Poverty Over: A Fundraising Concert by RESULTS Austin

October 18, 2011
by David Chapman, RESULTS Austin partner

You may have heard Austin referred to as the Live Music Capital of the World. It is not an idle boast, so RESULTS Austin decided late last spring to go with an Austin strength and try to produce a benefit concert for our fall fundraiser.

We started with, perhaps, an unfair advantage in the effort. I had an “in” to the closely-guarded music scene through my son’s membership in a successful Austin-based band. My connections put me in touch with the booking agent for the third largest venue in town. The agent expressed immediate interest in the project, and agreed to discuss it with the venue’s owners. This was no mom-and-pop, downtown bar. I knew it was a wildly popular spot to see live music in Austin, and I knew the performance space had an 800-person audience capacity. We got a little excited. Once the venue owners agreed to support the project and waive nearly all fees, we were really eager to get everything nailed down for this first-ever, amazing RESULTS Austin benefit concert!

I provided the booking agent with a two-paragraph introduction to RESULTS, along with our event concept, and she went shopping for bands willing to donate or discount performance fees. (I had expected this to be my job!) The arrangement was that the bar would keep proceeds from drink sales, the artists could sell their merchandise (like CDs and t-shirts), and we would keep event ticket sales as well as any excess donations.

And then things seemed to grind to a frightening and frustrating halt. We had a date but little else. We did not know the start or end time, the number of bands that would play, or whether we would need any funds to pay those bands. In fact, we simply had no music lined up for our music event. To make matters worse, people in the music business don’t reliably return phone calls, answer e-mails, or reply to text messages. (Consulting with others more seasoned in the business confirmed our experience was not unique.)

Two months went by with very little tangible progress and spotty contact with the booking agent. We began to have real doubts we were going to have an event.  Then, six weeks out from the event date, in response to what I expected to be a final e-mail to the agent offering to cancel, we received confirmation that we had scored one of the most popular local bands to open the evening.

But we still needed a headliner.

Two more LONG weeks went by before we got word that our #1 pick to headline the show had agreed to play for free! We were now four weeks from show time, and suddenly in a dead run.

Then the amazing began to happen:

  • A young graphic artist donated her time to create a poster and RESULTS Austin’s Eloise got them printed for free.
  • A local poster hanging service placed 250 of our signs all over town at a discounted non-profit rate.
  • Another RESULTS friend wrote a press release and posted it on every online TV/radio/newspaper event calendar in town, while Eloise and Elaine contacted editors and radio and TV personalities.
  • RESULTS t-shirts were ordered from DC.
  • Eloise had banners with RESULTS’ logo and web address made to hang at the venue.
  • RESULTS Austin’s Anne created a Facebook event.
  • I consulted with friends who helped me create RESULTS Austin Facebook and Twitter accounts.
  • The entire RESULTS Austin team sent fundraising letters to supporters.
  • The venue put us up on its website and configured advance ticket sales with a sales tax waiver and donation ticket prices set above the door price.

We planned two actions for the event. First we created a petition asking the Obama Administration to pledge $375M over the next three years to the Global Partnership for Education. This was done via the new White House online petition service website. Our hope for the event was to direct concert attendees to the website to sign. As a backup we planned a second approach to the GPE request; RESULTS Austin’s Susan created a poster-sized postcard to Secretary Clinton asking for the $375M GPE pledge. Pens were attached to the card for signatures. At the 11th hour, a friend suggested we take clipboards to the event and collect names and e-mail addresses in person. With the promise of a free RESULTS t-shirt and a guest pass to the show, we recruited several young people to canvas the crowd. Last, but not least, I emceed the event, attempting to give a crisp introduction to RESULTS and then making the big ask for our postcard and petition actions.

Whew! We were set.

We sold 301 tickets and raised about $6,500 dollars after expenses, with supplemental donations from regular supporters. The bar had a good night (for a Wednesday) and actually kicked in some of the bar sales as an additional donation. It was also encouraging to hear everyone at the venue say they hope we do it again next year.

We launched our name and cause out to 300 young people who had never heard of us, not counting the hundreds or thousands who saw the concert poster, community calendar postings, and newspaper listings.

So far we have fewer than 50 signatures on the online petition. The site is difficult to use, and we over-estimated the likelihood of the crowd using smartphones on the spot to participate, even with beautiful QR code posters (also donated) to allow for easy scan access to the petition’s webpage. We have sent follow-up emails to everyone who bought a ticket online and to everyone who gave us their name and e-mail address. Ten days after the e-mail was sent, about 30% of the e-mails had been opened, 20% had bounced and 2% have requested to be unsubscribed from our mailing list. The giant postcard attracted some signers, but the place we posted it did not work well. We also discovered that “Poverty Over” was not a unique idea for an event name. We may need to come up with a new name next time. We see ways to improve outcomes next time.

We sold a few t-shirts, did not have to bake cookies or do dishes, had a few drinks, heard some great music, stayed out past our bedtimes and had a good time. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we didn’t flop. We see ways to improve donations and messaging if we do it again. And we think this success will make recruiting bands a little easier next time around.

Stay tuned. We just may try this again!

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