Fundraising is a difficult but important part of many feminist projects; interestingly, male privilege means it is often easier for men to raise money for a women’s shelter or hotline than for women to do it. If we take on some of that work, where our privilege is especially helpful, it also leaves women and people of other genders with more time and energy to devote where their specific life experiences give them more expertise!
Unrelatedly: music is amazing. Musicians are often cool people, many just want to go out and share their talents with an audience, and some even write or cover songs specifically about gender justice! That said, the music industry is notoriously sexist – so it’s always good to push back against that a bit.
Put these ideas together: host a benefit concert!
- Fun, interesting way to raise funds for a local or national feminist organization.
- Lots of opportunities to add community education while you’re recruiting musicians, advertising the event, and interacting with the audience.
- Can be used to help boost women’s voices and provide opportunities for women in the male-dominated music world.
- Once you have the organizational foundation laid for the first one, it’s easy to make this a recurring event – annually, monthly, even bi-weekly.
What you’ll need:
- Friends/contacts who are musicians or know the local music scene.
- Paper/printing funds, for advertising and recruiting.
- Possibly a sound system, depending on your venue.
- Select a cause – who will your funds be going towards?
- You may already have one you’ve worked with, or you can find a local shelter or similar organization with these search pages.
- National organizations like the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, Planned Parenthood, Emily’s List, the National Partnership for Women & Families, The National Network of Abortion Funds, event the Girl Scouts all have pages for you to donate, so you have lots of options.
- Contact them first to let them know what you are planning and make sure they are excited about it (or change it until they are). Let them know you do not need them to be involved, but are open to their ideas, feedback, and guidance if they want to give it. Mention that they are welcome if they would like to come to the event, speak on stage or put up an informational booth, provide fliers or materials, etc. (there is an important, fine line to walk here, where you are being accountable to them without making more work for them – be aware of that and make it clear to your contact that you are trying to navigate it carefully)
- Find a venue – brainstorm about local coffee shops, small music venues, youth/student centers, or local bars that might be willing to host your event. You can try calling, but often showing up in person is more effective. Tell them what you’re planning, who you will be benefitting, and what they will get out of it (good exposure and a reputation as supporting good causes; a big audience that will buy drinks; a dedicated group of guys who will do the organizational/logistics work; etc.). When you find a place that is interested in hosting:
- Check about sound for the show: do they have their own sound system you can use? Does it require a dedicated sound tech, and if so, do they have one they recommend? If they don’t have amplification, are you allowed to bring in your own (this will create an extra step of borrowing or renting a sound system; many guitar/music stores will rent them for the evening, often calling it a “PA system”), and if so, how big do they recommend?
- Discuss their policy about door fee vs. donations, where you make your money and where they make theirs. Do you need to have someone at the door to collect money, or do they do that? Do they have a cash box and change, or do you provide that? How much do they usually charge for cover, and will they be taking a cut or donating the space?
- Ask about the availability of tables, chairs, anything else you might need.
- Start looking at available dates.
- Recruit musicians – brainstorm a list of local musicians and start getting in touch. Ask friends, post fliers, send out e-mails or FB posts, and cast a wide net.
- If you can get a big local name to headline, that is great.
- When you finding acts, make sure there are women artists too, to provide a performance opportunity to women, who are often shut out of these opportunities.
- Check on the diversity of your performers (race, sexuality, gender identity, but also musical style, instrumentation, social circles, etc.) because the more diverse your performers are, the bigger of an audience you are going to bring in.
- Talk to your acts and see if they could play a song that relates to gender (in)equality, whether it is original or a cover (There are plenty of songs for them to choose from and these lists have more). This helps the show match the theme, and –bonus – means your local musicians are more invested in the issues you care about.
- Make sure you hear everyone before you confirm their spot, and preferably have a conversation with them about the cause and what is and is not appropriate music for the show – you might get acts that are excited to play any show they can book, but are not very good, or would want to play sexist songs, and neither is going to benefit you.
- Lots. However and wherever you can, including by word of mouth. Consider including some community education while you’re doing it.
- Make a Facebook event, invite your friends, and share the link on local pages that might be interested (women’s studies departments, groups you are allied with, etc.). Make sure you share it with the organization you are funding for!
- Contact local papers. Get on their “entertainment” page, and see if they would like to do an article about the event. If they would, make sure you are aware of the pedestal effect (page 10 here), navigate it carefully, and give lots of credit to the women you are supporting.
- Get it on events calendars.
- Make sure your acts all have materials (fliers, e-mails, FB links) and also advertise, so they bring their fans and friends.
- Arrange for a final check-in with the venue, performers, and your group. Make sure you know what time everyone is going to get there to set up, what order the musicians are going, who is going to talk between acts to give them time to set up, who is taking money at the door, who is running sound and who is helping them with any trouble they run into, etc. If possible, do a dress rehearsal or walk-through in the space with at least a few of the acts, so you can work out any kinks in advance.
- Set up a booth/table at the entrance, both to collect cover/take extra donations and to educate people about the cause you are benefitting.
- Between sets, thank the last performer(s), give some educational messaging (about your organization and how to joice , local resources, women’s history and musical accomplishments, etc.), and mention how much you’ve already raised and that people can donate more to help XYZ cause. It’s especially effective if you can give a close goal and what it’ll buy: “We’re just $30 away from $500, which will safely house and feed a woman and her children for their first week away from an abusive partner.” “Twenty more dollars gets us to $100, which will buy robotics kits for a trouble of ten girl scouts!” Occasionally remind people to buy drinks and tip well if appropriate, because the venue is supporting you and making the event possible.
- Troubleshoot any problems that come up.
- At the end of the show, announce how much was raised. Thank all your acts, thank the venue, and thank anyone else who helped pull the event together.
- Clean up as much as you can, so the venue feels good about having you there.
- Conclude and consider repeating the event.
- Discuss what was successful and what was not. Decide if you’d be interested in doing another benefit concert in the future, and if so, how often.
- Make notes about what you did well and how you did it, and also about what you could do better or what ideas you have to improve the next event.
- Collect all your materials, see what can be re-used.
A benefit show is not only a wonderful way to raise some money and bring a big community together around a gender justice cause – they’re also a lot of fun! Hopefully you enjoy putting one on, and if you have any success stories, tips for how to improve on what’s above, or ways to build/tailor this (benefit comedy night?) , leave them in the comments!