Feeling the Philanthropy Groove

Around the world, one of the best ways to organize a philanthropic event is through the benefit concert. These events can be great ways for local organizations to get together and connect with their communities. They can also be flexible depending on the size of your organization or your fundraising team. These events can range from having an audience of thousands in a stadium to an intimate night at the local café.

These days, many organizations use this form of philanthropy especially when large scales disasters occur, like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti or the recent outbreak of Ebola in countries in West Africa.

The history has also been with raising money for various issues like Live Aid, in 1985, which raised funds for the Ethiopian famine, or the AIDS Benefit Concert in 1992 that supported AIDS organizations and was held in memory of Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen who passed away from AIDS earlier that year.

However, the inspiration for those benefit concerts and those large-scale ones of today came from a 1971 benefit concert called The Concert for Bangladesh. As Graeme Thomson of The Guardian writes, the first benefit concert like we think of them today was organized at Madison Square Garden in New York City featuring Ravi Shankar, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, and Ringo Starr. The Concert for Bangladesh was organized in response to the Bhola cyclone and the liberation war of 1971 between Bangladesh (then called East Pakistan) and Pakistan. In one night, Thomson notes they raised $243,000 and eventually went to raise $17 million though various means and media for UNICEF’s work around the globe in programs still in use today.

Though, Thomson goes on to discuss the complexities of such events and the effects on both giving and music, it’s a good reminder that, like any fundraising event, the planning and execution of it must be full-proof in order to provide the necessary support and to ensure that the money goes to the appropriate places. Organizing a charity event only to pay the artists 80% of the profit is just not good form.

So these examples about benefit concerts are on a huge scale with world famous artists, but as with all philanthropy, you can make these events fit with your organization or cause’s size and with the resources you have available.

And local examples here in the Balkans show how people are receptive to the idea of the benefit concert wherever you happen to work. In Zadar, Croatia, Ene Katarina Herceg, organized a benefit concert this past July to support the St. Vinko Paulski Homeless Shelter. The Spanish tenor José Carreras joined cellist Ana Rucner and soprano Martina Zadro for a concert in the Pula Arena also this past July. The money from the event went to a children’s hospital in Rijeka and to the Veruda Daycare Rehabilitation Center to help children with special needs. Finally, Mikser House, in Belgrade, Serbia housed an event in support for refugees called Music Crossing Borders – Benefit Concert for Refugees in Need. The event hosted a violin performance by Alba San Quirico and Elena Sánchez as well as piano performances by Nada Brkić and Slobodan Brkić.  

If you are down to get your philanthropy on and plan a benefit concert, there are a wide set of sources online to help navigate everything from the planning stages to the event night itself.

Allison Gauss, writing for the online fundraising website Classy, even gives four easy steps that you can use to organize a benefit concert.  First, she recommends you concentrate on what type of performance you want to showcase. Are you planning a rock concert? Will it be a rap performance? Something classical? Or do you want a comedy routine shown? This all of course matters when thinking about who you want to come to show, who is your desired audience, and even how big you want it.

Gauss then turns to choosing the artists you want to perform. She writes, “The artists you partner with will be a key element of your marketing and fundraising.” Gauss further suggests that local acts are best because they could bring friends and through a snowball effect provide a nice-size and supportive audience. Her third step recommends getting the venue and the artists chosen to promote the event through their own channels. You and your cause should of course invite your stakeholders, but having the artists involved may be a way for you to reach out to new donors or other interested parties.

Finally, Gauss recommends having multiple sources of revenue. Sell snacks and drinks (preferably donated by someone to save on costs) and other items to get extra coin at the event.

Benefit concerts can be a useful way to collect funds, and it can be a fun way to do so. People can be very giving and in this philanthropic instance, those individuals not only give money to attend the event, but they also get to enjoy a concert.

Have you ever organized a benefit concert? What was your experience like? We’d love to hear from you! Feel free to leave a comment with your story!

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Alex Cooper

Alex is Catalyst's copywriter. He heads Catalyst's blog where he writes on all things philanthropy and the Balkans. Alex can be reached at alex[at]catalystbalkans[dot]com. You can also follow him on Twitter @wgacooper.

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