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How to Throw a Benefit Concert in 4 Simple Steps


By Allison Gauss

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Published November 11, 2014 Reading Time: 4 minutes

The charity walk or run is generally a go-to event for nonprofits of nearly all sizes. But with everyone and their mother’s charity hosting a 5K, 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’re looking for.

You may have seen some of the big shows on TV. Just in the past few years, Bruce Springsteen, Alicia Keys, Jack Johnson, and Stevie Wonder have lent their time and their voices to causes ranging from Hurricane Sandy relief to helping family farmers to the fight against AIDS. But benefit concerts aren’t just for the famous and wealthy.

In this post, we’re going to cover how a smaller nonprofit can organize a concert and fundraise by mobilizing artists’ friends, family, and community to help. We’ll first look at planning and performers. Then we’ll cover promotion, fundraising, and other revenue sources.

Step 1: Choosing Your Show

First, ask yourself, “What kind of show do you want to put on?”

Before you start calling every musician you know and selling tickets, you need to have a plan. Start with what size of event you think your organization can host and how many people you want to attract.

If you’re located in a less populous area or have very limited resources, you can simply host a few performers in a local community space. 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.

Once you know the scale of your event, think about whether there will be a specific genre or style of music on display. You can have an entirely acoustic folk concert or loud battle of the bands.

To choose a musical direction, find out what your community is interested in. Does country dominate the airwaves or is hip-hop the biggest crowd pleaser? If there isn’t a prevailing style, you can also host a variety of performers, as long as you have the equipment they need.

An important detail to settle is your venue. Knowing the setting of your event will make it easier to recruit performers and promote the concert. If your venue already hosts musical acts, it can also be a great way to network and contact musicians.

Step 2: Setting the Lineup

Now it’s time to get some rock stars on the bill. Ok, you probably won’t be asking Bono to play, but recruiting your performers isn’t just about putting on a show. The artists you partner with will be a key element of your marketing and fundraising.

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 will likely bring their friends and family to the event.
You can even 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.

A word to the wise: even if your acts are just starting out 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 will have on hand (water, snacks etc.). You won’t be able to tap into your local music community if performers hear you’re hard to work with.

Step 3: Promoting the Concert

If you’re holding a benefit concert to tap into new audiences, you will need to market it to them. Of course you should let your existing donors and supporters know about the event, but don’t miss out on all the local music-lovers who might be interested.

In this way, a benefit concert is actually a lot like peer-to-peer fundraising. Just like some people will donate to support a friend’s campaign even if they don’t know about your cause, there may be an audience who will come for your performers, rather than for your organization. And just like those peer-to-peer donors, you will have a great opportunity to introduce your nonprofit and get them involved.

Beyond your usual communication channels, be sure to promote in places like:

  • Record stores and music shops
  • Music schools and local instructors
  • Performance venues

Ask the venue and the performers to promote the show on their social media accounts. Even relatively unknown artists can have thousands of followers.

Step 4: What You Do for the Money, Honey

Another great feature of having a benefit concert is that you can have multiple streams of revenue. Like I mentioned before, you can have musicians or other supporters make campaign pages along with your general campaign page.

Tickets will be a main fundraising source too. Making tickets available online beforehand will make it easier for people to commit to going, but don’t be surprised if you have a lot of people wanting to pay at the door. Make sure you have a cash box and mobile payment processor on hand.

Concessions and t-shirts are another way to raise money during the event. You can design an event t-shirt and have volunteers sell water and other drinks. If your venue will be offering food or drinks, ask if they are willing to designate the proceeds of a signature cocktail or treat to go to your cause.

Finally, you might be able to grab some last minute numbers if performers or an emcee remind the audience they can give through your mobile donation page. Someone is bound to be recording a performance, tell them to go online and donate since they’ve already got their smartphone out.

Ready to Rock

There are lots of details to be ironed out in any fundraising event, but taking care of these four steps 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. By recruiting performers and each of their personal audiences, you can reach beyond your base of supporters and connect people who may never have encountered your organization otherwise.


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