How does your community orchestra raise money?

Edited: January 17, 2019, 9:28 PM · Hi all, I'm currently brainstorming for ideas on how to raise funds for our community orchestra.

Currently, we have corporate matching programs, ticket sales, and membership fees to cover our operating expenses (rent, conductor, score rental). But sometimes, these do not cover them all.

How does your community orchestra raise money to pay for operating expenses and specific projects? Bake sales? Gigs?

Context: Major city in the US. Amateur orchestra with >10 years history.

Replies (39)

January 17, 2019, 9:40 PM · We don't do ticket sales. We take donations, we charge membership fees, and we do the Amazon Smile match. We also do some stuff where the orchestra gets paid (mostly backing a chorus). And we apply for grants.

Edited: January 17, 2019, 10:27 PM · No ticket sales? Wow. That's great! Would you say most of your funding come from donations or grants?

Edit: Just checked out your orchestra... You do a lot of community outreach. The free adult camps and BSO/NSO masterclasses are really impressive. It feels like a semi-professional orchestra.

January 17, 2019, 10:57 PM · Off the top of my head, I think the grants are the bulk of our budget, and a lot of grants are contingent on community outreach. It takes time to build up grants over many years, as you generally start with a small grant, demonstrate success, and then apply for a bigger grant, etc.

It's definitely not a semi-pro group, but I do think that it's historically been very well managed -- and extremely frugal.

Edited: January 18, 2019, 2:04 AM · I can speak of three orchestras (two of which I currently play in, one of which I formerly played in), all in a mid-size US metro area.

Orchestra #1: semi-pro orchestra. About 40% from ticket sales. 2-3 events per year where the orchestra is paid, which amounts to maybe 10% of the budget. The rest includes a mixture of foundation grants, corporate sponsorships, and donations. No membership dues, and at least two professional seats in each section. IIRC, a permanent endowment (from a wealthy individual's estate) was what made it possible to transition from all-amateur to semi-pro in 2009.

Orchestra #2: mid-level community orchestra founded in 2013. The majority of the budget is direct public funding from the suburban city where the orchestra is based. Musicians pay membership dues. Concerts are mostly free (and this is a condition of the public funding); tickets are sold for only one fundraiser concert per year. There is also some money from donations. I believe this orchestra pays its conductor, librarian, guest soloists, and occasionally ringers.

Orchestra #3: low-level casual community orchestra. As of a year ago when I left the orchestra, all concerts were free and there were no membership dues. Almost entirely funded by individual donations, with a small amount of money from grants. No one is paid; the conductor is a volunteer too.

Edited: January 18, 2019, 8:19 AM · Here are the details relating to my 2 orchestras in London, UK.

#1, a high level adult amateur orchetsra: Members pay a subscription fee. Concerts are ticketed at £12 (£11 if bought in advance)and the price is the same for pensioners. The price for under 16s is £2 (£1 if bought in advance). we also have 1 concert a season for which the orchestra is enaged by a choral society and is paid a fee for this. We occassionally get engaged by other groups as well for which a fee is paid. We also allow local businesses to advertise in our programmes for a small fee. Lastly we run a bar at concerts which is profitable.

We used to get a grant from the local council but this got smaller and smaller over the years until it stopped altogether. Arts funding is now for one off projects, not ongoing things such as amateur orchestras. This rule was broughyt in by central Government, not the local council.

This orchestra used to make a loss, which a one point would have resulted in us being broke with 7 seasons but we turned it around and we make good profit every season now.

#2, a high level adult amateur orchestra: Members pay a subscription fee and concerts are ticketed. It is £15 for adults but I can't remeber the child or pensioner prices. We are afiliated with the isurance industry so have lots of sponsors because of this. In my 5 and a bit seasons we have not been engaged by any other groups so no additional income this way.

Overall we manage on the income we get but money is fairly tight based on what I've heard. We make use of larger and more expensive to hire venues for our concerts than orchestra #1 despite have a lower membership count.

Edited: January 18, 2019, 8:56 AM · For 33 years (1963 - 1995) I was associated with a community orchestra that was incorporated as a 501C3 not-for-profit corporation so donations were tax free. I served on the board twice, the last time as president. We were linked to the local United Way organization which was another source of funds.

Our only expenses were usually for rented or purchased music and for hired hired conductors who since ~1985 have had to drive over 100 miles to reach us from larger cities. All our players were unpaid (although there was a time when we did have to hire some out-of-town "ringers"). After 1964 all our conductors were paid professionals.

We used local facilities including local schools for rehearsals and concerts - including the local community college after 1975. By linking the orchestra to the college we were able to share the cost of the conductor with the college, although his transportation and sometimes overnight costs were carried by the orchestra. For several years we were able to use the music instructor at the local college as conductor and share expense with the college.

I now play in a conductor-less chamber "pay-to-play" orchestra of about 30 musicians. Our concertmaster is our leader and she is paid for rehearsals and concerts. We do not charge for attendance but collect donations for worthy charities. We have existed for 7 years and many of our players have had professional links to music. Our expenses are the costs of reproducing music (mostly from IMSLP), printing concert programs, and the concertmaster's stipend. We have a steering committee ("board"??) of 6 players that can usually accomplish the goals of meetings by email. The board is led by the horn player who founded the orchestra. The entire orchestra will have "the talk" (its first one) next Tuesday about future directions to take - including the possibility of enlarging our goals including musical directions, outreach, and funding including the possibility of 501C3 status. Personally, I will be happy to see nothing change.

January 18, 2019, 7:48 AM · I think, to raise maney for orchestra is very close to raise money for the dancing semi- proffesional club.

To operate we do:
1) grants applications. Everywhere, including banks, major companies in area etc. They support specific projects (performing at schools, handicap centres, hospitals etc), we get some money.
2) we perform for private events- weddings, birthdays, corporate days etc.
3) we sell stuff with our logo, calenders, notebooks, t-shirts, bags etc.
4) we sell tickets only occasionally.
5) we organise buffet to every our event, and all the profit comes to our cashbox.

January 18, 2019, 8:07 AM · For those of you with corporate sponsorships (more than just advertising in the program, which is another source of my orchestra's funds): What process did you go through to get them?
January 18, 2019, 8:10 AM · Ticket sales, a yearly banquet for supporters, and sponsorship. We have a concept where, when we perform various pieces at a concert, people can sponsor the score of a particular piece they like.
Edited: January 18, 2019, 8:35 AM · For those who get grants and donations, how many have community outreach? How big are your regular audience sizes?

The thing with those, you have to prove social impact. Our orchestra has roughly 200 people per concert. That’s roughly 3-4 people per orchestra member.

@Lydia RE corporate sponsorships: It really helps when one of your members is part of the company. Otherwise, we cold call local businesses and ask. Many of them are willing to give in-kind donations (i.e. cases of beer, sports tickets). For the larger monetary donations, I have no clue. Andrew and Alex seem to have this down.

@Andrew I came across your 19-yr old post. Interesting to hear updates from you. https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/27029-running-a-civiccommunity-orchestra/

January 18, 2019, 8:53 AM · Carl - I'd forgotten all about writing that.
January 18, 2019, 9:42 AM · My current orchestra gets an audience that's essentially big enough to fill the church we perform our concerts in, which is close enough to the size of your audience (Carl's) for comparison purposes. However, when we play choral concerts, we play in a bigger church with a significantly larger audience (no doubt because everyone in the chorus pulls family/friends in).

My past community orchestra in the Bay Area could get 800+ people to a concert, but in general, the community orchestras here in the DC area tend to play in smaller venues.

Our county's arts organization conducts business-impact surveys for performing arts organizations that receive grants. That means that we have to periodically survey our audience, asking them what they did because they went to the concert -- for instance, did they eat dinner out because they were going to the concert? That allows them to quantity the impact on local businesses; typically a modest grant to a performing arts organization has significant returns on money spent at other businesses.

Edited: January 18, 2019, 10:04 AM · When my local orchestra got a gramt from te local council we used to do an annual childrens', ages 5-11, concert at their request. An hour long affair with no interval and free entry. I belive the council arranged the use of a venue, usually a church, free of charge for this purpose.

We would let the kids have a go at conducting afterwards and I remember having to play the end of the Willaim Tell overture, the famous bit starting with brass, on loop until all the kids had had their turn at conducting.

We did try to start this up again since the grant ended but with 6 concerts a seasonI don't think people were keen to squeeze another one in. I would have been up for it. I enjoyed the 1 we did but if I remeber correctly we did this as a full length concert as 1 of our 6 concerts that season.

If we ever perform anything needing a Childrens choir, typically opera, we will source one from a local school in the area. The kids seem to enjoy it and I am sure they have never gotten to perform with a full size symphony orchestra before.

It also seems that amateur musical groups in the UK get smaller audiances than the USA equivilants. My local orchestra might get an audiance of maybe 120-150 for a typical concert, although opera and film music are more popular and we can get close to filling the venue's capacity of 250 audiance seats. That said we did a concert well out of our patch, a choral programme, which was a sell out in a venue with an audiance capacity of 810.

My other London orchestra might get 300 audiance members typically at a guess. I expect a lot of these are people who work for are have links with the numerous sponsors the orchestra has. I remeber a crowd of maybe 500-600 people for one concert as the group who sponsered the event brought 200 people with them.

Edited: January 18, 2019, 3:56 PM · I am not involved in orchestra management in either of my orchestras, so I don't know exactly how the semi-pro orchestra gets sponsorships. It's the oldest orchestra in the area, which I assume helps somewhat, though being all amateur prior to 2009 means its profile was lower for most of its existence. I get the impression that some sponsorships come from orchestra members being part of the company, in a few cases corporate executives. Perhaps some other corporate sponsorships come from one of our annual events, which is a dinner concert at a private club whose membership includes most of the area's movers and shakers. The orchestra gets paid a little, but the real value is in the donations the event drums up each year, which are far larger than the fee the club pays.
January 18, 2019, 12:48 PM · I've been in several community orchestras over the years and served on their boards. Generally, money came from dues, ticket sales, and member donations. One orchestra rehearsed in a church, which they allowed us to do for free as long as we played a couple of times a year during their Sunday service. Another was paid to do a Christmas concert once a year with a church choir. All were supported by corporate donations and grants. One orchestra had been amassing a huge HUGE music library over 30+ years, so they almost never paid for music, which if you've ever rented music, can get really expensive. That group also had a couple of standing quartets that would play events and donate the fee to the orchestra. We tried fundraising events, but frankly, those are really time consuming to plan and never made as much money as we'd hoped by the time the expenses are taken out. Another orchestra held a composition contest- nominal entry fee, the winner gets some of the entry money and their piece is premiered by the orchestra (that was after I'd moved, so I don't know how that came off financially). I always wanted to try a pay what you want for your ticket, in the hopes that people would be willing to pay more than our standard price, but that would be a huge risk!
Edited: January 18, 2019, 1:11 PM · Re: grants and attendance...

Orchestra #1 (semi-pro) gets a significant portion of its grant money for educational programs, including two free childrens' concerts each year and sending musicians to do outreach and promote classical music in schools. Some grant money comes with no strings attached from the city's arts commission. Unusually, our arts commission evaluates applications solely through peer review, so artistic contribution to the community is the #1 criterion, though business impact and prudent fiscal management are also important considerations. (Adventurous programming has definitely been used in support of grant applications.) I'm uncertain about how the orchestra obtained other grants. This orchestra sells out a 780-seat venue for just over half of its concerts, and most of the rest are near-sellouts. When the concert involves a choir, we play in larger venues and attendance is typically 1,100-1,200. Attendance for the free children's concerts is typically between 200 and 400.

Orchestra #2 (suburban mid-level amateur orchestra) has funds allocated directly by the city council. Funds are contingent on at least three concerts a year being free. The orchestra has supported its funding requests by showing that it collects substantial donations for local charities. Average attendance is 300-400 for free concerts. Interestingly, the annual fundraiser concert (the only one for which we charge for admission) is usually the best-attended, drawing over 500. The fundraiser concert is always a pops concert, which may explain the larger audience.

Orchestra #3 (lower-level amateur) gets a little bit of grant money, but as previously noted, the vast majority of funding is individual donations. Average attendance is 60-80, probably 80-90% of whom are friends or family of orchestra members.

Edited: January 18, 2019, 1:38 PM · Kroger cards. And once in a while some kind-hearted and well-heeled donor will plunk down a chunk of cash.
January 18, 2019, 2:32 PM · Andrew: ... It's the oldest orchestra in the area, which I assume helps somewhat, though being all amateur prior to 2009 means its profile was lower for most of its existence.

I would be very much interested how that transition happened. We are one of the oldest community orchestras in our city and we have been pretty low-key. I wonder if it was a large contributor, or the strengthening of community outreach that led to the orchestra's take-off.

K ch: Dancing in private events like weddings? That's interesting. Out of curiosity, what kind of dancing? Ballet dancing?

Lydia: That's another way to measure social impact! Grant writing, with its shrinking size, has turned into an art. Unfortunately, we do feed our audience. Maybe if we stop serving them food... :)

Alex: I feel like our orchestra is closest to your orchestra #2 minus the backing of the insurance group. Are you something like a London insurance orchestra? Do you mind expanding what it is to be affiliated with an insurance group? (i.e. financial backing of a large insurance company, or members who reside in a certain part of the city that's home to the largest insurance companies in the country)

Julie: I agree that fundraisers can be a double-edged sword. For all the trouble you go through, sometimes it ends up barely above breakeven.

Paul: Joshua Bell, is that you? Maybe you'll need to play some more pop tunes in the subway. No one has 20 minutes to listen to your Chaconne, especially during rush hour. :)


I'm overall amazed with the operational scale people's orchestras perform under. Aside from the regular programming, there seems to be a lot of community outreach. Our orchestra is actually housed in a music school, so maybe we can leverage that relationship a bit more and provide opportunities for students to play with a full orchestra. Sadly, that rules out the open bar...

Thanks for the ideas everyone. Keep them coming if there are more. At the end, it looks like our orchestra is in a crossroad of what type of amateur orchestra we can be. Is it more like an orchestra for the community, or an orchestra by the community? Meaning, are people content being like a Thursday book club (perhaps something Andrew V would prefer from his comment), or would they want to find ways to contribute to the community.

Either way is correct depending on the wants and needs of the orchestra members.

January 18, 2019, 2:48 PM · For orchestras that have membership fees/dues, how much do you pay?
Edited: January 18, 2019, 2:58 PM · Carl, I meant that we take donations but normally they are quite small, but once in a while a significant donation is made that boosts the organization for a while, allows us to buy music, etc.

Whoever said they are giving out refreshments: STOP DOING THAT! We live in a culture of snack. Snack after soccer practice, snack during break at orchestra. Go to a conference, and halfway between breakfast and lunch you'll be served a full meal of pastries, mini-bagels, granola, fruit, coffee, etc. Then halfway between lunch and supper there will be plates of cookies, brownies, fruit, more coffee, etc. We've all seen this. Conference coffee costs like $30 per gallon and it's coming out of your registration fee.

Edited: January 18, 2019, 3:03 PM · Ours have to pay $100 a season.

Edit: Paul, sorry I thought you were doing your usual humorous jab. Didn’t realize you were serious. Haha.

As for the snacks, since our program is 2 hours long with two short works and one long work, we have an intermission in between. What do we do? Stare at each other’s eyes? Or worse... actually converse with people without munching away our awkwardness? But yes, it just seems natural to provide something for our audience during the intermission.

January 18, 2019, 2:59 PM · In my community orchestra half the members could not afford that.
Edited: January 18, 2019, 3:27 PM · An intermission with a wine table and some petits fours *right behind* a table with an iPad, a square and huge sign that says "Donations" is the gift that keeps giving.
Edited: January 18, 2019, 5:25 PM · I'm unfortunately not familiar with all the details of how the transition happened. I joined the orchestra in 2011, and only moved to the area in 2010. All of what I know about the transition is secondhand. I believe there was a large bequest to the orchestra around that time. There was also an increase in community engagement, though I'm not sure if that happened before or after.

The city's professional orchestra suffered from gross mismanagement from about 2000 until 2015, and was known to cancel concerts (at one point an entire season) in that period. I suspect that the desire to support an orchestra that was actually going to play concerts may have contributed to our recent financial windfalls. This is my speculation, of course.

Oh, speaking of intermissions: we sell refreshments and hold silent auctions during the intermission of each concert. It's probably not a huge amount of income, but it brings in some money. For a few years, one interesting item we were auctioning off was the opportunity to conduct the orchestra in a short piece later in the season. (We no longer do it; that slot in the last concert of each season is now filled by a piece played side-by-side with a youth orchestra.)

January 18, 2019, 4:33 PM · Re: membership dues, my mid-level orchestra charges by the semester (half-season). $40 per semester. Dues are waived for people in their first semester with the orchestra, as well as for full-time students.
Edited: January 18, 2019, 5:14 PM · I forgot to add, indeed we also sell drinks (no snacks Paul!) during intermission at our concerts. We attract around 200 people per concert, and we give 4 concerts per year. (Only two programs: 2 December concerts, and 2 Spring concerts).
January 18, 2019, 6:16 PM · I'm with Julie and Jean. Snacks and wine are just fine if you sell them! We used to call that a canteen.
January 18, 2019, 8:03 PM · Julie, do you find that you get significantly more/bigger donations with the iPad-with-Square (i.e. when you can take credit cards) than you do with just leaving out a bucket for cash?

We serve snacks at intermission, and we have prominent donation buckets on the snack tables. That's our primary collection point for donations.

January 18, 2019, 8:33 PM · One orchestra I recently played in would provide chamber groups (trio, quartet) for a fee for civic events or fundraisers. The musicians were paid a stipend (union rate) for this and the orchestra pocketed a fee.
January 18, 2019, 8:37 PM · A bit embarrassing to say, but our audience is usually the exact same audience at every concert--- family and friends of orchestra members. They have supported their loved one/s for a very long time. That being said, I feel a bit guilty "milking" the same cow over and over for our donation drives, silent auctions, ticket sales, etc.

Does anyone feel the same way as I do about this?

January 18, 2019, 8:50 PM · A moderate chunk of our audience is family members. Then there are people's friends (not always the same ones), but also quite a number of people from the community. Our audience is pretty diverse (the surrounding community is not wealthy, either, so free concerts are a true boon).
January 19, 2019, 4:07 AM · I felt the same kind of guilt when I played in Orchestra #3, especially because two of the four concert programs each year (the holiday concert in December and the patriotic concert in June) tended to be about 75% the same stuff from one year to the next, and there were only 10-15 people at any given concert who were not friends and family of musicians. But I suppose it was fair considering that musicians weren't paying membership dues at all, and there was a reception with cake and soft drinks (at the orchestra's expense) after each concert.

Orchestra #2 probably has 100-150 people at each concert (out of 300-400) who are friends and family -- though it's skewed a little because there's one older lady in the 2nd violin section who seems to bring 50-60 people to each concert by herself. The majority of the audience is still from the community. I'd guess the composition of the audience is similar to what Lydia's orchestra gets, including socioeconomic status as the surrounding community seems to be mostly lower middle class or working class.

January 19, 2019, 4:22 AM · To Lydia:
1) a letter (email) to the communication department of the corporate asking for the meeting. It is their job to meet people from outside- we never get rejected.
2) on the meeting we do the presentation: very brief intro + very detailed "project"- idea, why it is important, what impact, what do we need to make it, how much money do we want, and what exactly we gonna spend them for.
3) waiting for the answer.
4) a lot of "no", but sometimes "yes".
5) if yes- it is usually a signing a "collaboration" documents.
6) getting money on your account, performing the project, writing reports with photos and happy faces with corporate's items on the background.
7) asking people to write "thanks letters" to the communication department of the corporate.
8) getting "thanks letter" from the corporate with an invitation for collaboration in the future.
Edited: January 19, 2019, 5:05 AM · Carl: Orchestra #2 used to be called the Insurance Orchestra and membership was limited to people who worked in the insurance industry. Now it is a traditional adult amateur orchestra under a different name. The chairman is a chartered insurer and plays in the orchestra so he sorts out sponsorship. In the most recent concert I counted 14 sponsors in the programme. I would hazard a guess that they pay a few hundred pounds to get a listing but I don't have access to this information. We also have friends of the orchestra who will give a small financial contribution for this. I don't know if these friends are mostly people who work in the insurance industry or not.

Neither of my orchestras ask for donations. In fact I have never come across this in any orchestra in the UK. Then again concerts are very rarely free in the UK. One can't ask for donations and charge for tickets!

January 19, 2019, 11:17 AM · Yes, we took in significantly more taking credit cards because nobody really carries cash anymore. We had a donation table at all concerts, but we only did a hard ask and made people walk past the table at our holiday concert, which had the largest audience of our 4 concerts.
January 19, 2019, 3:17 PM · Thanks. I have to say that this is a wonderfully useful thread!
January 19, 2019, 7:41 PM · I agree, Lydia! Thank you everyone for all the ideas. It's my first time to be in a community orchestra board, so much of this information is new to me.
Edited: January 19, 2019, 7:51 PM · I think what Elise describes is pretty common -- the orchestra serves as a contractor for event entertainment. The players need to respect that arrangement and avoid the unethical practice of giving out their own business cards or contact info while playing under contract. Event guests who inquire with the musicians need to be told, "Contact the orchestra if you want to hire us." As a practical matter, though, it's very hard to keep the orchestra in the loop if there are only one or two go-to groups that do all the gigs. Some orchestras (including ours) don't bother skimming the contracting fee -- they're just happy their players are getting a little extra business.
Edited: January 19, 2019, 8:45 PM · Indeed. My two current orchestras approach chamber music gigs differently.

Orchestra #1 (semi-pro): Members of the orchestra have formed a permanent string quartet and a permanent wind quintet. But neither ensemble has any business relationship with the orchestra beyond advertising in concert programs; I should note that orchestra members are offered a discount on ad space. (There is also a string quintet that includes three current orchestra members, but I haven't seen them even advertise in concert programs.) The string quartet played at least two concerts to raise funds for the orchestra in past years, but (from what I've heard) stopped bothering with it because those concerts barely broke even.

Orchestra #2 (mid-level amateur): A string quartet composed of the principal string players (with assistant principal players subbing as needed) plays events once in a while, with the orchestra serving as contractor and receiving the fee directly. This is exactly what Paul is describing. I don't think this is a big source of funds, and it's certainly not a consistent one. I've been principal violist since September 2017, and in that time we've had two gigs in December 2017 and none since.

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