Use Your Dance Skills to Fundraise for Charity

June 16, 2008

Between school, dance classes, rehearsals and performances, you probably have little spare time to fundraise for your own dance group, let alone raise money for others. So why sacrifice your time and creative energy for another organization? Charity work provides a balance between community service and studio-centered activities such as competition and recital. “Giving back” is a great way to unite your performing group, demonstrate the power of the arts and help you remember the big picture. “It’s a growing experience,” says Ariadne Villarreal, producing director for Dancers Responding to AIDS, a national fundraising organization that relies on financial contributions from studios and individuals around the nation. “Dancers who are involved with nonprofits learn to be better people, not just kids who want to win a trophy.”

Shop for a Cause

The first step is to decide what charity you would like to support. Talk to fellow dancers about the issues closest to their hearts. Do you want to donate money for tsunami relief? Are you interested in aiding an international student exchange program? Maybe you’d like to invest directly in your own community by sponsoring a local soup kitchen, orphanage or women’s shelter, or support your artform by making contributions to a dance service group such as Career Transition For Dancers, which helps guide dancers into post-performing professions. Whatever tugs at your heartstrings, as performing artists, you and your fellow dancers are in a unique position to fundraise. Here are some guidelines.

Be a Community Leader

Kathy Willsey, co-director of the Academy of Dance Arts in Allen, TX, earmarks profits from annual performances for the city’s local Ronald McDonald House Charities. (Ronald McDonald Houses offer free or very low-cost accommodations for families who must travel to visit their hospitalized children.) “We have been doing The Nutcracker for years and decided to use one of the four shows as a fundraiser,” she says. “Every year it gets bigger.”


If you want to support a national organization, keep in mind that many—including DRA—have local chapters that ensure your donations will be channeled back into your community. “A lot of studios want to know their funds are going to their local communities, since the community supports their studio by going to performances and donating at fundraisers,” Villarreal says.


Raising money or goods for social causes specific to your own community is a great way to strengthen ties between your dance group and the locals, who will notice when you give back. For example, the University of Louisville Ladybirds Dance Team, DS’ cover subject this month, and other UL athletes volunteer with Dare to Care Food Bank, a local emergency food provider that was founded in 1971 after a local 9-year-old boy died of starvation on the eve of Thanksgiving Day. The athletes spearhead food drives on campus.


If you’re in high school and your state requires a certain number of community service hours for graduation, fundraising for a charity may qualify. Don’t forget to mention your experiences on your college applications and resumé.

Volunteer Time

If fundraising isn’t feasible, another way to help out is by donating your time. “Every organization needs volunteers,” says Kevin McAnarney, press agent for Career Transition For Dancers. “It’s the little stuff that’s so important. We need help licking stamps and mailing envelopes. It’s not glamorous work, but by cutting down administrative costs, we have more money to support our main focus.” Offer to spend an afternoon making phone calls or sorting papers. In exchange for your services, some organizations may let you include a promotional flyer about an upcoming performance in its mailings. Make a day of it. Afterwards, go out for coffee and talk about the experience with each other.


The Ladybirds accrue more than 400 hours of community service during the year. “We [volunteer] with groups that support those with juvenile diabetes and kids with Down syndrome—anything that is a good cause and will present our university in a positive light,” says Coach Sheryl Knight. “Some girls on the team also work with youth groups at the Boys and Girls Club, tutoring after school.”


Checkbook Checklist
Use these guidelines from the American Institute of Philanthropy ( when shopping for a charity.

1.    Need to Know: Anyone can claim to be a charity, but only true charities file financial reports (a 990 form and an audited financial statement), so be sure to request copies of these statements before donating. “Those documents are public, and [the charity] should provide them immediately,” says Vanessa Shinmoto, spokesperson for the AIP. Review the statement to determine how the charity is spending its funds. If the charity won’t provide you with the literature you request, shop around for another organization.

2.    Follow the Money: Find out how much of your donation will be put toward general administration expenses and how much goes toward the program services you are supporting. The AIP recommends supporting organizations that funnel at least 60 percent of funds to its program services, and no more than 40 percent toward administration costs. “Ask if they use a professional [for-profit] fundraiser,” Shinmoto says. “Organizations that do tend to be inefficient, because for-profit fundraisers can take up to 80 percent of the money raised, which thwarts the intention of the donor.”

3.    Put off Pressure: Don’t allow anyone to guilt you into on-the-spot contributions. Charity representatives should have a no-guilt, sincere approach.

4.    Records Rule: Keep track of every dollar you donate. Pay by check, not cash or credit by phone. Make sure the charity gives itemized receipts for tax purposes.

5.    Tax Terms: Be sure to understand your tax terminology. If a charity is “tax exempt,” it doesn’t have to pay taxes. “Tax deductible,” on the other hand, means that you, as a donor, can deduct contributions from your federal income tax return. “If you try to write off a donation to a tax-exempt organization, you could trigger an audit,” Shinmoto warns.

6.    Familiar or Fraud: Don’t be fooled by charities with impressive-sounding names that are similar to respected, well-known organizations. “This is very important with very popular causes, like cancer,” Shinmoto says. Ask for information in writing, contact the AIP or check with your state charity registration office before signing over a check.

7.    Don’t Be a Sucker: Beware of sob stories. If an organization is feeding you tragic, hard-luck stories, but few particulars about where your money is going and how it will be used, your money shouldn’t leave your bank account.

8.    Call the Authorities: Almost all agencies must file with the IRS, so make sure the charity is registered with federal, state and local authorities. For more, visit

9.    Gift Return: Watch out for charitable organizations bearing gifts in return for your donations. It is against the law for charities to demand payment for unordered merchandise.


Fund Alternatives
Fed up with car washes and bake sales? Step outside of the studio … and outside the box.

Profit Sharing.
“If you already have your season laid out, pick a performance or a run of performances and donate a percentage of the ticket sales to a nonprofit,” says Ann Norris, membership director and marketing/PR director for Dance USA. “Some organizations hold festivals and donate a portion of the money they make, or set up concerts to raise money for a certain cause, such as tsunami relief.”

Take the Kiddies.
“Babysitting fundraisers are a great idea around the holidays,” says Ariadne Villarreal, producing director for Dancers Responding to AIDS. “Parents can drop their kids off at the studio on a weekend while they do their shopping.” Dancers volunteer to work the fundraiser in shifts, playing games, teaching dance classes and reading books to the children.

Car Talk.
One of Villarreal’s favorites is valet parking at school recitals. Dancers over the age of 16 (with a driver’s license) who are not participating in the performance, or dancers’ parents, dress in black-tie attire and park cars for a nominal fee or a donation. All of the valet money can be donated to charity.

Offer prizes.
Villarreal suggests making the entire process a competition. If you’re heading up a fundraiser, ask your teacher if you can give a prize, such as a gift certificate to the studio store or a month of free classes, to the dancer who raises the most money or comes up with the best fundraising idea. 


Recent Events
Here are just two of the ways the dance community has come together to raise funds for tsunami relief.

•In Atlanta, several area dance companies organized a gala to raise money. Titled “Artists for Humanity,” the event featured dancers of The Georgia Ballet, Ballethnic Dance Company, Zoetic Dance Ensemble, Atlanta Festival Ballet and Ray Hall Dance Ensemble. Proceeds were donated to the Samaritan Children’s Home in Navalady, Sri Lanka. For more:

•In NYC, downtown dancers gathered for an eight-hour dance marathon at Dance Space Center called the “Wave of Humanity,” raising money for Action Against Hunger ( For more:


Where to Give
There are so many charitable organizations to choose from that finding a suitable one can sometimes be overwhelming. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started.

•American Red Cross
is a national organization with numerous local chapters. It deals with emergency response, international humanitarian care, disaster relief and educational programs to promote health and safety. Info: 888-778-7762;

•Boys & Girls Clubs of America
is a national youth organization with programs in education, the environment, health, the arts, careers, alcohol, drug abuse and pregnancy prevention, gang prevention, leadership development and athletics. Info: 404-487-5700;

•Career Transition For Dancers
empowers current and former pros with the knowledge, resources and skills needed to achieve a successful career after dance. Info: 212-764-0172;

•Dancers Responding to AIDS
is the fundraising arm of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and is the nation’s largest industry-based AIDS fundraising and grant-making organization. It provides support, care and services to performing artists living with HIV/AIDS. Info: 212-840-0770;

•Dance USA
is a national service organization for professional dancers, providing networking, career development, educational opportunities and research on a national level. Info: 202-833-1717;

•Make-A-Wish Foundation
is a national organization that grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions. Info: 602-279-9474;

•National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
is the oldest nonprofit dedicated to helping victims of eating disorders and their families with education and prevention programs, advocacy and support groups. Info: 847-831-3438;

•National Endowment for the Arts
was established by Congress in 1965, and is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts. Info: 202-682-5400;

•USA Freedom Corps
is a government volunteer network dedicated to raising money and mobilizing volunteers for organizations across the country. A list of credible agencies fundraising for the Tsunami Relief Effort is located on its website. Info: 877-872-2677;