The State of Fundraising in a Fickle Economy

Mike Lawson • Fundraising • August 5, 2009

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Fundraising can be challenging for any school’s music program. How does a music educator convince his or her school district to pump money into the music department? How does a band director motivate students and parents to organize a car wash or a fruit sale? How does one convince a community to fund a high school band’s trip to China? In the best of times, this can be laborious work for any band director. And, as we all know, the past year has not been the best of times economically. With staggering unemployment rates, crippling budget cuts, and consumer fear, how are school music programs going to secure the funds they need in the coming year? SBO recently contacted band directors who are not only facing this challenge, but are doing so in states that have some of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

Vince Clayton: Due to the economic crisis, I believe most families in our area are watching their budgets more closely and are being very selective when spending money on the various fundraisers that are offered. Although our school district is in good shape, I do have parents who have lost their jobs. There are other schools and organizations close to us with worthwhile causes. We have to plan carefully and know our target groups.

We’ve had to make adjustments to our fundraising efforts. We look for the less expensive ticket items. Instead of the $18 cheesecake, we look for slightly smaller and less expensive items. We use a local fundraiser company. Our booster club raises about 40 percent of the entire budget. Families pay about 36 percent in camp fees, and the school and district budgets make up the remaining 24 percent. We have been fortunate to find a local fundraiser who understands the needs of our program and the community that we are in. We have been loyal to them, and they have been loyal to us. We also have an active booster club with parents who find new ways to meet our needs.

Much of our money is spent on equipment, supplies, and staff. None of these expenses have decreased. We have to find ways to raise money without turning the students into weekend door-to-door salespeople. We ask the students to fundraise three times a year. Typically, we have a cheesecake sale beginning at summer band camp, a fruit sale just before Christmas, and a consumable product in late winter, early spring. In addition, the booster club runs a marching band competition, concessions at University of South Carolina, and sponsors dinners and other events throughout the year. Students also pay a reasonable fee for summer marching band camp and a two-day winter symphonic band camp.

Surprisingly, our program has not suffered any budget cuts. I am very fortunate to work in a school district which has a reserve plan in place. But it cannot work forever. I just hope that the country can rebound soon. I support having some sort of a music specialist on the national government level. It would certainly be nice if money were allocated for music education.

Michael D. Stone: Two years ago, California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed into law two block grants designed to support the purchase of new art and music supplies and equipment for California schools, and to hire credentialed music teachers. The Bakersfield City School District has purchased close to $2,000,000 worth of new musical instruments and equipment for its schools, and provided additional instructional support.

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