Friday, October 10, 2014

Where does the money for festivals come from?

VIIF 2008 - Group: Scratch - Photo Credit: Neil Gurton
Some real numbers...
Writing up a Vision is one small part of making a festival happen and be successful! For me, the scarier part was figuring out how we could fund the project!

You might be thinking "But hey, won't door sales pay for the festival??"...

Well, I guess it depends on a number of things:

  • Size and scale of the event
  • Performer compensation model
  • Fixed costs (like the venue, liability insurance)
  • Ticket prices
  • Other revenue sources (e.g. concession)
How about we look at a real example?  Let's take VIIF 2008 and figure out what the ticket prices (on average) who have to have been should no grant money have been raised. We'll just look at the real expenses and will not include the in-kind expenses.

Looking at the profit/loss report for VIIF 2008, we had a total of $16,823 worth of expenses. The festival ran from October 2 - 4, 2008.   The venue could fit realistically 150 people per show.

From ticket sales, we made $5,799.  So, to run on ticket sales alone, we would have to generate an additional $11,024. If you look at it percentage wise, our ticket prices would have to be increased by 190%

Let's look at those now.
  • General admission (single performance) would have to be increased to $19 from $10
  • Student admission (single performance) would have to be increased to $15.20 from $8
Getting this much for tickets for an improvised performance is a complete non-starter based on my experience with past shows and having attended a number of festivals in other countries (Berlin, Germany; Seattle, WA, USA; Vancouver, BC, Canada).

So, that leaves fundraising as the only option I could come up with.

Fundraising - How hard can it be?
Good question. At first, it can feel very overwhelming, especially after you look at the budget you came up with while you were visioning what the festival might look like... (and probably enjoying a few alcoholic beverages at the time)

I broke funding sources into two categories:

1) Government Sources (Federal, Provincial, Municipal); and
2) Private Sources (National, Regional & Local Business)

Everything under #1 is what you have to tackle first.  This is because most of these funders require you to compete for funding by submitting proposals well in advance of your festival date. Many of them have a number of conditions your project must meet in order to be considered for their respective funding programs (for instance, most funders will not support competitive theatre events).

A well thought-out Vision document will help you when writing your grant proposals, but that's only part of the work.  What each funder wants you to provide is often slightly different, so it's not a matter of writing one proposal and submitting it to all the different funding organizations.

You can sometimes find external service providers who will write the grant applications for you (which we tried for VIIF 2004), but in reality, if you are the producer and the main visionary, you are the best person to write the proposal. At least have someone within your organization who you work closely with write it if you don't have the time (and if you don't you might want to think very carefully about running the festival at all!).

Funders who fall under category #2 also cannot be left until the last minute (except if you are looking for door prizes, for example). Generally it is best to start that work 4 to 6 months in advance of your festival. Another thing you need to be aware of is when your potential sponsor's fiscal year end occurs. The reason is that if you leave approaching them until their fiscal year end, in all likelihood, they will have already allocated their sponsorship budgets and won't have any cash (or in-kind) money left for you!

Ok, so you've figured out who your potential funders/sponsors are, now you have to spell out what's in it for them! That means coming up with how people can sponsor your event (most important for category #2 sources). You should also lay out this information in some kind of sponsorship opportunities document - that way when sponsors ask, you can provide this document and ensure you give the same pitch every time!

One final note - when applying for any grants - READ THE FINE PRINT! If you miss speaking to any of their conditions in your proposal or miss-read their form, you are likely going to be DISQUALIFIED.  For me, if I added up all the time I spent on one proposal, I'd say it was close to 30 hours work. Miss one condition and that 30 hours was spent for nothing!

In summary, here are the documents referenced in this blog entry:

1 comment:

The Humor Mill Orlando said...

Fantastic and thanks so much for sharing! My group is looking at a future sketch festival in Central Florida and this info is invaluable. Best wishes from Orlando!