|Speaking at a fundraising event for Alaska Dance Theatre (2013)|
(Be sure to read to the bottom for a complete example of my recent fundraising letter)
In my first post of LOFD's Create Your Own Project series, I talked about the importance of fiscal sponsorship (which allows you to accept tax-deductible donations). Now that we are clear on the benefits of funneling your funds through a non-profit organization in hope of increasing the chances of more generous donations, your next step is to write a fundraising letter. Read on to find out how to fine-tune your initial asking campaign.
I don't know many dancers who outright enjoy asking people to donate money to their cause. Too often, artists live on the edge of poverty. So, when it comes to asking for money, many dancers shy away from this fearful act. Dancers are hard workers and often prefer to achieve their accomplishments through their own grit and determination. But there is nothing wrong with asking for assistance in creating your art and having the ability to survive financially throughout the creation process. Where is one to start in preparing correspondence with potential donors?
This may seem counterintuitive, but the first place any inspired artist should begin is with a business plan (the next topic in my Create Your Own Project series). To gain fiscal sponsorship, you will likely need to complete a loose proposal for your project; which should include your mission, project description, goals, budget, etc. By this point in the game, you need to have a more solid plan in place. You never want to be lacking in data when a potential donor asks you where their money will go. If a prospective sponsor catches you off guard and you aren't immediately prepared to explain the finely tuned details of your project, you will likely lose that prospect.
After your business plan is in place, it is time to begin writing. Of course, always start with a simple greeting, like"Dear Mrs. Johnson" or "Dear Dance Supporter." If you know their name, make sure to address the letter directly to them. But if you are going to ask a friend to share your letter with other potential donors, you may want to use a more general greeting to allow them freedom to send the letter on to their connections. Keep the length of your message down to one single-spaced page using a 12-point font of your choosing.
Now that you have the structure of your letter down, it is time to work on your content. When I first started writing my current fundraising campaign, my natural inclination was to prove my value to my audience and tell them why they should support me. Luckily, a great friend and supporter of mine, who just happens to be a professional dance writer, stepped forward and offered to mentor me through this process. Without their advice, I would have been lost. Throughout the editing phase, I learned that a first asking campaign usually goes out to people that love and support you. Therefore, less time needs to be invested in writing about your worthiness of their support. My friend kept returning to this statement, "Why does this project matter to your audience?" Essentially, patrons are more likely to support your work when your subject means something to them.
Your letter should be very concise and to the point. Start the body of your letter by drawing your reader into the subject matter of the project and ask why it is relevant to your audience. Next, speak directly about the project. Only include key details, as the finer details may cause the reader to lose interest before they get to the ask. Since most projects are deeply personal to the creator, it is easy to go on a rant about aspects of the work that are only important to yourself. This is why it is pertinent to have a neutral party edit your first drafts. The last thing you want is to offer information that is meaningless to the person reading.
After sharing the details of your hopeful creation, you need to ask for an exact amount of money and explain why you need that amount. If you need $500, ask for $500. If you need $10,000, ask for $10,000. If you are shy about asking and somebody does decide to give, you will receive the lower amount. But if you ask for what you need, and they choose to invest at a lower level, you are still ahead of the game. Be sure to include clear details on the allocation of their donation.
Now that you have talked about money, you should give a short summation of your background and qualifications. This helps to build trust in the integrity of the final product and shows your ability to follow through with your promises. Keep in mind that a donation is an act of trust. People give out of trust that you will be honest about your intentions and follow through with a quality product. Again, don't go overboard, as most of the people you reach out to already know your achievements and work ethic.
The final paragraph of your letter should restate the need for public support and offer information on how to donate. If you plan to correspond via email, be sure to include links to your past work and donation page. Also, check with your fiscal sponsor to see if you are required to include any fine print, as many do. Be sure to mention that you are willing to accept any level of donation if they are not able to meet your exact request.
Once you have completed a few drafts of your letter and let another pair of eyes edit your work, you need to determine your audience. Look at how much you are asking for and be practical. If you know somebody has been having financial difficulties or recently encountered a major expense (medical, car repairs, etc.), wait until later in the campaign to reach out to them when you are seeking smaller amounts to cover lesser costs. Try not to ask for money around big holidays or in the midst of tax season. Don't be shy, but ask yourself, "Would this be a big or small stretch for Mr./Mrs. ______?" From there, determine whether you'll send this letter via email or physically. Keep in mind that sending a letter in the mail is more professional, but will incur greater cost before you have received funding. You will need to retroactively put this into your budget. If you are trying to cut down costs, send your letter via email. I actually prefer email because it allows me to add a link to my choreography and donation page.
Now that you better understand the art of writing a fundraising letter, keep scrolling down to check out the letter that I recently developed for my upcoming project. With that said, readers of Life of a Freelance Dancer, please allow me to introduce my upcoming project, Core-ography.
(I am offering this as a tool. This letter/project is my property and can/should not be replicated or reproduced in any way, part, shape, or form. I retain the rights to the letter/project/intellectual property below)
Greetings Dance Supporter,
We’ve all been through times when immense growth and significant challenge seem to go hand-in-hand. Commonly, we look back at these experiences as positive building blocks in our lives. But did you feel you had to keep private and deal with things all on your own? Did you worry how people would judge you if you admitted that you were less than happy and content all the time?
My new project, Core-ography, tackles these questions through dance. We’ll travel the globe to tell dancer’s defining stories and promote the idea that it can be positive to share life’s most revelatory moments. Our Core-ography channel will be easily accessible on Youtube, making it available to audiences worldwide. I am writing you to ask for your help in making this unique project come to fruition.
Each artist will be interviewed to pinpoint their most defining experiences. After, we will collaborate to create a choreographic expression of their personal story as public art. This project brings superhuman dancers down to their most human qualities and inspires people to share without judgment.
Here is where your support is crucial. The initial phase of Core-ography costs $50,000. I am seeking 12 Core-sponsors to make a tax-deductible donation of $2,000, which will give us solid footing to work from for our first 12 artists. Dancers from companies in New York City, London, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Seattle, Atlanta, Washington D. C., Richmond, and more are already prepared to work on this project.
My experience spans more than a dozen years working with some of the nation’s most prestigious dance organizations. I have choreographed for the National Choreographers Initiative and won an Outstanding Choreographer award at the Youth America Grand Prix international ballet competition. I am excited to use my skills to offer mental health awareness through dance and film.
Your generous gift will cover the cost of travel, accommodations, facilities, legal fees, compensation, and more. Core-sponsors receive direct acknowledgement in artist videos and insider updates. Your support gives us legs to lift this project off the ground and into the studio. The remainder of costs for Core-ography will be covered by grants and a crowd-sourced funding campaign.
Please help me make Core-ography possible by sponsoring an artist today! If you are unable to be a Core-sponsor, donations of any amount are welcome and greatly appreciated. Donations can be made online via this link or by check (see below). Checks can be mailed to: Barry Kerollis, PO Box 63723, Philadelphia, PA 19147.
Barry Kerollis is a member artist of New York Live Arts, Inc., a non-profit tax-exempt organization. Contributions in support of Barry Kerollis’ work are greatly appreciated and may be made payable to New York Live Arts, Inc., earmarked for “the New York Live Arts member project of Barry Kerollis.” A description of the work and current project activities for which such contributions will be used are available from Barry Kerollis or New York Live Arts, upon request. All contributions are fully deductible to the extent allowed by law. (Note: A copy of New York Live Arts’ latest annual financial report filed with New York State Department of State may be obtained by writing to the N.Y.S. Dept. of State Charities Registration, 162 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY, 12231, or to New York Live Arts, 219 West 19th Street, New York, NY, 10011)