Think Outside the Box to Raise Cash for Your Company

June 4, 2008

The arts on the whole in the U.S. receive little government funding, and the flow of such money to dance companies barely makes a trickle. To stay afloat, many companies have come up with their own innovative fundraising initiatives. If your troupe is looking for a respite from run-of-the-mill campaigns, take a cue from the following groups.

Making a Mark

As head of Camarillo, CA–based L.A.C.E. Dance Theater, Caitlyn Carradine has found a creative way to paint a prettier financial picture for her one-woman dance company. Initially hatched as a means of raising seed money to start L.A.C.E., the company’s Dancing with Paints program has turned into a lucrative quarterly fundraiser.


During Dancing with Paints performances, Carradine dons pointe shoes dipped in colorful paints and dances on a stage floor made from thin pieces of faux-canvas covered hardboard from Home Depot that vary in size. By the end of the show, each piece is a work of art that is then sold as a souvenir to audience members. “What ends up on the canvas is a byproduct of what the show is,” explains Carradine. “Everyone says it looks like a tornado with stuff spiraling out of it.”


Though online and in-person auctions have been held to sell the artwork in the past, Carradine’s current approach is more simple. An announcement is made before performances asking interested buyers to approach her after the show. She also uses the entrance area to displaying past performance pieces that are still available for purchase.


Besides the financial benefits, Carradine is pleased with the built-in advertising the Dancing with Paints program affords. The paintings are mementos of the company’s work and encourage positive word-of-mouth. Reaction has been favorable, with Carradine being asked to perform at special events such as the Venice Art Walk and the Beverly Hills Affair in the Gardens. “It doesn’t seem like a normal fundraiser that has the stigma of asking for money,” says Carradine. “People genuinely like it; they get to go home and put my feet on their wall.”

Charity Begins at Home

When Hilary Thomas was asked to put together a performance for a charity organization in 1999, she had no idea it would blossom into a full-blown contemporary dance company. So goes the birth of Lineage Dance Company, a Pasadena, CA–based group that specializes in benefit shows.


After the success of the initial performance, inquiries started pouring in from other interested organizations, resulting in “exponential growth,” according to Thomas. Having recently celebrated its hundredth performance, the company now does three or four performances per month benefiting causes ranging from Habitat for Humanity to the Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance. Seventy percent of proceeds are donated to the sponsoring charity, while the dance company keeps the rest of the profit as their main means of fundraising.


Thomas says that performing on the charity circuit has been a great way to reach new audiences and raise more money. “The charities we work with normally have a set mailing list made up of people who have nothing to do with dance,” says Thomas. “It generates a whole new buzz that we can’t create on our own.”


Collaborating with charities has also proven to be a great way to learn more about effective fundraising. “It’s great working with people [who] already have a lot of experience raising money and putting on events,” says Thomas. It seems the good karma earned by aiding charity has paid off for Lineage, as the company is currently traveling all over the country for performances. “Word of mouth has been keeping us busier than we could ever imagine,” she says.

Pull Up by the Bootstraps

While it may not be surprising to hear that a company with 75 student dancers must exert extra fundraising effort, Dallas-based Body Talk Dance Company has an even more potent challenge since its young members hail from wildly disparate income levels. “Part of our mission is to provide dance training to kids no matter what their background,” says Artistic Director Kimberly Willett of the preprofessional company. Considering the convention and costume fees it incurs, says Willett, “this is an expensive undertaking. We had to find a way to even it out between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’”


The company’s answer to the dilemma is its Bootstraps program, a yearlong effort during which company members are responsible for their own fundraising initiatives. “We didn’t want the kids to get handouts,” says Willett. “We wanted to introduce the concept of earning money and encourage an appreciative mentality.”


The program is work-based and enables company members to volunteer their time for fundraisers ranging from gift-wrapping services to food sales held in the strip mall where the studio is based. Dancers determine their own levels of involvement depending on need. “Most of our fundraisers are for the good of the group as a whole, but the Bootstraps fundraisers are designed for those who nee d to raise money above and beyond,” says Willett. “In the end, it benefits everyone.”