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4 Ideas to Raise Funds for Your Performing Arts Program

By Clay Boggess on Jan 7, 2023
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4 Ideas to Raise Funds for Your Performing Arts Program

Easy to plan fundraising ideas that yield great results.

For college performing arts programs, fundraising brings a unique set of opportunities—and challenges. You likely bring in some revenue through ticket sales and major gifts to your university that are designated for performing arts, but raising additional funds helps make your program the best it can be. To succeed in fundraising, you need to come up with ideas that engage your entire college community.

However, your department is likely very busy with putting on performances, making curriculum improvements, auditioning prospective students, and managing other administrative duties. So, you’ll also want to look for fundraisers that are straightforward to plan and have a high return on investment (ROI).

To help your performing arts program get started with fundraising, we’ll look at four effective ideas:

  1. Product Fundraisers
  2. Open Mic Nights
  3. Virtual Silent Auctions
  4. Text-to-Give

When selecting a fundraiser, weigh the benefits to find the best solution for your program. Also, before you try out any of these fundraisers, make sure they comply with your university’s rules. Let’s dive in!

1. Product Fundraisers

Product fundraisers are a popular choice for school groups from elementary through college, because they benefit your program and the community members who contribute. In return for their support, participants get an item for themselves, serving as a token of appreciation and reminder of your program.

The first step to running a successful product fundraiser at a university is to choose a budget-friendly item to sell that your college community will enjoy and that aligns with their interests. Some of the most successful product ideas for college groups include:

  • Discount cards that feature businesses near campus.
  • Snacks or sweets which students can easily carry in their backpacks and eat between classes.
  • Custom merchandise advertising an upcoming performance.

Whether you sell merchandise directly related to a performance or choose a different item, it’s often useful to hold a product fundraiser in anticipation of a show to encourage participants to reserve tickets at the same time. But you’ll want to end the fundraiser well before finals or a school break to maximize participation and ensure everyone’s products arrive while they’re still on campus.

2. Open Mic Nights

To get performing arts students involved in your fundraiser, try hosting an open mic night. Open mic events allow students to showcase their talents and perform their favorite materials in a low-pressure environment.

To plan a successful open mic night fundraiser, follow these four easy steps:

  1. Find a venue.Locally owned coffee shops or bars near campus are often willing to support university programs and may allow you to rent or use their space for a few hours. Or, if your campus has an outdoor amphitheater, see if you can reserve it on a warmer evening.
  2. Decide how to raise funds. Besides charging a small admission fee, you could sell raffle tickets and do a drawing between acts for custom merchandise or tickets to your department’s next show. If you host the event at a coffee shop or bar, the business may be willing to split the profits from refreshment sales during the event.
  3. Sign up performers. Set a time limit for each act (five to seven minutes is usually good) and specify what performance equipment you’ll provide and what each student needs to bring. But allow students to perform any appropriate songs, monologues, poetry readings, comedy acts, or other material they would like.
  4. Market your fundraiser. Encourage performers to invite their friends, post about the event on your program’s social media accounts, and hang flyers in any space you’re allowed to do so on campus.

Open mic nights bring your university’s arts community together and give students a low-stress performance to look forward to. According to Acceptd, these conditions allow performing artists to refresh and reconnect with their craft. Plus, inviting students outside your department shows the broader college community why the arts matter.

3. Virtual Silent Auctions

Auctions are one of the most common event fundraisers because they have a particularly high ROI in addition to engaging attendees from start to finish. Moving your program’s silent auction into the virtual space allows parents of performing arts students and alumni who live far away from your university to conveniently give back to a program that has benefitted them or their families.

Once you’ve solidified the date and time of your virtual auction and set up your event platform, you’ll need to start collecting silent auction items. Consider your audience will primarily be parents and alumni, some items that will likely sell well include:

  • Tickets to upcoming performances
  • Prize baskets or gift cards donated by local businesses
  • Memorabilia (props, costumes, signed playbills, etc.) from past shows

As virtual auction attendees register for your event, make sure to collect both their emails and mailing addresses. You can also collect this information on their bid sheets. That way, you can easily ship physical items to the winners in addition to sending electronic gift cards or mobile tickets via email.

4. Text-to-Give

Many members of your university community spend time on their smartphones every day. Why not meet them where they are as you raise funds for your performing arts program by leveraging text-to-give?

When your program signs up for a texting service, you’ll be assigned a unique five- or six-digit code. Donors then text a designated keyword to that code and receive a link to your online donation form, which they can fill out and submit directly from their smartphones.

Tatango’s guide to higher education texting recommends that you try these tips to make the most of text-to-give:

  • Choose a relevant keyword. Keep it to 15 characters or less and avoid spaces or special characters. For example, if your college’s mascot is the Knights and you’re raising funds for the dance program in 2023, your keyword could be KNIGHTSDANCE23.
  • Optimize your donation form for mobile use. When designing your program’s fundraising page, ensure it automatically resizes to fit different screen sizes and has large buttons so donors can easily tap them without accidentally clicking the wrong item.
  • Send other text updates besides donations. Once community members opt into your texting service, you can use text messaging to market your program’s other fundraisers and remind them about upcoming performances. Make sure recipients can text STOP or UNSUBSCRIBE to the code to opt out of messages if they prefer.

If your university already uses a text messaging service, you’ll likely need to check with them before starting your own text-to-give campaign. But it’s worth the discussion as text-to-give streamlines the donation process to boost your program’s fundraising efforts.


The ideas in this guide are just four of the many possible ways your college performing arts program can fundraise. No matter which option you choose, remember that fundraising is a team effort—it’s most successful when your department, students, and broader university community come together. Happy fundraising!

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Guest Author Bio Jerry Tsai, Author

Jerry Tsai is the President of Acceptd, a Togetherwork company that is the premier recruitment, application, and audition platform for the arts. He is passionate about serving the arts community and loves that art is a way to wind down and enjoy all that life has to offer.

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