can help you network for needed resources and get contacts for musicians.
After determining the scale and venue for your event, think about whether it’ll showcase a specific genre or style of music. You can have an entirely acoustic folk concert or a loud battle of the bands. Whatever musical direction you choose, it should reflect your community’s interests. Does country dominate the airwaves or is hip-hop the biggest crowd-pleaser? Not sure? Consider asking for feedback from your supporters through social media or email outreach. If you don’t identify a prevailing favorite style, you can always host a variety of performers. Just make sure you have the equipment each performer needs.
2. Secure a Meaningful Lineup for Your Benefit Concert
After you’ve outlined your vision for your benefit concert, it’s time to get some rock stars on the bill. Remember that the artists you partner with will be a key element of your marketing and fundraising.
Look for musicians who align with your mission and values. As you consider options, review their social media and other available content to see if they’ve supported causes like yours before or have spoken out on issues that are important to them. Plan to ask prospective artists a few questions, such as:
- Why is our cause important to you?
- Do you have a personal connection to our mission?
- In what ways do you currently use your platform to support causes important to you?
- Do you have any songs in particular that you think represent our mission?
Additionally, you’ll want to look for musicians who resonate with your target audience. That means considering the demographics of your attendees. A Gen Z crowd may have different musical tastes or interests than an audience of primarily Baby Boomers.
Now, assuming you don’t have Taylor Swift on speed dial, your best bet for performers will be local acts. This isn’t a bad thing. These performers will be more accessible and may even bring their friends and family to the event. They’re also likely to have a strong local following and useful connections within the area’s music scene.
Finally, a word to the wise: even if your acts are just getting started and don’t have much of a following, treat them like professionals. They should know where they need to be, what time to be there, and what amenities you’ll have on hand (e.g., water, snacks, etc.). By being easy to work with, you’ll be able to tap into your local music community for future events.
3. Cross-promote Your Benefit Concert
If you’re holding a benefit concert to tap into new audiences, you’ll need to market the event to them. That means in addition to letting your existing donors and supporters know about the event, don’t miss out on all the local music lovers who might be interested too.
Think of a benefit concert like you would peer-to-peer fundraising. In peer-to-peer campaigns, some people will donate to support a friend’s campaign even if they don’t know about your cause. At a benefit concert, you may get audience members who come for your performers but have never heard of your nonprofit. In both cases, you get an opportunity to introduce your mission to these newcomers in a meaningful way and encourage their ongoing involvement and support.
Beyond your usual communication channels, increase the likelihood of drawing in a new crowd by promoting your benefit concert in:
- Record stores and music shops
- Performance venues
- Music schools and with local instructors
You’ll also want to ask your venue and performers to promote the show on their social media accounts. Even relatively unknown artists can have thousands of followers, so this cross-promotion can be key.
Finally, plan to connect with your supporters through email. Send reminders about buying tickets in advance, include videos of your musicians’ past performances, and give teasers on what your audience can expect at the benefit concert.
4. Leverage a Hybrid Event Model for Greater Participation
Hybrid event models have proven to be a valuable approach for nonprofits following the COVID-19 pandemic. These have also become easy to manage thanks to solutions like Classy Live, which offers nonprofits a user-friendly virtual event platform optimized to drive donations. Nonprofits can leverage Classy Live to:
- Livestream your benefit concert
- Manage your ticketing process
- Incorporate silent auctions with mobile bidding
- Encourage one-time or recurring gifts
Our 2022 Fundraising Event Experience Report found that 36% of respondents who attended a fundraising event between January 2020 and February 2022 did so from home through the event’s virtual components. Another 20% joined in-person events that had virtual options. By opting for a hybrid benefit concert, attendees have the choice to enjoy the music and festivities in person or from wherever they are. This expands your reach beyond your geographical borders and lets supporters join who may not have been able to make it otherwise. A hybrid model ensures you don’t miss out on your benefit concert’s full potential.
Additionally, you may even experience greater fundraising success, like the nonprofit African Community Education (ACE) did. ACE leveraged Classy Live for its 2021 hybrid gala event, which included musical performances. It recorded a 203% growth in revenue for the event compared to its fully virtual event in 2020 and even higher growth compared to its in-person event in 2019.
5. Plan for Multiple Revenue Streams
Another great advantage of having a benefit concert is that you can have multiple streams of revenue. As you’re planning for how you’ll meet your fundraising target, consider the following options:
- Peer-to-peer campaigns: Ask bands to set up team pages and fundraise in the weeks leading up to the show. This way, even supporters from out of town and people who cannot attend will have a way to give.
- Tickets: Sell tickets online beforehand to make it easier for them to commit to your event. However, don’t be surprised if you have a lot of people wanting to pay at the door. Just make sure to have a cash box and mobile donation payment gateway.
- Merchandise: Raise money during your benefit concert by selling T-shirts, buttons, hats, and other swag. You can even use a special event design so attendees have a token to remember the experience for years to come. And don’t forget about your virtual event venue. Use it to sell merchandise and fixed-price items during your event too.
- Concessions: Have volunteers sell various drinks and snacks. If your venue offers food or beverages, you can ask if they’ll designate the proceeds of a signature cocktail or treat to your cause.
- Emcee reminders: Grab some last-minute donations by asking performers or an emcee to remind the audience they can give through your mobile donation page. Someone is bound to be recording the performance, so tell them to go online and donate since they already have their smartphone out.
- QR codes: Include these easy-to-scan codes on event posters, swag bags, and tickets to make it easy for attendees to navigate to your donation page and support your cause.
- Tip jars: Place tip jars throughout your event venue where attendees can provide cash donations. You can also print your QR code on the jar’s label to encourage mobile donations.
- Auctions and paddle raises: Use Classy Live to build an auction into your agenda, letting your attendees know when the bidding starts and ends. With mobile bidding, attendees can bid in person or virtually and can easily pay with self-checkout.
As you establish your different revenue streams, think about how you can use them to build the bridge for supporters between this event and ongoing future engagement with your cause:
- Send all attendees a thank you email that shares how much you raised and the impact it’ll allow you to have.
- Invite them to your next volunteer event and tell them how they can follow along with your work on social media.
- Use your benefit concert to get new supporters invested in your cause and become loyal donors going forward.
6. Consider a Corporate Sponsor for Your Benefit Concert
While hosting a benefit concert has the potential to raise significant funding for your nonprofit, doing so comes with expenses. The more you can lower these expenses, the more you’ll be able to put the proceeds directly toward your cause. One way to reduce costs is to partner with businesses and individuals interested in sponsoring your event.
Sponsorship can take the form of donated time, resources, or funding. For example, an event space could sponsor your benefit concert by donating the venue. Your musicians may donate their time and wave their typical performance fees. A corporate sponsor may provide monetary support to fund your marketing and promotion efforts. The more donations you can get will increase the impact of your event.
Finally, a corporate sponsor might also be willing to provide a match for your event. This can help drive donations at your benefit concert if attendees know that their $20 donation, for example, will equal $40 with the match.
7. Keep Your Fundraising Goal in Focus for Attendees
You want your attendees to have fun, but you also want them to remember that this night is about more than music. Remind them that by coming to your benefit concert, they can make a difference by supporting your cause.
A good way to keep your audience motivated to reach your fundraising goal is to keep that goal front and center. After all, people are more likely to donate when they see that you’re close to reaching your goal. This is the goal proximity effect, where individuals feel like they can be the ones to push you over the finish line and ensure your success.
Plan to incorporate a fundraising thermometer at your benefit concert that updates in real time to show progress toward your goal. In between sets, your emcee can draw attention to the status bar as they share stories about your nonprofit’s impact or introduce short videos about your work. You can also encourage your musicians to cheer on the crowd’s giving to keep the event’s meaning in focus for attendees.
Get Ready to Rock for a Great Cause
There are lots of details to iron out in any fundraising event, but following these tips will help you handle the unique concerns of hosting a benefit concert. This can be a great way to break out of your usual fundraising routine and bring more members of your local community to engage with your cause. Not to mention, by recruiting performers and each of their audiences, you can reach beyond your base of supporters and connect with people who may never encounter your organization otherwise.
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