Fundraising For Theatre: Crowdfunding

Welcome to the second installment of our series on fundraising strategies for small theatres.  Part 1 covered applying for arts grants but today’s installment is about a less traditional, but equally effective, strategy: Crowdfunding.


Crowdfunding is a powerful new form of financial democracy that leverages social media and the Internet to extend the influence of grant-making institutions to the general public.  But what the heck does that mean??  It means that crowdfunding is a way to involve your community as a part of the theatre making process.  Instead of treating your supporters as passive audience members or donees, a well crafted crowdfunding campaign turns them into co-producers.  Just don’t let any of your co-producers force you to cast their girlfriend, like in NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT!

While you shouldn’t promise to cast anybody’s girlfriend, Crowdfunding is more like a business pitch than a request for charity so your sponsors should get something in return.  You can offer many of the same perks that you would offer to traditional sponsors: ad space in your program, free tickets, perhaps a plaque or private reception for the bigger spenders.  Or you can get more creative by allowing your sponsors to sit in on rehearsals or treat them to lunch with the director.

The sense of ownership offered by crowdfunding provides a double benefit as it not only acts as an incentive for supporters to contribute, but it also helps raise awareness of your show and gets people talking about it.  Crowdfunding is simultaneously fundraising and marketing.  When the current Broadway musical Allegiance launched its crowdfunding campaign, fundraising was not even their primary objective.  Lorenzo Thione, the show’s producer and writer recalled their reasoning that “[t]here really aren’t any avenues for people to feel like they’re able to support a show, so crowdfunding was emerging as a way of people feeling like they were able to get some kind of participation… And actually it went well beyond our expectations. I think we raised about $160,000 from that.”  Similarly, Lee Overtree, the co-writer of the 2014 Off-Broadway musical Found stated that his show’s crowdfunding campaign was based on the understanding that “[we can] rally a grassroots community of people [who] will feel a sense of personal pride when the show opens,” adding that he hopes this sense of ownership will prompt contributors to convince the people in their networks to buy tickets and create buzz.

Skeptical that crowdfunding can also work for small theatres and schools? Let these school campaigns speak for themselves:

Here’s a high school in quiet Bath, Maine, that raised $6,025 for a new light board.

This drama club in Somerville, Massachusetts has no financial support from the school. The students raised $610 to compete in their local drama festival and see a professional production together.

Here’s a drama teacher in Boyle Heights, California, who raised $2,463 to start his school’s drama club and mount its very first production.

This San Francisco-area high school raised $4,101 for a particularly effects heavy production..

California’s McFarland High School raised $2,786, most of which was given in $25 donations, for their set, sounds, orchestra, and costumes.   It was a triumphant victory against recent budget cuts.

Believe it or not, this Alameda, California high school raised a whopping $12,570 to put toward rebuilding its rehearsal space and future productions.

One thing that these successful campaigns have in common is they used the platform to tell their story honestly and compellingly. Who are you? What are you trying to create, and what are the costs? This part should be easy – after all, storytelling is what we do every day as theatre-makers.

crowdfundingFortunately there’s no shortage of crowdfunding platforms.  Kickstarter and Indiegogo are popular favorites.  Rally is a relative newcomer that integrates seamlessly with social networks to spread the word about your campaign, and CrowdRise offers a beautiful interface with impressive ease-of-use.

A caveat about crowdfunding: as great as the Internet is, it only makes your job as a marketer slightly easier. It’s still up to you and your students to get the word out initially, though momentum can pick up fast. Ask each of your students to share the campaign with five people; if any of those people donate, ask them to share it with another five. You don’t need to ask for much – in most of the above examples, the majority of donations were $100 or less. What matters is you get your campaign in front of the people who want to give.