Director Spotlight: Nathan Cohen - How to get the most out of your fundraisers

Nathan and students on their 2014 Encore Tours trip to Ireland

Encore Tours director Nathan Cohen teaches 4th - 12th grade Orchestra and Chamber Music at Rockport Public Schools in Massachusetts, a small school district about an hour north of Boston. 

For his upcoming trip to the Czech Republic and Austria, Nathan and his students raised $35,000 using Encore's fabulous fundraiser! We asked Nathan to share his strategies for success to help other music directors and teachers make the most out their fundraising initiatives.

For groups traveling overseas, Encore Tours offers a free trip for two to Paris or London to use as a fundraiser for their upcoming performance tour. This is how Nathan and his group raised $35,000 using the raffle. 

Encore: How did the Rockport High School Music Department run the raffle? How were students and their families involved?

Nathan: Students sold Paris raffle tickets for $20 each or three for $50. We were looking for a sweet spot, where the tickets would be both affordable but also might be able to raise some serious money for students who sold aggressively. 

Very little of the money went into a general pool of any kind. Almost all of the raffle earnings went directly to the students who sold them. We made the tickets printable from home computers so that students could print and sell them over last summer. The majority of the money they earned came from tickets they sold independently to friends, family, and going door-to-door around town. Many students reached out to family friends via email and Facebook, and several sold tickets as Christmas presents. 

Aside from independent selling, students (and their parents) signed up to man tables at farmers' markets, at the local transfer station, and at other town events. We had opportunities at all our music department events for student fundraising. Any money that was earned at music events was split between anyone working that event. "Working" included selling tickets, ushering, working as a stage hand or working on AV for the event. 

We combined the Paris raffle with two other school raffles, and I think that helped a lot to make it more successful. In addition to Paris raffle tickets at $20 each, students were also selling $2 tickets for baskets of items that had been donated by local businesses. We had over thirty baskets in total with prizes over $3,000. We drew the winners of all those raffles at a final Spring Concert fundraiser, an extra concert that we planned for May to give the fundraising a boost before our final push next fall. At most music department events, we also ran 50/50 raffles and bake sales. Those usually brought in around $100-$200 per event. We found that having those different fundraisers running together, we were able to cover a lot of bases and we were able to market the fundraising in different ways, emphasizing different aspects of it, without over-saturating our small town. 

In total, we sold over 1,700 tickets. At the final drawing we put them all into a cello case, from which they were almost overflowing. The total take for the students was somewhere close to $35,000. 

The 2014 Rockport High School orchestra tour students in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Encore: How were the proceeds of the raffle distributed to student accounts?

Nathan: We don't have a formal booster club for our music department, but we did have a core group of parents who were helping with fundraising. The biggest motivation for family involvement was financial. Rockport is an economically mixed district. We do have affluent families who are able to pay for the tour out of pocket, but we also have lots of struggling families who need considerable aid in order to afford the trip. 

For our previous international tour, we ran several fundraisers in which the money was divided evenly among everyone registered for the trip. This didn't prove effective, because there were plenty of registered families that didn't need the money and because it watered down the earnings for those who really did need it. It also presented the classic fundraising frustration in which a small group of people worked hard to raise money for the seemingly lazy majority. This time around, almost every dollar that went into a student's account came directly from time that they put into fundraising. That seemed to make a huge difference. The students found that they could make significant money toward their trip if they put forth the effort. 

One of the first concerts of this season, only a few students showed up to work. The students made around $200 each that night just from raffle tickets. Word spread quickly that students could earn that kind of money and quickly we had lots of kids signing up to work the events. 

Encore: How long did you run your raffle ticket sales?

Nathan: We sold tickets through last summer and then through this school year up until mid-May, so almost a full year.  

Encore: How was the raffle winner chosen?

Nathan: The winner was drawn by our superintendent at the finale of our final Spring concert in May.

Encore: Why was the Paris raffle fundraiser so successful for you and your students?

Nathan: The raffle was successful because it represented a viable way for students to make significant money toward their trip. Every ticket they sold was $20 in hand. I spoke with a handful of students who told me they had made over $1,000 toward their trip. That number was even higher for some. 

The 2014 Rockport High School orchestra tour students outside of Blarney Castle in Cork

Encore: Did the Raffle make a difference between students going on the tour or not?

Nathan: Definitely. It's hard to put a finger on its exact impact because it was at the core of several different fundraising efforts that all came together but it was surely the vehicle that facilitated widespread student engagement in the fundraising process. 

Thanks to Nathan for sharing his experiences and advice for getting the most out of Encore Tour's fundraiser!

About the Author

Kate Huffman

Kate first discovered the power of intercultural communication and exchange through music on a month-long trip to China and Japan with her college wind ensemble. She's been hooked on traveling ever since and has performed with different groups in cities such Beijing, London, and Kyoto to name a few! Kate is a clarinet player and a passionate arts advocate with degrees in music, arts administration, and cultural policy. Kate is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Encore Tours.

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