How to Get Musicians and Celebrities
to Give Their Time
and Be Glad They Did
Having celebrities or first-rate musicians at an event can attract a lot of
people. It is possible to get them to appear and perform free.
The celebrity might be...
- a movie star,
- a media personality,
- a politician or an ambassador,
- a famous athlete,
- an artist, or
- an author.
It is usually easier to get a celebrity than a musician. Musicians make
their living from public performances, and must work hard when they play. The
celebrities may view it as an opportunity to support a cause they believe in
and promote their careers with a minimum of labour.
However, don't try to solicit a free performance by touting how much free
publicity the performer will get. Unless you're having an unusually large
event, the benefit to the performer will be negligible. He or she could
probably get more publicity more easily in other ways.
The easiest way to get a celebrity guest is to look for someone who will be
in the area anyway. If the celebrity is nearby filming a movie, playing in a
tournament, visiting family or friends or performing, it may not be much more
effort to participate in your event.
Be reasonable in your expectations. It might be wonderful to have the
celebrity perform for you. However that might require costumes, a complicated
set, lighting, sound equipment, back-up musicians and other paraphernalia.
Having someone famous appear at a simple reception in their honour might be
much better. It puts less demands on the celebrity, and on you. Your guests may
also prefer having an opportunity to chat with the celebrity face to face,
instead of just being part of the audience. It's more intimate, more exciting,
and more fun to brag about.
A reception before or after a performance can be the perfect special event.
Instead of trying to arrange your own performance, with all the complications
involved, piggy- back on a concert or show that is already coming to town. A
commercial promoter is better equipped to arrange the show. You invite the star
to the reception, and sell tickets to both the public show and the private
reception. Because the expenses are lower, the net proceeds may be just as high
as if you put on the show yourself.
Look for someone who has some connection to your cause. An Ottawa hospital,
for example, looked through the records of babies who were born there. They
discovered impersonator Rich Little on their list. Not only did he agree to
perform in a benefit for them, he arranged to bring along a friend - Frank
Sinatra. The hospital raised thousands of- dollars.
Check your list of participants and former participants! Whether you call
them clients, alumni, patients, or community members, you may find useful
Another charity heard that a rock star liked trout fishing. Happily, some of
the world's best trout fishing is near the charity's facility. They invited the
star for a week of fishing at a community leader's private lodge, in exchange
for an appearance at an event. The star came, the event was a success, and the
fishing was great. Everyone was content.
By reading the entertainment pages of the newspaper and show biz magazines
you can find out quite a lot about celebrities' personal likes and dislikes.
This can help you arrange a benefit performance.
When trying to contact a performer, avoid going through the agent if at all
possible. The agent's job is to protect the performer from people who want
freebies. After all, the agent is usually paid a percentage of the jobs he or
she arranges for the star. A star who's doing a benefit isn't available to earn
income and 10% of zero doesn't pay the bills.
Instead try and contact the performer directly. The best people to help you
with this are the entertainment reporters from the local media. They can
contact performers for an interview and raise the subject at that time.
Many performers are members of unions, as musicians, actors or writers.
Please ask them about arranging clearance for the performance. In some cases,
restrictions may mean you'll have to pay the union scale rates - which are not
How one musician sees it
Nancy White sings at a lot of benefits, for all kinds of causes. At a Grass
Roots Network lunch in Toronto, she candidly explained how people ought to
treat performers. Here are excerpts from her notes.
On asking for a free show: Do say, 'It would mean so
much to us.' Or try, 'When your name came up, everyone cheered.' Or even, 'I
saw you play and you were incredible.' Don't say what one person said to me:
'Someone gave me your name and number - what is it that you do?'
It's a two way street. You should support the musicians you ask to support
you, by going to their show before you ask.
Sometimes a letter is more effective than a call, because you can enclose
On money: The most important thing to realize is that a concert is
not an easy way to make a lot of money. In fact, if you break even, you'll
probably have had quite a success.
It's very expensive. Rental of a hall, a PA system and lights, hiring sound
and lighting crews, doing publicity. Doing lots of publicity. Printing posters,
tickets, programs, if it's a class act.
The star may be willing to play for free, but don't expect it of the back-up
band. Negotiate a reasonable fee with them - even if it's just an honorarium
of, say, $50 per person. Pay expenses.
Of course, a benefit can do other things besides make money, particularly if
it's done well. It raises the profile of your organization. With luck, you'll
attract people who just come for the music but might get interested in the
cause. It's a chance for you to get names for your mailing list, give out your
literature, and perhaps sell posters or tapes.
On the musicians' sacrifices: When you ask a musician to play, you're
asking for more time than the concert itself. Musicians have to come to the
hall in the afternoon. They drag down all their instruments and equipment.
Setting up can be hours of dull work. Everyone must do a sound check. A
group may have had to have a special rehearsal.
It may also cost them money to do your show. They have to give up work not
just that night, but for the whole week. Few bands can play weekdays, but tell
the commercial promoters they aren't available for the big Saturday night
A benefit concert can also serve to take a performer out of circulation. If
I do a benefit in Saskatoon, I won't be able to do a regular concert there for
perhaps another year. There's a limited audience for singers, and it can only
be tapped so often.
On staging a good programme: It's important not to have too many acts
on the bill! Imagine the frustration: you plan a programme, wash your hair,
change your guitar strings, get to the hall. Then you're told, not
asked, 'Could you cut your act down to ten minutes?'
The ideal is a warm-up act of 20 minutes. They're followed by intermission.
Then the main act goes on for 45 minutes to an hour.
On speeches: It's best to keep the speeches to a minimum unless you
have a speaker who really moves people, or an exciting announcement to make.
On professionalism: If I'm singing at a benefit and the sound is
terrible, and I'm lit by a volunteer holding a flashlight under my chin, it can
really damage my career. Someone in the audience who's never heard me sing
before is going to think I'm awful... For people who have paid something like
$8 a ticket or more, it's not fair.
On when to call: Performers work late nights and odd hours. Never
call a musician before noon. They react to a 9 a.m. phone call in the same way
you might react to one at 5 a.m. Not the best time to ask a favour.
How to Get Enough Good Volunteers
One of the great problems of special events is the shortage of volunteers.
Events do take a lot of labour-power. A small board can be overwhelmed. Staff
alone can never keep up. If you hire people to run the event, the costs go
through the roof.
Fortunately, there are some people who love organizing events. You may not
know any now, but you can recruit them, more easily than you think. Here are
§ 1 Do the homework of special events fundraising
Find out how to organize the event. What jobs will you need to create and
recruit individuals for?
Do this homework by reviewing the plans and results of previous events of a
similar nature. Look at the experience of your own organization. Examine events
hosted by another agency in your community. Experienced organizers will alert
you to essential volunteer roles you might not discover you need till it's too
§ 2 Create an organizational chart
An organizational chart is helpful for two reasons:
- First, you will have a chance to clarify roles and relationships between
various players in the special event organization.
- Second, you have a tool to use to recruit and orient others. Then everyone
knows how he/she fits into the big picture. You may want to include a Volunteer
Recruitment Coordinator in your plan, so that there's someone designated to
§ 3 Do a basic calendar of organizing
Plot a schedule. Base it on your research, your own experience and your
planning skills. Work backwards from the date of the event to be sure you have
enough lead time for each activity. Allow time for mistakes, delays and a
little procrastination by your organizers.
§ 4 Develop job descriptions for each task within the plan
Before you recruit volunteers, you must know what they have to do. In
addition, people are entitled to know what's expected of them before they agree
to take on a task. Including the purpose and responsibilities of a job is
fundamental to good volunteer management. Include notes on:
- time required
- length of commitment
- qualifications or skills required
- orientation or training provided, and
- benefits to gain.
You can sometimes find example in files of past events. Or perhaps you can
ask someone who has done the job before to write down what the task involves.
Get it on paper.
§ 5 Recruit the best possible person for each job
Make sure everyone knows you need help. Post the job descriptions on public
bulletin boards in your office. Include help wanted ads in your
newsletter. Contact the Volunteer Centre in your community and ask for help in
Volunteer Job Fairs are being held in more and more communities.
Here's how they work. Several non-profit groups get together on the same day
with tables displaying information on their work and their need for volunteers.
The public is invited to browse among the booths looking for a volunteer
opportunity that suits them. These can be sponsored by a volunteer centre, or a
corporation. ManuLife Insurance, for example, has held them in the cafeteria of
their main office building.
Volunteers can also be recruited from specific groups. The Junior League, a
national service organization of women, for example, has an excellent training
programme to improve its members' skills. They place members on the boards of
non-profit groups to help them improve their systems.
Retired people are another source of extraordinary talent. In some
communities, you can recruit with the help of organized senior citizens'
associations. There are also special interest seniors' groups, such as the
Canadian Auto Workers Retirees Club, or the Retired Rotarians.
Open recruiting like this is the process of telling the world you
need help and waiting to see who will apply. It's fine for the troops who do
all the day-by-day work.
For specialized skills and campaign leaders, you need a different technique.
Face-to- face recruitment is the most successful way to get the people you
While thinking of the qualities you need for each job, go through a list of
your members, supporters and contacts. Include outsiders who might be friendly.
Consider who might be the best fit. Make a list of potential candidates for
each job, prioritizing the names to contact.
§ 6 Encourage the event's leaders to contact the potential
The chairpeople of the event should interview the potential candidates, just
as if they were hiring for a job. Even if there is only one possible candidate,
this communicates your seriousness. It usually makes the task more attractive.
Use the job descriptions, calendar and organizing chart. The chairperson's goal
is to determine if the person is interested, able to do a good job, and
§ 7 Immediately recognize the recruitment of volunteers
Send each volunteer that you select a letter confirming his/her appointment.
Include a copy of current plans for the event. Invite him/her to an organizing
§ 8 To be effective, volunteers must have information and
Keep in contact with volunteers. Be sure they are fulfilling their
responsibilities - and catch any problems early. Help them if problems do
occur. Encourage their creativity and commitment. Keep them apprised of the
§ 9 Confirm everyone's involvement before the Big Event
Have a pre-event coffee meeting the day before the event to be sure all will
go smoothly. Halifax organizer Ray Pierce says, Don't trust anybody! If
you haven't checked it, it hasn't been done.
§ 10 Recognize hardworking volunteers - at the event itself and
Recognition consists of both saying thank you and being open to
constructive criticism. Remember these people came to know the realities of a
job. Collecting their comments soon after an event improves the event next
What jobs do you need to fill?
There's nothing more frustrating than discovering at the last minute that
you forgot to fill a crucial job.
There are hundreds of different volunteer role in all the. different types
of events. It would be impossible to list every one of them. But it is possible
to suggest a few you should consider.
Here is a list of types of volunteer activities you may find useful in
organizing your special event:
- Overall Event Co-ordinator
- Beer/Wine/Liquor Co-ordinator
- Car Parking Organizer
- Clear up Crew
- Decorations Co-ordinator
- Emergency Crew (in case of no-shows)
- Entertainment Co-ordinator
- Financial Management/Accounting/Banking
- Food Co-ordinator
- Graphics Designer: ensure coordinated theme
- printed materials
- costumes (if any)
- Media Liaison
- Patrons/Head Table Co-ordinator
- Person to get licenses, permits, check laws
- Production Co-ordinator
- printed program
- Program Committee
- determine agenda
- arrange speakers, and so on
- Publicity Co-ordinator
- Security people
- Signs/Directions Aide
- Solicitors of in-kind donations
- Souvenir Supplier
- Special Arrangements Aide
- access for the disabled
- child care
- sign language interpretation
- special diets
- Technical Equipment Aide
- sound equipment
- lighting equipment
- Ticket Sellers
- Union clearances
- for musicians, actors
- for serving staff, if needed
- Volunteer and Donor Recognition Co-ordinator
- Volunteer Recruitment Co-ordinator
- Welcoming Committee
Add your own special volunteer needs to the list:
Secrets of Scheduling Time
for Maximum Effectiveness
Not allowing enough time to prepare for the event is one of the most serious
mistakes. It's also one of the most common.
Successful events are months in the making. Many start six months to a year
ahead. Major conference organizers now book hotel meeting rooms up to five
years in advance.
Some events can come together more quickly, with luck and experienced
people. Excessive speed may be an invitation to disaster, however.
The length of time needed varies depending on the type of event, of course.
No standard recipe can cover all situations. Here are some tips on developing
your event's unique calendar accurately:
§ 1 Don't set the date until you analyze the time required
Too often groups establish the date of an event first. Then they realize how
much work it requires. They try to compress the time needed for each task to
fit into an impossible schedule. It seldom works.
Sometimes you must meet an externally imposed deadline. If that is the case,
simplify the event to something possible in the time available.
§ 2 Involve several people in planning
Don't expect any one person to anticipate all the tasks that need doing. A
team is more likely to catch the missing elements.
You can make a game of the brainstorming sessions. Set up teams of 2 to 5
people. Encourage the teams to think of all the tasks they can. Then
compare notes and combine the lists.
Break each task into bite-size chunks, to make sure nothing is overlooked.
Define the action steps needed.
Write each task on a separate Task Card. Large removable Post-It Notes
are excellent tools for this task.
Next, challenge the group to get them in the right order.
§ 3 Estimate the time required for each task
Mark the estimated hours right on the Task Card. Note if it is one person
doing the whole job, or several. Sometimes it doesn't matter if you have a
group involved - but occasionally it matters a lot.
For example, a task could take 6 person-hours. If the task is stuffing
invitations in envelopes, it could be done equally well by 6 people working 1
hour, or by one person working 6 hours. Carrying a piano up several flights of
stairs, however, will take 6 people at least one hour. One person cannot do it
in six hours.
Don't underestimate the time. In fact, most people recommend you increase
the time estimates by a minimum of 20%. Many suggest you double the estimate.
If you overestimate, and finish ahead off schedule, it is unlikely to cause
Allow a few extra days between stages, in case of delays. When stuffing
invitations, for example, make sure the printer's deadline calls for deliveiy
of the finished product a week before. Then, if they actually arrive a few days
later than expected, you have built-in protection.
§ 4 Determine inter-dependent tasks
Note which tasks must be complete before others can begin. Make sure the
people doing these key tasks understand the consequences if they are late.
The people who will mail the invitations, for example, can't do their job
until their predecessors have:
- prepared the address list
- booked the hall
- confirmed the entertainment
- settled the price
- printed the invitations
- purchased envelopes and stamps.
§ 5 Post the schedule on the wall and give everyone pocket-size
Everyone should be able to see the progress quickly and easily. Problems
should be instantly obvious.
Use flip chart paper, rolls of newsprint, or blackboards to create a master
calendar. Put the weeks across the top. Down the left side, list the key work
areas such as publicity, printing, entertainment, food, ticket sales and so on.
Mark specific work to be done in the week it must begin. Then mark the due
date. Showing only the date the work is due leads to last-minute panic.
Make a small copy, and give one to every person involved. Highlight the
tasks that involve them personally with a coloured marker. In another colour,
highlight the tasks that cannot be done until he/she successfully completes
If the schedule changes, make new copies for everyone. It may be a lot of
work, but it will save annoyance. Date each new edition, so everyone knows
they're working on the same version.
Encourage everyone to book the time they'll need in their persona]
§ 6 Determine Do-or-Die Dates
Establish deadlines for essential tasks. Mark these in red on all calendars.
If they are not done on time, cancel the event.
Know what commitments make it impossible to cancel. Once you've booked the
hall, it may not be possible to cancel without enormous penalties or losses.
Even re-scheduling may be impossible.
Establish contingencies for less critical problems. "If X doesn't
happen, then we can't do Y. As a back-up, we'll do A or B."
Don't wait to figure Out what you'll do at the time of the crisis. It may
seem like a waste of time to sort out all the alternatives in advance, but it
is an essential step.
§ 7 Check progress before delays become a crisis
Determine when work should begin, to be completed on time. Set benchmarks at
intervals to see if the work is on schedule. If there is a problem, you must
know about it before the deadline is upon you.
Check progress along the way. Don't just trust people. With the best of
intentions, they may not follow through. There are two good methods:
The first is to give one person the responsibility of checking progress. As
a gentle nag, the right person can do wonders. Knowing it is an
institutionalized role reduces the emotional stress for both the nagger and the
Alternatively, assign crucial tasks to two people, as co-chairs. Encourage
them to use the buddy system to check progress. Be careful the work doesn't
fall between the cracks, as each co-chair thinks the other is responsible.
In either case, he or she should call well in advance of due dates as a
reminder. Say, I see you'll be halfway through the invitation list next
week. How's it going? Anything you need help on? Will they be ready for the
stuffing-party September 15th? If there's a problem let me know now!
If the invitation stuffers expect to go to work September 15, for example,
here are some of the previous benchmarks. Your time allowances may vary, of
- July 7 All leaders agree to provide names and addresses for list
- July 7 Budget approved
- July 25 Text and rough design approved (will anybody you must consult be
- Aug.1 Material sent to the printer
- Aug.1 Typing of list begins
- Aug. 20 Final approval of printed material (allow extra time for vacations
and the long weekend)
- Aug. 20 List half-done
- Sept. 7 Back from the printer
- Sept. 7 List ready
§ 8 Assign personal responsibility for tasks
Make sure one person feels personally responsible for every crucial task.
Don't assign a task to a committee - it may fall between the cracks.
Find out what support your leaders need to get their tasks done. Don't give
people responsibility without the power to do the work.
Schedule the date by which you must have a capable person in each role.
These are critical Do-or-Die Dates. If no one is available, you may
have to pull the plug.
§ 9 Anticipate the follow-up work
After the event is over, a great deal of work always remains. Have your work
crews in place for these tasks well in advance. A last-minute scramble can
Don't ask people who are tired from doing all the other tasks. Have a fresh
Some of the tasks that get overlooked include:
- Clean up after the guests have left.
- Count the income and make the night deposit.
- Return rented supplies or excess inventory.
- Send receipts for donations and thank-you letters.
- Send thanks to volunteers and supporters.
- Close off the account books.
- Evaluate the event and produce a report with recommendations for next
§ 10 Have a flying squad of troubleshooters
Inevitably, some aspects of the work will be overlooked. Have a team of
skilful generalists who will look after any emergencies. Give them the
authority to act. Make sure everyone knows who to call, and how to reach them
night and day.
§ 11 Reward people for jobs well done
Provide incentives for getting the job done ahead of schedule and under
budget. People do respond to rewards, even though they may think they will not.
For example, offer a prize for the first person to sell their allotment of
tickets. On a team-work night, schedule the job to finish by 9 pm and order
pizza for delivery then. At the event itself, mention people who deserve extra
recognition for their work. Ask a hotel to provide a free room, and have the
volunteers vote for the person who deserves a reward most.
The Mathematics of Raising Money at an Event
- Avoiding Surprises
Everyone has questions. What does it cost to run an event? How many
volunteers do we need? How much money will we make? How many tickets will we
sell? A formula would make it so simple to operate events.
It's not that simple, of course. Every event is different. Every non-profit
group is unique. There are thousands of factors you must consider.
Yet with all that, some standards can be suggested. Although these are only
rough guidelines, they may help you ill your planning. Please note the wide
range of variations:
Rule # 1, Cost per dollar raised:
Expect to invest 50 cents for every one dollar raised.
This allows for a 50% profit, which is not bad by any standard. Some do
better, some do worse.
Groups occasionally report that they run events without spending a cent.
This is admirable, but may be incorrect. They may not count Other People's
Money (O.P.M.). A co-sponsor may invest substantially. Include that money in
your budget, as both an expense and as income.
In addition, groups often fail to count the cost of staff time and overhead
expenses involved in putting on an event. This may lull planners into a false
sense of contentment. The costs are real, and should be included.
Groups lose money from time to time, of course. They may spend two or three
dollars for every dollar raised.
Depending on what other goals are achieved, expenditures of more than 50%
may be quite acceptable. An event may be considered a success with little or no
income, if it is staged primarily to:
- win media attention and publicity
- thank donors, volunteers or staff
- educate the public
- find new donors or volunteers
- involve clients/patients/users in activities.
Rule # 2, Volunteer work needed:
Expect to invest 2 volunteer hours for every hundred dollars raised, in
addition to financial investments.
This means that volunteers 'earn' $50/hour for the organization. That's the
surplus value they produce.
There is considerable variation, of course. The minimum goal should be
$10/volunteer-hour. Many groups require 4 volunteer hours per $100, or $25/hr.
It is essential that you estimate the dollar per hour ratio you anticipate,
before you begin. Otherwise you may not have enough volunteers on hand.
Reevaluate your estimate throughout the process, and adapt as necessary.
Many groups do not even record how many hours volunteers work. That should
be considered an essential.
Rule # 3, Maximum ticket sales:
One person can sell ten tickets, on the average.
For every hundred tickets you plan to sell, you must have ten volunteer
ticket sellers. Many groups overestimate how easy it will be to sell the
tickets. The results can be disastrous.
As the price goes up, the number of tickets one person can sell goes down.
Clearly, it is easier to sell $1 tickets than $100 tickets.
This rule appears to be consistent whether the tickets are for an event or a
Tickets are most easily sold by friends asking their friends. Tickets can
often be sold in a shopping district, a mall, or a community centre. However,
aggressive sales tactics usually produce better results. It is not sufficient
to have two people sitting behind a table chatting to each other. They must ask
people to buy.
Sales from ads in the media are usually far less than groups hope they will
be. Frequently, they don't repay the cost of the ads.
It is often the case that 20% of the volunteers sell 80% of the tickets.
Unfortunately, it isn't always possible to predict who the star salespeople
will be, in advance.
Beware those who buy the tickets themselves instead of selling them. It can
result in a partly-empty hall. This embarrasses organizers. Worse, it can hurt
the performers' careers if critics believe they can't attract a crowd.
If there may be empty seats, you must have a contingency plan. Some halls
can be made smaller by unfolding a portable wall. In multi-level concert halls,
a balcony can be closed. Sometimes empty space can accommodate displays on your
Alternatively, you can fill it with specially invited people. This is called
papering the hall. Depending on the event, these may be seniors,
school children or clients of a social service agency.
People who pay full price might be upset if they accidentally discover
others came free or at a discount. One solution is to announce the special
guests are there as a community service. Ask the paying guests to welcome them
with a round of applause.